Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the words of the Lord speaking to us and reminding us of the need for us to be faithful to God and to dedicate ourselves to Him despite the challenges, trials and persecutions we may encounter through life, and this is because the Lord has always been faithful to the Covenant that He has established with each and every one of us. We have nothing to fear and trust that a great and wonderful future and inheritance have been prepared for us by the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard what St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to St. Timothy, one of the earliest leaders of the Church as bishop and successor to the Apostles. St. Paul encouraged and strengthened St. Timothy as his mentor in the faith, that he ought not to lose courage and hope even in the midst of challenges that he might face throughout his own ministry given how often St. Paul had to endure persecution and ridicule during his missionary journeys.

St. Paul encouraged St. Timothy to continue in his mission and dedicate himself to the service of God, to ‘fan into flame’ the zeal and the Spirit that God had given unto them, referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul had received from the Apostles, and which St. Timothy had also received together with other members of the faithful. St. Paul uttered the powerful and encouraging words, that ‘God had not given us the spirit of fearfulness, but the spirit of strength, love and good judgement.’

St. Paul reassured St. Timothy and as such all of us as Christians, that he trusted completely in the Lord that no matter what, as he knew that for all the sufferings he had to endure, in the very end, the Lord will vindicate him and grant him and all the faithful ones, true joy and eternal glory, and St. Paul emphasised how the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world had triumphed against sin and death, darkness and evil, and showed us all the path to freedom from all of these, through Christ.

And all these are related to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard of the encounter and exchanges between the Lord and the members of the Sadducees, one of the two most powerful and influential groups within the Jewish community at that time. While the Pharisees represented those who zealously guarded the traditions and spiritual life of the people, the powerful intellectual and religious elite who had great influence over the society, the Sadducees represented the secular and powerful societal elites who were mostly irreligious and worldly in their attitudes and bearing.

The Sadducees rejected spiritual aspects of the Jewish customs and teachings, refusing to believe in the presence of Angels and the Spirit, as well as the concept of the afterlife. They rejected the notion that there is life after death and Resurrection after death into a new life. To them, this life on earth is the only life they have and are living through, and no other things matter more than to enjoy the world as it is, and thus, they tend to live an excessive lifestyle, and had self-serving and selfish attitudes.

But the Lord rebuked them well when they came up to Him and tried to test Him with the trick question, asking if seven brothers all shared a woman as their wife, as according to the Jewish laws and customs, when a man died without having any descendant to continue his name and lineage, it was his brother’s responsibility and obligation to take the widow of the deceased man to be his own wife, and the firstborn child of the union would be considered as the child of the deceased brother.

Based on what we have heard, the Sadducees showed their disdain and lack of belief in anything spiritual, on the matter of afterlife and faith, by their worldly way of thinking, desiring for worldly pleasures and joys, including having wives and therefore perhaps other forms of worldly desires and wants. Their preoccupation with such matters showed that their attachments to the world prevented them from being able to follow the Lord and have faith in Him.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this world, all of us as Christians are challenged to overcome our excessive attachments to the world and to be more trusting in God and allow Him to guide us in our path. St. Paul had shown this in our first reading today, as he reminded all of us not to worry about worldly trials and persecutions, or even to suffer and to endure ridicule and rejection from the world as we live our lives in a most Christian manner. Instead of worrying about our lives now, let us instead focus our attention on the assurance of the life that is to come, the fullness of life and true joy in the kingdom of God.

Today, coincidentally we celebrate the feast of saints whose lives and examples essentially explain what we have been discussing today. The Holy Martyrs of Uganda, namely St. Charles Lwanga and his many companions, missionaries and local converts to the Christian faith, martyrs of brutal persecutions against them, show us what it truly means for us as Christians to remain faithful to the Lord even amidst opposition, and at times, danger and threats to our livelihood and existence.

At that time, as Christian missionaries began to come to the region now known as Uganda, those missionaries were quite successful in their efforts and quite a few people came to believe in the Lord and gave themselves to be baptised as Christians. Before long, the missionary works and efforts led to conversions among the local populace, and quite a few of the local nobles and high-ranking officials also converted. Unfortunately, this caused members of the faithful, the missionaries and the local converts to be caught up in the bitter political struggle for control at that time.

Very soon, the king who was suspicious and wary of the rapid growth of the Christian faith and its rapidly growing followers, began to persecute the Christians from all walks of life, from the common men right up to even those among the nobles and the officials. Christian objections and opposition to some of the immoral attitudes and actions of the king and the then still pagan members of the community made opposition and persecution against them to become even more rampant and powerful.

It was at Namugongo just outside of modern day Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that dozens of Christians, including St. Charles Lwanga, the chief page or servant of the king, were burnt to death because of their refusal to recant their Christian faith and embrace the immoral actions ordered by the king. As the chief page, St. Charles Lwanga often did his best to protect the victims of the king’s immoral actions and behaviours from his efforts and advances at fornication and sin with them. St. Charles Lwanga became a Catholic and baptised many hundreds of his fellow compatriots in the faith secretly, even from the time when he himself was just merely a catechumen.

When the Christian converts refused to abandon their newfound faith in God, they were tortured and brutally put to death, mostly by burning on the stake. Their courage in standing up for their faith, their steadfast refusal from abandoning their faith and safeguarding their own personal desires and safety, knowing that God was always with them and standing by them, became a great source of inspiration and example for many Christians over the years. At the site of their martyrdom now stands a great Basilica, the Basilica of Holy Ugandan Martyrs at Namugongo which draw regularly over two million pilgrims every year.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard and seen the faith of St. Paul the Apostle, the courage and faith of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda we are all called to reexamine our way of life and our faith. Are we able to trust in God and to have faith in Him as our holy predecessors had shown us all? Are we able to detach ourselves from worldly excesses, from worldly temptations and the allures of worldly pleasures? Let us all reorientate our lives so that from now on, we live no longer for the purpose of attaining our own selfish desires, but rather to glorify God with every single actions and deeds in life.

May the Lord be with us always and may He be our guide, that we may always have that courage and strength in us to carry on living with faith even though we may endure ridicule, suffering, pain and even persecution because of our dedication to the Lord. Let us all be ever more genuine followers of Christ from now on. O Holy Martyrs of Uganda, St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, pray for us all your brothers and sisters in faith, that we too may have the strength and courage to follow the Lord as you have done. Amen.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 12 : 18-27

At that time, the Sadducees also came to Jesus. Since they claim that there is no resurrection, they questioned Him in this way, “Master, in the Scriptures Moses gave us this law : if anyone dies and leaves a wife but no children, his brother must take the woman, and with her have a baby, who will be considered the child of his deceased brother.”

“Now, there were seven brothers. The first married a wife, but he died without leaving any children. The second took the wife, and he also died leaving no children. The same thing happened to the third. In fact, all seven brothers died, leaving no children. Last of all the women died. Now, in the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife? For all seven brothers had her as wife.”

Jesus replied, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry, but are like the Angels in heaven. Now, about the resurrection of the dead, have you never had thoughts about the burning bush in the book of Moses?”

“God said to Moses : I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He is the God not of the dead but of the living. You are totally wrong.”

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 122 : 1-2a, 2bcd

To You, I lift up my eyes; to You, Whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master.

As the eyes of maids look to the hand of their mistress, so our eyes look to YHVH our God, till He shows us His mercy.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

2 Timothy 1 : 1-3, 6-12

From Paul, Apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, for the sake of His promise of eternal life, in Christ Jesus, to my dear son Timothy. May grace, mercy and peace be with you, from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus Our Lord.

I give thanks to God, Whom I serve with a clear conscience, the way my ancestors did, as I remember you constantly, day and night, in my prayers. For this reason, I invite you to fan into a flame, the gift of God you received, through the laying on of my hands. For God did not confer on us a spirit of fearfulness, but of strength, love and good judgment.

Do not be ashamed of testifying to Our Lord, nor of seeing me in chains. On the contrary, do your share in labouring for the Gospel, with the strength of God. He saved us and called us – a calling which proceeds from His holiness. This did not depend on our merits, but on His generosity and His own initiative.

This calling, given to us from all time, in Christ Jesus has just been manifested with the glorious appearance of Christ Jesus, Our Lord, Who destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light, in His Gospel. Of this message, I was made herald, Apostle and teacher.

For its sake, I now suffer this trial, but I am not ashamed, for I know in Whom I have believed, and I am convinced, that He is capable of taking care of all I have entrusted to Him, until that day.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the penultimate day of the Easter season, as tomorrow we will together as the whole Church celebrate the great Solemnity of the Pentecost, the birth time of the Church at the time when the Lord sent His Holy Spirit to all of His Apostles and disciples, sending them forth to all the nations and to all the peoples to preach His Good News and truth.

Yet, at the same time, we must also keep in mind, that to become a disciple of the Lord is not something that is very simple or safe. As the reality is that, as disciples of the Lord, there will always be challenges, difficulties, and times when we may feel to be alone amidst all those who are up against us, as what the Apostles and the disciples themselves had experienced.

As we heard in the readings today, the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles spoke of the life which St. Paul had in Rome during the last years of his life and ministry, a relatively peaceful time before what was told to be the first major official persecution of the Christian faith by the Roman Empire, when the city of Rome was engulfed in a massive firestorm, and blame quickly were laid on the Christian communities. It was told that St. Paul met his martyrdom by beheading at that time, the year of our Lord sixty-four.

Many Christians became victims of the persecutions, be it by the Jewish authorities, the chief priests and the Pharisees in the earliest days of the Church, or by the opposition and persecutions by the Roman authorities, including the one which I had just mentioned. And there were also resistance by those pagan priests and philosophers, who refused to see their old and traditional pagan worship to be replaced by the Christian faith.

But, at the same time, there were also many people, Jews and Gentiles alike, who were willing to receive the words of truth, and to accept the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. These people were willing to turn away from their past sinful ways, and become Christians, and thus strengthening the foundations of the early Church. Many of them eventually also met persecution, suffering and even martyrdom because of their faith, and also refusal to apostasise from their faith.

If not for their courage, the bravery and devotion of the Apostles, disciples, saints and martyrs who have laboured hard for the sake of the Lord and His Church, many souls would not have been saved, and many would have been lost to damnation in hell. We too, would not have received the faith we now have, if not for the hard work of all those who have passed down the faith to us, just as the Apostles passed down the teachings of the Lord to their successors.

Today, we remember the memory of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions, who were Christian converts in the country now known as Uganda. They became Christians after missionaries came to their area, bearing the word of God’s truth, and they converted to the faith, leaving their pagan and sinful ways behind them. However, this met with a great resistance by the king, who wanted to eradicate all traces of Christianity in his domain.

Therefore, the king ordered the arrest, persecution and also killing of many of the. Christian converts and missionaries, who suffered terribly under the great persecution. Yet, St. Charles Lwanga and many others who had been sentenced to death because of their faith refused to renounce the Lord and their newfound faith. They remained true to their devotion and as a result were executed. St. Charles Lwanga himself met his martyrdom by being burnt alive on a stake.

But their martyrdom inspired many more Christians to persist in their faith, and it was told that many of their persecutors eventually became Christians themselves, and including even the king. Through all these examples, all of us as Christians living in our world today must realise that, first of all, there are a lot of things that we still need to do, in order to bring the testimony of our faith to all those who have not yet known or even have rejected the Lord.

And then, we must remember that when we face difficulties and persecutions from the world, we have to stay firm and resolute amidst those challenges. If we give up or allow ourselves to be distracted by temptations of the world, then our failure to act will cause not just ourselves but also potentially many others to fall as well, and their damnation will be on our own, and we are the ones to be blamed for that.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all continue to strive to lead a holy and righteous life, by doing what the Lord had taught us to do, and by devoting ourselves completely, heart, body, mind and soul to Him, keeping in mind the zeal and the courage which the Holy Apostles, saints, and martyrs, including St. Charles Lwanga and his companions had shown in their respective lives. May the Lord be with us all, and may He bless all of our works and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
John 21 : 20-25

At that time, Peter looked back and saw that the disciple Jesus loved was following as well, the one who had reclined close to Jesus at the supper, and had asked Him, “Lord, who is to betray You?”

On seeing him, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until Income, does that concern you? Follow Me!” Because of this the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus had not said to Peter, “He will not die,” but, “Suppose I want him to remain until I come.”

It is this disciple who testifies about the things he has written here, and we know that his testimony is true. But Jesus did many other things; if all were written down, I think the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Psalm 10 : 4, 5 and 7

The Lord is in His holy place – our God Whose throne is in heaven. He looks down to earth to observe the race of Adam.

The Lord searches both righteous and wicked. He hates those who delight in violence, for the Lord is righteous; He loves justice. The upright will see His face.

Saturday, 3 June 2017 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Acts 28 : 16-20, 30-31

Upon our arrival in Rome, the captain turned the prisoners over to the military governor but permitted Paul to lodge in a private house with the soldier who guarded him. After three days, Paul called together the leaders of the Jews.

When they had gathered, he said to them : “Brothers, though I have not done anything against our people or against the traditions of our fathers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to set me free, for they saw nothing in my case that deserved death.”

“But the Jews objected, so I was forced to appeal to Caesar without the least intention of bringing any case against my own people. Therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I bear these chains.”

Paul stayed for two whole years in a house he himself rented, where he received without any hindrance all those who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught the truth about Jesus Christ, the Lord, quite openly and without any hindrance.