Saturday, 1 June 2013 : 8th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Justin, Martyr (Scripture Reflection)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we heard about how the Pharisees and the chief priests doubted the power and authority of Christ, questioning the origins of His authority and works, and in doing so, failing to see the work of God that is in Christ. For all the miracles and the wonders that Christ had done in this world, are the works of the Father, and in doing all that, He did not do it for His own glory, but for the Father who had sent Him.

Why did then, the Pharisees, and the chief priests, who are supposed to be people most knowledgeable in anything related to the Scriptures and the prophecies of the prophets regarding the Messiah failed to see that Christ is the Messiah, and failed even to see the works of God in Jesus? That is, brothers and sisters, because they are blind! They are blinded by their own weaknesses, by jealousy, by hatred, and by prejudice, and the pride they had in their own abilities, in their own intellect, and in their own worldly power.

The Pharisees claimed to serve the Lord and showed this through their external piety, through loud and well-recognised prayers in public places, and by their ultra-orthodox approach to the faith by very strict observation of the Law of Moses, and the norms of the society at the time, even to the little matters such as the washing of the hands prior to meals. But in their strict observation of that Law, they had in fact become corrupted by the power and authority that had been entrusted to them as priests of the people of God.

To them had been granted the authority, the same authority and priestly power as granted to Aaron, the brother of Moses, who became the first High Priest of the people of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt. To them had been granted also the responsibility of guiding the people to remain faithful in the path and ways of the Lord, that the people would not falter and stray in their lives, and remain in God’s grace.

Yet, they had, over the centuries, grown to trust men much more than they trusted God. They placed human glory and acclamation ahead of true, heavenly glory that only God can give. They had grown so accustomed to the privileges they had in their position of authority and power, that they themselves began to stray from the path that God has appointed for them and entrusted them to keep the people faithful in. They, the leaders of the people, out of all others had themselves been bought over by the evil one. Indeed, the saying cannot be further than truth, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

In their position of authority, and with the privileges and honour they had grown so accustomed to, the priests and the elders had become arrogant, and jealous against anyone they see as rivals to their own authority and power, even if that rival is in fact the very Messiah that God had sent to save the people of Israel, and all mankind. This defiance against the Messiah was very evident today, given how they questioned the authority of Christ, which as God, has authority over all creation.

However, it is important to note that although it seems that those priests and elders look evil from how they were portrayed in the Gospels, but they themselves were not inherently evil. All mankind are inherently capable of doing what is good, and also what is evil. Ever since our ancestors, Adam and Eve, ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we had been exposed to both good and evil, and therefore, are fully capable of doing both. Whether to do good or to do evil, is entirely within our own decision capacity.

That is why, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important that we keep our faith in the Lord strong at all times, and anchor ourselves firmly in His love, so that we will not go astray, tempted and bought off by the enticing offers of the evil one, who had in his possession, all the world and all its ‘good’ things, that can easily tempt and seduce those who are weak-hearted, and those without firm faith in the Lord.

Today, therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, and from here on, we should always be reminded on the evils of this world, and the dangers that we constantly face in our daily struggles against evil and all that he employed in this world against God’s children. Especially, brethren, if we had been entrusted with positions of authority and power, do not abuse that power that the Lord had entrusted you, and do not let the sheep entrusted to you, their shepherd, to go astray from the truth of God.

But we need not fear, brethren, for Christ is amongst us, and He is always with us, if only that we remain faithful and obedient to Him and do all the commandments that He had given us, we are safe. The devil will have no power over us, and we will truly become God’s children. And instead of jealousy, we will be in complete awe and wonder for the glory of God, and with the angels and saints, we shall glorify Him forevermore when we are reunited with Him once again, in the eternal bliss of heaven.

Today we also commemorate the feast of a great early martyr of the Christian Church, St. Justin the Martyr, who died for the faith in the second century after the coming of Christ, in the early Church times. St. Justin was born a pagan and a philosopher, with a great intellect and quality education, that made him a very well-educated person in the society at the time. St. Justin encountered many believers of Christ in his journeys and travels, and despite being involved in arguments and debates with them, in fact, gradually, it kindled in him the love for God, and the steadfast faith in Christ.

St. Justin, despite his great intellect and knowledge, did not give in to his pride and human weakness, and instead put himself in God’s love and place his full trust in Him. That is why He was glorified in death, out of his steadfast and unfailing faith, even unto death, because, unlike the Pharisees and the chief priests, he did not let human pride and arrogance to get in the way of salvation. May we be able to follow in the footsteps of St. Justin, and become truly the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Justin the Martyr, pray for us. Amen.

Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (Scripture Reflection)

Today, again we listened to the Word of God, and found that if we stay faithful to God, despite all the temptations and the challenges facing us in our journey towards Him, God will reward us greatly, and in heaven our reward is great indeed. God loves us, and He does listen to us when we call on Him, and if we keep Him in our heart, we will not lose Him, for He is faithful.

Our modern world is filled with many things, tempting indeed for us, and many of these are so attractive that they divert our attention away from God, and into them. Worse still, these temptations made us forget about the love God has on us, how He died for us on the cross to save us from death and sin. Instead, we sin even more, and cause the Lord to grief over our continued rebellions against His ever-gracious mercy. For today, we learn indeed that there are three main forms of obstacles against us, against us in our journey towards the Lord. These are greed, power, and pride. These also translate as the three sources of temptations that affect us terribly, namely, commercialism, the world, and ourselves, our sinful beings.

First of all, when the devil tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread, in order to fulfill His hunger, the devil tapped into our own weakness to greed and for more. For hunger is a natural occurrence in our lives when we do not intake any food for a while, but many of us who are in great abundance, not only fail to resist the temptation of the devil, and place our stomach above all the rest. Just look at all the greed in all the excessive eating habits, the high rates of obesity in many developed nations, where people eat without abandon, and eat like as if there is no tomorrow.

Not only in the matter of food, but also in fact with regards to possessions and wealth, where there are many who dedicate their whole lives solely for the pursuit of wealth, and more wealth, and affluence, and then more affluence. These people may even stop at nothing to gain what they want, including hurting others in the process, especially those they see as competitors to their goal. This is how sin and evil permeate into the hearts of all the people, including even among the faithful today. Jesus told us the way to overcome this, that is to focus on the Word of God, for we do not live from bread alone, but indeed what is most important is the spiritual food that we have, that is the Scripture. Read the Scripture, reflect on it, share it, and understand it, and you will find that you will find fulfillment greater than food, wealth, and affluence can offer.

For food, wealth, possessions, and affluence will pass away, and they will not be with us after we die. There are many out there in the world who suffer from hunger and poverty, and yet many of the rich and even those who are in the middle class who are too busy with their worldly pursuits, to offer a helping hand. The Church, which is also the world’s largest humanitarian agency, had done much to help these people, the least among the least, the last, the shunned, and the weakest.

However, there is only so much the Church can do, and ultimately it depends on us to also extend our helping hand. After all, through the word of God in the Scripture, we now know that when we give aid to these least among us, to those shunned and rejected by the society, we have done it for Christ. For Christ too is rejected by many, and hated by the world. But we, who believe in Him, if we cling strongly to Him, we will gain our due reward when the time comes.

Then the second obstacle, which is power and the offer of worldly power indeed. The very well-known phrase of “power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely” is the perfect illustrator of this condition, in which power can corrupt us and twist us into a power-hungry beings seeking to gain more power or preserve our own power or control over others. This does not mean that power cannot be handled responsibly, but again, who do we then base that power on? Is it based on the Lord? or is it based on the evil one?

For indeed, a power that is of the Lord is also humble, and is also loving, for those wielding power responsibly, and belonging to the Lord will also know justice and love, and will not wield that power to cause suffering for others. Yet many use power and misuse that for their own purposes, and often cause suffering in others. The world offer a great temptation for many who has power, to always seek more and more in power and others, which is linked to that of the first obstacle, greed.

The quest for power has brought many destruction in the past, although also many constructive ones. Many people have died in wars and conflicts, especially those brought up by personal ambitions of certain people who seek ultimate power. They achieved it but for what? For power too does not last, and it is only temporary, either they are overthrown or they lose that power upon their death. Power is something that God entrusted to us, and therefore let us seek to use that authority responsibly, and not to misuse them for our own personal benefits and the detriment for others.

Then again, Jesus fought the devil and taught us that we should focus ourselves on the Lord and give the devil no attention, and base our own authority and power indeed in God and His teachings, that we can truly become wise, responsible, and just stewards of this power God has bestowed on us, for the good of others around us.

Then the last one, is the most difficult obstacle of all, that is the pride within our own being, and ourselves. We who are weak in flesh, are constantly tempted, and though our spirit is strong, but temptation of the flesh can indeed lead us astray from the path towards the Lord, but nothing is more difficult to conquer than that of pride. We humans are prideful in our nature, and pride is what has become the downfall of many. For pride prevented us from seeing in ourselves the defects that we have, and in pride too, we grow to seek more for ourselves, and hence greed, and also the quest for more power, that hunger also began from pride, pride in ourselves and our own abilities.

It is perfectly fine to be proud of our achievements if we also give what is due to the Lord, since it is with the Lord’s help that we can accomplish many things that we otherwise cannot accomplish on our own. Pride, undue pride in particular, is the main obstacle blocking us from giving what is due to God, to thank Him for His great blessing and kindness. Remember, the devil himself was the greatest, brightest, and most brilliant angels in all heaven, who was Lucifer, the light-bringer. But in pride, he has allowed himself to indulge in his own vanity, in his beauty and might, that he aspires to ascend and become God himself, challenging God the creator who created all including him. In his pride, he fell, and became the devil. We too, in our pride, can fall, and from the beautiful ones we are upon our creation by the Lord, we can fall to become nothing better than the servants of the devil in our pride and our hubris.

For pride prevents us from bowing down before the Lord, from acknowledging our sins and faults, and from approaching the Lord most merciful with a humble and contrite heart. Jesus taught us to be humble, and to not challenge the Lord our God in our pride, but to rather open ourselves to God’s love and mercy. Read the Scripture, understand the Word of God, and share our faith with one another, that we can learn more on the values and virtues of humility, simplicity, responsibility, and love itself.

Let us therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Lenten season, strive to make this time a fruitful one, where we learn to wield power and authority we have responsibly, and to extend our hands to help those needy around us, those who hunger for food, those who hunger for love, and those who hunger for God. Bring to them what they need, and show God’s enduring love for all of them. Then let us also approach God with great humility, acknowledging our sins and weaknesses, and ask the Lord for His forgiveness, which He will be happy to do so, if only we approach Him with broken, humble, and contrite heart. A heart that longs for God and His love alone.

Let us like Jesus, confidently reject Satan, devil, Lucifer, the fallen angel out of pride, with a solid commitment to God, rejecting all his temptations and all his offer of corrupting goods and powers, and rather put ourselves completely in God’s hands and entrust ourselves to Him with all our hearts, our minds, and our souls. May all of us have a blessed Lent, and be prepared to commemorate our Lord’s Passion this coming Holy Week. Amen.