Saturday, 1 April 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Scriptures, preparing us and reminding us of what we are about to celebrate in the upcoming Holy Week and Easter Triduum starting tomorrow on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. We are about to enter into the most solemn and important moments in the story of the salvation of the whole world and all of mankind. Therefore, that is why we are reminded again and again these days of what we are about to commemorate and celebrate, in this holiest and most important moments of our whole liturgical year, and we should understand it all that we may truly benefit from the celebration and commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion, His suffering, death and resurrection. We should prepare ourselves well, physically, mentally and spiritually for these that we may grow deeper in faith and appreciation of our Christian faith.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard the reassuring words that the Lord has spoken to His people through Ezekiel, that He would give them the fullness of His grace and blessings once again. He would gather them back from their scattered places among the nations and restore them once again to glory and joy, as how it was during the days of King David and King Solomon. The Lord has promised His people Israel that He will always be faithful to them and to the Covenant that He has made with them and their ancestors, and He will never break the promises He had made even when the people had frequently disobeyed Him and disregarded the many reminders that He has given them through His messengers and prophets. God still cared for all of them and loved all of them nonetheless, and sent Ezekiel to them for the purpose of reminding them of this love.

Ezekiel was sent to the people of Israel in exile in the distant lands of Babylon, where many of them had been exiled after the destruction of their homeland in Israel, in the northern kingdom of Israel and in the southern kingdom of Judah alike. They had been bereft of their homeland, their identity and their honour, cast our from their ancestral lands and cities, forced to wander off in distant places, humiliated and crushed, all because of their sins and disobedience against God. They had abandoned and rejected Him for pagan idols and false gods, and scandalised themselves and their faith by following the ways of their neighbours instead of remaining faithful to the path that the Lord has taught and shown them, persecuting His prophets and messengers, all the servants of God that had been sent to them to remind them of their calling as God’s people.

Ezekiel reminded them of the Lord’s promise that He will establish the rule of the House of David forever, and this rejuvenates the hope in the hearts of the people who were downtrodden and in despair, because God reminded His beloved ones that His salvation will come, and everything will be good again. All of these would indeed come true in Christ, the Lord Jesus and His coming into this world. For He was born as the Son and Heir of David, becoming the great King to sit on the Throne that has remained empty for many centuries since the destruction of the kingdom of the people of God, restoring the union that God has with His people, acting as the Mediator between us and God, our Heavenly Father, the One through Whom God would renew His Covenant, into a new and everlasting Covenant, through which He shall gather all of His faithful ones to be His flock and His one people once again.

In our Gospel passage today, we are reminded then of how the Lord would do all of these which He had planned from the very beginning, as we heard how the Jewish authorities, the Jewish High Council or the Sanhedrin, headed by the chief priests led by Caiaphas, the High Priest then, plotted against the Lord Jesus. They wanted to arrest Him and accuse Him falsely of faults and crimes that would make Him a scapegoat for the Jewish people, with the excuse that what the Lord had done would eventually lead to the Romans ending whatever privileges and autonomy that they had granted the Jews back then. As we can see here, those people were mainly concerned about protecting their own privileges and status, their special grants and property, among other things, rather than to listen to reason and to the truth that God Himself had brought before their very own eyes.

As He Himself said and predicted, the Lord had to suffer grievously at the hands of His enemies and those who opposed Him, much as how His own prophets and messengers had been treated previously. He would be rejected and condemned to death, and yet, He would then become the great Cornerstone, the One through Whom the salvation of the world would come through. He would become the Source of the world’s Hope, the Light of the world and the Saviour of all. By His wounds and by His suffering, we are to be healed and strengthened and made whole once again. Through Christ’s Passion and death, by His willing and most selfless embracing of each and every one of us, all of us have received the assurance of eternal life and true joy and hope, by the most generous show of love that God Himself has made evident and tangible through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour.

That is what we are going to commemorate in this upcoming Holy Week and through the Easter Triduum, as we enter into this most solemn and holy occasion. Are we all ready to enter into this celebration and commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, His suffering and death, remembering everything that He had done for each and every one of us? Have we made good use of the time and the preparation that we have been expected to do during this season of Lent, so that we may draw closer to the Lord and come to better realisation of what God had done for each and every one of us? Have we done what we can so that we may help one another in our journey of faith and to help inspire each other to persevere against the challenges and trials that we have to face as faithful and devout servants and followers of God? As the Lord Jesus had said, that if we are to be His true disciples and followers, we have to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Can we do that, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us all therefore commit ourselves anew to the Lord and let us all do our best to walk faithfully in God’s Presence, dedicating more of our time and attention, our efforts and commitments to do the will of God and to glorify Him by our lives and actions in our respective communities. Let us all be great beacons of faith and God’s Light amidst the darkness of this world, and inspire more and more people to break free from the chains of sin. May the Lord continue to bless us all and guide us in our journey through life, that we may ever be strong and courageous to resist the temptations to sin and disobey Him, that we may not falter like how the people of God had done in the past. May God be with us always and may He empower us all in each and every moments, and may all of us have a great and blessed Holy Week ahead. Amen.

Saturday, 1 April 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 11 : 45-56

At that time, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw what He did; but some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called together the Council.

They said, “What are we to do? For this Man keeps on giving miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, all the people will believe in Him and, as a result of this, the Romans will come and destroy our Holy Place and our nation.”

Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all, nor do you see clearly what you need. It is better to have one Man die for the people than to let the whole nation be destroyed.” In saying this Caiaphas did not speak for himself, but being High Priest that year, he foretold like a prophet that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also would die to gather into one the scattered children of God. So, from that day on, they were determined to kill Him.

Because of this, Jesus no longer moved about freely among the Jews. He withdrew instead to the country near the wilderness, and stayed with His disciples in a town called Ephraim. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and people from everywhere were coming to Jerusalem to purify themselves before the Passover. They looked for Jesus and, as they stood in the Temple, they talked with one another, “What do you think? Will He come to the festival?”

Saturday, 1 April 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 31 : 10, 11-12ab, 13

Hear the word of YHVH, o nations, proclaim it on distant coastlands : He Who scattered Israel will gather them and guard them as a shepherd guard his flock.

For YHVH has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of his conqueror. They shall come shouting for joy, while ascending Zion; they will come streaming to YHVH’s blessings.

Maidens will make merry and dance, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness, I will give them comfort and joy for sorrow.

Saturday, 1 April 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Ezekiel 37 : 21-28

You will then say to them : Thus says YHVH : I am about to withdraw the Israelites from where they were among the nations. I shall gather them from all around and bring them back to their land. I shall make them into one people on the mountains of Israel and one king is to be the king of them all.

They will no longer form two nations or be two separate kingdoms, nor will they defile themselves again with their idols, their detestable practices and their sins. I shall free them from the guilt of their treachery; I shall cleanse them and they will be for Me a people and I shall be God for them.

My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all. They will live according to My laws and follow and practice My decrees. They will settle in the land I gave to My servant Jacob where their ancestors lived. There they will live forever, their children and their children’s children. David My servant will be their prince forever.

I shall establish a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I shall settle them and they will increase and I shall put My sanctuary in their midst forever. I shall make My home at their side; I shall be their God and they will be My people. Then the nations will know that I am YHVH Who makes Israel holy, having My sanctuary among them forever.

Friday, 31 March 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we come ever closer to the end of the season of Lent and the coming of Holy Week, through the Scripture readings we have received, all of us are reminded ever more each day of the need for all of us to turn towards the Lord and place our trust in Him, so that we return to Him and being faithful once again, resisting the temptations of worldly desires and attachments, and embracing wholeheartedly the Lord Who has always provided us with whatever we need and with all the protection and guidance along our path and journey. Each and every one of us are reminded of the hope we have in God that will be our path towards salvation, amidst a world filled with darkness and evil, trials and challenges, hardships and difficulties. As long as we keep our focus in the Lord and trust in Him, our path forward is clear.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah in which the persecutions and hardships that the prophet Jeremiah faced were highlighted and detailed to us. Jeremiah was sent to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, to minister to them and to pass to the people the words of the Lord during the last years of that kingdom’s existence. He had to bear the hard work of telling those rebellious and hard-hearted people to repent from their sins and to warn them of the impending disasters and sufferings that they would have to endure because of their continued sins and wickedness. Jeremiah often spoke of the upcoming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, and hence was often ostracised, hated and persecuted although he was really telling the truth. There were many false prophets and false guides who tried to spread their falsehoods and steer the people to their own agenda, who were also likely the same ones that plotted against Jeremiah.

They made the people to resent Jeremiah for his usual tirades and speeches, which kept on calling out the people for their sins and wickedness, while those same false prophets used sweet words and lies to mollify and persuade the people of God to continue in their sinful way of life. They sought worldly glory and satisfaction, and chose to mislead the people for their own advantages and benefits. Those who were faithful like Jeremiah were persecuted and oppressed instead, but God never forgot about all those who faithfully believed in Him and trusted in Him. He cared for all of them and provided for them, guided and strengthened them with His Spirit and strength. Although they had to suffer for being God’s true disciples and followers, but He kept reassuring them of His ever present love and grace, and that He was with them through all those difficult moments and times.

That was what the Lord Himself has experienced as we heard ourselves in our Gospel passage today, detailing the moment when the Lord Jesus was confronted with resistance and opposition from many of the Jewish people living in Jerusalem. Back then, those Jewish people were those who followed the precepts and laws of the Lord as passed down to them from Moses and their ancestors most rigorously and devotedly, particularly the Jewish elites of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the chief priests and the scribes. Many among those people often criticised and opposed the Lord and His works as they saw what He taught and did as in opposition to their own interpretation and understanding of the Law and the ways of observing the commandments of God. They hardened their hearts and minds against Him such that although the Lord had taught and revealed the truth with such clarity and Wisdom, they still refused to believe.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s reflection, many of the Jews still could accept the fact that this upstart, the Son of a mere carpenter originating from the remote village of Nazareth in Galilee, which itself was at the periphery of the Jewish world then, could be the Holy One, the Messiah and Saviour that God had promised them, despite all the signs and wonders they themselves had witnessed pointing towards such a conclusion. That was why they rejected the Lord and persecuted Him, made His life, work and ministry to be very difficult, and the Lord had to hide Himself from their anger, as not a few amongst those people wanted Him dead and destroyed. Then, we heard how the Lord retreated to the wilderness, and it was there that many of those who were more open-minded and willing to listen to God’s truth and words, came to the Lord in droves.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we have heard it earlier on, we can see how persecution, hardships and challenges are often part and parcel of our lives and ministry as Christians, in whichever manner and area that we are moving in, and in whichever era and time, just as our many holy predecessors and ancestors can easily testify, by their own lives and also sufferings. Not few suffered grievously for their faith, and many even suffered martyrdom, most painful death and trials in their journey of faith. Yet, many if not most of them endured all of those sufferings with faith and trust in the Lord, committing themselves ever more to the Lord, and persevering with patience and grace, following the examples of their own predecessors, and not least, the Lord Jesus Himself, Who has also been cast out, rejected and persecuted, and condemned to die a most humiliating and painful death on the Cross.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we draw ever closer to the Holy Week and the momentous events of Easter Triduum, let us all deepen our understanding of all those events and everything that the Lord Himself had done for us and on our behalf. Let us all remind ourselves of the great and ever enduring love that God has shown each and every one of us, that He gave us His own beloved Son, the Divine Word and Son of God Incarnate, that we may see and reach out to His love, made tangible by the Incarnation of Christ in the flesh, and that by uniting His humanity to our own humanity, He might deliver us all from the certainty of damnation and destruction due to our many sins and wickedness, by showing us the example of perfect obedience and faith, and by bearing upon His own shoulders, all the burdens and punishments that should have been ours. He chose to be punished Himself, that through Him we may gain forgiveness and grace, and find the path to eternal life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore reflect carefully on our way of life and actions, especially as we continue to progress through this Lenten season and as we are about to begin Holy Week this Sunday. Let us all spend some time with the Lord, to reconnect ourselves to Him and grow ever more in love with Him. Let us all dedicate ourselves to the Lord with renewed zeal and love for Him, and let us all draw ever closer to Him, with each and every moments we have. May the Lord continue to bless and guide us in our journey of faith and life, and help us to lead a life that is truly holy, exemplary and worthy of Him. May all of us have a blessed upcoming Holy Week and Easter Triduum, and be ever prepared to welcome the Lord into our hearts. Amen.

Friday, 31 March 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 10 : 31-42

At that time, the Jews then picked up stones to throw at Jesus; so He said, “I have openly done many good works among you, which the Father gave Me to do. For which of these do you stone Me?”

The Jews answered, “We are not stoning You for doing a good work, but for insulting God; You are only a Man, and You make Yourself God.” Then Jesus replied, “Is this not written in your law : I said, you are gods? So those who received this word of God were called gods, and the Scripture is always true.”

“What then should be said of the One anointed, and sent into the world, by the Father? Am I insulting God when I say, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If I am not doing the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if I do them, even if you have no faith in Me, believe because of the works I do; and know that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

Again they tried to arrest Him, but Jesus escaped from their hands. He went away again to the other side of the Jordan, to the place where John had baptised, and there He stayed. Many people came to Jesus, and said, “John worked no miracles, but he spoke about You, and everything he said was true.” And many became believers in that place.

Friday, 31 March 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 17 : 2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7

I love You, o Lord, my Strength, the Lord is my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer and my God.

He is the Rock in Whom I take refuge. He is my Shield, my powerful Saviour, my Stronghold. I call on the Lord, Who is worthy of praise : He saves me from my enemies!

A deadly flood surrounded me, devillish torrents rushed at me; caught by the cords of the grave, I was brought to the snares of death.

But I called upon the Lord in my distress, I cried to my God for help; and from His Temple He heard my voice, my cry of grief reached His ears.

Friday, 31 March 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 20 : 10-13

I hear many people whispering, “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Yes, denounce him!” All my friends watch me to see if I will slip : “Perhaps he can be deceived,” they say; “then we can get the better of him and have our revenge.”

But YHVH, a mighty Warrior, is with me. My persecutors will stumble and not prevail; that failure will be their shame and their disgrace will never be forgotten. YHVH, God of hosts, You test the just and probe the heart and mind.

Let me see Your revenge on them, for to You I have entrusted my cause. Sing to YHVH! Praise YHVH and say : He has rescued the poor from the clutches of the wicked!

Thursday, 30 March 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we heard the words of the Lord contained in the Scriptures, all of us are reminded of the Covenant that God has established with each and every one of us, the Covenant that He has always kept and renewed with all of our predecessors and ancestors. God never broke His promises and Covenants, and He has always ever been faithful to whatever He has told and revealed to us. It was always us mankind who have disobeyed Him, betrayed and abandoned Him for many worldly temptations and attachments, all sorts of things that kept us away from truly being united with Him. God loves us all nonetheless and He has ever always patiently reached out to us, calling on us to repent from our sinful ways and to return to Him once again with sincere love and devotion.

In our first reading today, all of us heard from the Book of Genesis of the story of the moment when God made His Covenant with Abram, His servant, whom He had called from the land of his forefathers. Abram obeyed God and followed Him to wherever He had led him to, leaving those comforts he knew and went to a future that was unknown to him. Yet, he trusted the Lord wholeheartedly and let Him to guide him in all things, and hence, God, Who knows everyone’s hearts and knew of Abraham’s great and enduring faith in Him, chose him to be the one with whom He would make His Covenant with. Through Abram, whom God named Abraham as a mark of the Covenant that they had made between them, God made a great people that He had chosen to be His first called people, the Israelites. There were also many other nations that sprang forth from among the descendants of Abraham, and hence, he was known as the ‘father of nations’.

All of those things were in fact proof that God was indeed truthful to His Covenant, and had kept His words and promises. The Lord has promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, so many people that they will number more than the grains of sand in the shores and more than the stars in the universe. That was made at the time when Abraham was still yet childless and his wife Sarah was barren, and after many years, there had not been any child born from them yet. God would fulfil the promises He made, as Abraham had the promised child and son, and from his bloodline, came forth many people of many nations. Not only that but He still cared and kept His Covenant with all of those descendants, to the people whom He had called and chosen to be His own. He still cared for them and loved them even after they had frequently rebelled against Him and disobeyed Him.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the continuation of the confrontation between the Lord Jesus and the Jewish people in Jerusalem. The Jewish people assembled were angry against the Lord because of what He had done and taught, and revealed before them, especially as He referred to God as His own heavenly Father, which was indeed the truth. They refused to accept the fact that this Man before them, the Son of a mere carpenter from the backwater village of Nazareth, in Galilee at the periphery of the Jewish world could be anyone special, less a Prophet, and even less so as the Son of God, the Messiah and Saviour of the whole world. They took offence at the Lord when He said that He had known Abraham and existed before Abraham ever was. That was the truth, and the Lord has patiently revealed and explained it all to them, but in their pride and arrogance, those people closed their hearts and minds to Him.

Back then, those Jewish people were those who were especially particular about the Law of God and His commandments, as those who kept strictly the various rules, precepts, rites and various customs of their ancestors. They took great pride in their inheritance and the efforts they placed in their piety and observance of the Law of God. That was why they were unhappy and angered by the Lord Jesus and His teachings, His revelation and words which challenged their traditional understanding of the world and way of life, and threatened the influence that the elites among them, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law held. That was why they hardened their hearts and minds, refusing to listen to the truth and wisdom that God had revealed to all of them through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are reminded today of all these things by the Lord, we are all called to remind ourselves of the Covenant that He has made and renewed with us, and which He had renewed for once and for all, for eternity through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour by His Passion, His suffering and death on the Cross. It was by His selfless and willing sacrifice on our behalf, in caring for us and loving us that God has extended His ever generous love and grace towards us, in embracing us like a most loving and caring Father. He is always faithful to His Covenant and He remembers all the promises that He had made with us, and wants only our well-being and reconciliation with Him. For without God and separated from Him, there can be no life and true joy within us. We shall have no hope at all without the Lord by our side.

That is why, as we are soon about to enter into the most solemn and important moments of our whole entire liturgical year, the upcoming Holy Week and Easter Triduum, all of us should spend the time well to reflect on our way of life and our actions. We should think of whether our lives and actions have been reflecting well on our Christian faith and identity, and whether we have listened to the Lord and Him calling upon us all to follow Him. Have we placed the Lord as the centre and focus of our lives and existence? If our answer is no then the question is, ‘Why have we not done so yet?’ And if we allow ourselves to be swayed by the temptations of worldly glory, fame, attachment to worldly pleasures and desires like how those Jewish people at the time of the Lord’s ministry and what their leaders had done, then I am afraid that we may find it difficult to be truly faithful to God.

Let us all therefore embark on a journey of rediscovering our faith in God and our love for Him, filling our hearts and minds with God’s ever wonderful presence and grace. Let us all be like our father in faith, Abraham, the most faithful servant of God, in how he devoted his life to the Lord and followed Him with great trust in everything that He has promised him. May the Lord continue to bless us in our every efforts and journey, and guide us that we may be strengthened and encouraged amidst the many trials and challenges that we may have to face in our path forward as Christians. May God be with us always and be our Hope, Strength and Inspiration as we continue to follow Him in our lives, walking in the footsteps of Abraham, our father in faith, and our many other holy predecessors. Let us all prepare ourselves well especially for the upcoming Holy Week and Easter Triduum, and strive to be ever closer to the Lord, our most loving God and Father. Amen.

Thursday, 30 March 2023 : 5th Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 8 : 51-59

At that time, Jesus said to the Jews, “Truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never experience death.” The Jews replied, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died and the prophets as well, but You say, ‘Whoever keeps My word will never experience death.’ Who do You claim to be? Do You claim to be greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets also died.”

Then Jesus said, “If I were to praise Myself, it would count for nothing. But He Who gives glory to Me is the Father, the very One you claim as your God, although you do not know Him. I know Him, and if I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you. But I know Him and I keep His word. As for Abraham, your ancestor, he looked forward to the day when I would come; and he rejoiced when he saw it.”

The Jews then said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old and You have seen Abraham?” And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” They then picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and left the Temple.