Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are called by God to leave behind our past lives of sin, of disobedience against God, of rebelliousness and waywardness in life, of all sorts of temptations and things that have separated us from the fullness of God’s love among other things. We are called to embrace instead the fullness of God’s love and mercy as we continue to progress through this blessed season and time of Lent.

The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity through His Church in the institution of the time of Lent to precede the glorious season of Easter as a reminder that all of us are sinners and are in need of purification and change in our way of life. God will guide us in this journey of reconciliation and forgiveness, if we allow Him to guide our path and open our hearts and minds to welcome Him into our midst. On the other hand, if we are stubborn and refuse to change or be open to God, then we will not have any progress in this regard.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us now take a closer look at what we have just heard in our Gospel passage today. In that occasion, the Lord Jesus called a tax collector named Levi to follow Him, and Levi readily obeyed, leaving everything behind, his work and all, and followed Jesus. Then, before he was to proceed, Levi’s fellow tax collectors had a dinner with the Lord, which was frowned upon by the Pharisees who considered the tax collectors as traitors and sinners.

Tax collectors had always been reviled and hated during the time of Jesus because not only that they were the ones who collected the much hated taxes that saw people’s incomes being diminished due to the tax for the state, but even more so because at that time the Roman Empire reigned supreme in the Mediterranean region and including over Judea, Galilee and all the lands of the Israelites, those taxes were levied by the Romans and the tax collectors were seen as traitors to the nation and as collaborators of the Romans.

To that extent, the tax collectors faced not just intense hatred and dislike but also plenty of prejudice and bias against them. They were seen as dirty, unworthy, wicked, corrupt and evil and were generally shunned by the rest of the society. And this is precisely the sentiment made popular and spread by the Pharisees, who saw themselves as the antithesis of those tax collectors, being pious, good and obedient to the Law, as role models for the people and worthy inheritors of God’s promise.

The Pharisees looked down on the tax collectors and they severely criticised the Lord for His willingness to eat in the house of the tax collector and with those tax collectors no less. But they forgot a very important fact, that just like the tax collectors, they themselves were sinners, but unlike the tax collectors who were willing to listen to the Lord Jesus and accepted His truth, the Pharisees instead hardened their hearts and minds and refused to believe in Jesus.

In what the Lord Jesus then spoke before all of them, that He came into this world seeking those who are sick and troubled, as sins are truly the sickness of our deepest beings, corruptions upon our souls, thus, comparing the attitudes of the tax collectors and the Pharisees, we can easily see which of the two would in the end reap the benefit and wonders of God’s mercy and love. The tax collectors though sinners, they wanted to be healed by God and opened themselves to God’s mercy. And one of their own number, Levi, later to be known as Matthew, became a great saint, one of the Lord’s own Twelve Apostles and one of the Four Evangelists.

Meanwhile, the Pharisees, though also sinners, they did not see the depth of their sins and refused the healing that God has offered them. They kept themselves in their pride and refused to allow God’s healing to work in them. Nonetheless, the Lord continued to be patient with them, and we can see how He even forgave them all at the moment of His ultimate suffering on the Cross, asking His heavenly Father to forgive them their sins.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what can we learn from all these? It is the fact that all of us are sinners who have been privileged to have such a loving, caring, compassionate and merciful God, willing to embrace us and to heal us from our afflictions of sin. And we are sinners who have been called to a new existence with God, to embrace a new life filled with God’s grace and free from the corruption of sin. God despises our sins, but not us sinners, and therefore, we should make use of this opportunity especially during this season of Lent, we should draw ourselves closer to God.

May the Lord continue to be with us and watch over us as we journey through life and through this penitential season of Lent. May the Lord bless us and our many good endeavours of faith, and may He strengthen our faith and help us to love Him more and more with each passing moment. Amen.

Friday, 28 February 2020 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are brought yet again to the topic of fasting as a practice that we commonly do during the season of Lent. Especially our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Rites traditions practice fasting throughout the season of Lent, and while we in the Roman Rite are required to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, it will be good for us to discern deeper on the significance of fasting to us.

Fasting is meant for us to remind us of the limitations of our physical bodies and also to restrain our ever-present desires, for the nourishment and satisfaction of food. We know how easily we succumb to the temptation to snack and to gobble as much good food as we are able to lay our hands on. Whenever our eyes look upon good food, naturally we will crave and desire for them, and we want to satisfy ourselves with them.

That is why fasting as a practice trains us in our endurance to resist the many temptations present all around us that are threatening to drag us deeper and deeper into sin. All these temptations distract our focus and attention from God and make us to carry on our lives following the wrong path that is the path of sin and darkness, the path of selfishness, greed and pride that will lead us even further down into the trap of sin.

That is why today we are reminded to fast with the right intention and purpose, and not just fasting but also all sorts of our observances and practices for this Lenten season. It is important that we have the right disposition and direction as we move along through this time of purification and repentance. This Lenten season is a good time for us to reorientate ourselves and our lives, as we seek to redress our sins and our past wicked ways of life, and embrace once again God’s love and embrace His mercy.

However, it is very easy for us to end up falling into the trap of following the laws and practices of the Church as mere formality and customary, as we heard from the Book of the prophet Isaiah when the Lord spoke to His people about the kind of fasting that pleased Him. He mentioned how fasting was not just about putting on sackcloths and ashes on oneself as were customary at that time in show of repentance and regret, but more importantly, fasting must be accompanied with a change from within and not just the outside.

For the Pharisees in the Gospel passage today criticised the Lord and His disciples as the disciples did not fast as how the Law of Moses has prescribed fasting on certain days and customs. The Pharisees looked down on them because they in particular treasured the Law and how they observed the Law with great particularity and zeal, to the point that they actually had forgotten the purpose of what they were doing. The Pharisees fasted and did all that because they wanted to be praised for what they have done and they liked it when others looked up to them for their piety and commitment.

If that is the way that we observe our Lent and our fasting and abstinence, then it will not do us any good as when this happened, our hearts and minds are filled not with the love and desire for God and to be forgiven our sins and faults, but instead we are filled with the sin of pride and greed. And the devil knows this very well, so that is why he is busy trying to distract us and to lead us down the path of pride, seeking glorification and satisfaction for our actions and for our piety that defeat the purpose of our Lenten observances in the first place.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on how we can make best use of this Lenten season by turning ourselves and our whole being towards God. Let us not be distracted by vanity and pride, and in fact, let us humble ourselves before God, stripping ourselves free from all the corruption of ego, pride, ambition, greed and desire that had clouded our judgment all these while, leading us down the wrong path of sin. Let us all sincerely repent from our sins and make best use of this opportunity that God has given to us, His wonderful and generous mercy that He has provided us. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 27 February 2020 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we enter into the season of Lent that began yesterday with Ash Wednesday, we are constantly being reminded that as Christians our lives in this world will be filled with trials and challenges that we must be ready to endure, the crosses of our lives that we have to bear daily, in following Christ each and every moments of our lives.

If we have not had a difficult and challenging time in life, perhaps we have not truly been faithful in how we have lived our lives so far. I am not saying that we have to go through difficulties and challenges in life in being Christians, but rather that, maybe we have tried to avoid those challenges and difficulties by taking the easier way out by compromising on our Christian values and way of life, and instead adopting ways that are more acceptable to the world.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy was the words of the Lord that He had spoken and conveyed to His people, the Israelites through Moses towards the end of their Exodus and journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, on the matter of choosing between the life and path that God has provided and the path of worldliness. He pointed out that while one path leads to life and good, the other leads to evil and death.

This is the same choice that we have then heard being presented by the Lord Jesus to His disciples in our Gospel passage today, as He first revealed to them what He would have to endure as the Son of Man, to be betrayed and made to suffer before He was to die on the Cross, a most painful and humiliating death. And He said how those who believe in Him put their faith in Him ought to take up their crosses and follow Him, to lose their lives that they may gain in the eternal glory that is to come.

In this instance, the Lord also presented the same truth to us, on how we have a choice between enjoying all that this world has to offer us, all the materialistic pursuits and excesses of pleasures that are abundant in our world today, all the pursuits for satisfaction in money, possessions and wealth, in the accumulation of fame and glory, in the gain of prestige and honour, in satisfying our desire for the pleasures of the flesh in all kinds. All of these give us a great and enjoyable life in our world now, but the reality is that, all these things draw us further and further away from God.

The devil knows this very well, and this is why he is doing all that he can do tempt us, persuade us, force us and coerce us to fall into the many temptations present in our lives. The temptations to choose the path that seem more acceptable, easier and more profitable and beneficial to us, which is more often than not, the path of comfort and selfishness, the path of pleasure and indulgence, the path that leads us to temporary joy and satisfaction in this world but which leads us to damnation.

On the other hand, following God more often than not requires us to endure opposition and rejection, ridicule and persecution from others as what Our Lord Himself has experienced. It is a challenge for us to remain faithful as a Christian in our daily living, to be witnesses of our faith in the midst of our communities and among others who do not yet believe in God. And some of us have it more difficult than others, especially those who live in places where Christians are being persecuted daily.

There are many of our fellow brethren out there who are still struggling daily as they have to even hide their faith for being a Christian may mean certain death or suffering, where the worship of Our Lord is forbidden and difficult to get by, among other reasons. There are many out there who are prejudiced against, persecuted and rejected just because they believe in Christ, and these are those who share in the cross of Christ daily. But it does not then mean that if we do not suffer in the same way they do then we are not carrying our crosses.

Rather, to carry our cross means that we ought to be true disciples of Christ in everything, and not just in mere formality only. There are many of us who treat our faith as no more than just fulfilling the basic obligations of our faith, and we even did so grudgingly, preferring to make use of the time to satisfy our other desires and wishes instead. If we carry on living like this, it is what the Lord exactly meant by losing our souls and everything just so that we can gain the glory of the world. Is it worth for us to gain a temporary pleasure now and then suffer an eternity in suffering from which there is no escape? Let us think carefully about it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we enter into this season of Lent, each and every one of us are called to live our lives with a newfound faith and commitment to God. We are all called to be true witnesses of the Lord and dedicate our lives to the service of God from now on. Let us all reflect on this and see in which way we then can live our lives in a more Christian manner, by taking up our crosses in life daily, striving to love the Lord our God through our daily actions and deeds at all times. Let our Lenten observances, deepening ourselves through prayer, charitable works, fasting and abstinence bring us closer to God and away from the many temptations around us.

May God bless us all and may He grant us the courage and strength to be faithful even through the difficult challenges and moments of our journey in faith. May God also help us to resist the temptations to abandon our faith and seek instead the pleasures of life, that all of us may be reminded instead of the love which God has for each and every one of us, so that He was willing to bear the suffering and pain of the Cross and death, that each and every one of us may not perish because of our sins, but live. Amen.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we mark the beginning of the sacred season of Lent, the forty days of preparation for the season of Easter. On this day which is Ash Wednesday, all of us as Christians are reminded of our own sinfulness, vulnerability and mortality, with the symbolic use of the blessed ashes sprinkled or marked on our foreheads that is accompanied by the words, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’ or ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’.

Today on Ash Wednesday we mark a break from our usual life with the practice of fasting and abstinence, in which all of us Christians are bound to do in accordance with the laws and rules of the Church. Abstinence is a must for all Christians aged fourteen years and above, for them to abstain from eating of meat, as well as other form of restraining of oneself from a desire. Meanwhile, fasting is compulsory for all Christians aged between eighteen and fifty-nine years old for them to have only one full meal during the day with two smaller meals called collations that when added do not constitute a full meal.

The practice of fasting and abstinence are done as part of our faith and the Church law as these help us to remind ourselves to not be overcome by the many temptations present in our lives, be it the temptation of wealth, the temptation of glory and fame, the temptation of pleasure and all sorts of other worldly pursuits that we often face daily in this life. This is why we practice fasting and abstinence because we want to control ourselves and restrain our desires and attachments to worldly things.

For all these attachments, desires and temptations in life often caused us to falter in our lives and in our journey towards God. As long as we allow ourselves to be distracted with those temptations in life, we will not be able to fully reconcile ourselves with God, and as a result too, we will likely be drawn further and further away from Him as if we allow our desires and all the worldly temptations to affect us, we will end up seeking self preservation and fulfilment in life, in our actions and words and deeds, thinking of our own wants and desires above that of serving God.

That is why so many of us mankind have forgotten about God, overlooking Him and denying Him His rightful presence and position in our lives. Instead of being the sole focal point and centre of attention, God has often been sidelined and ignored, and we only remember Him when we are in trouble and in need of help. Even then, many of us prefer to seek comfort and help from other sources besides God, as we are often tied by our own attachments to wealth, power, fame and all sorts of worldliness as mentioned.

The Lord has called all of us as Christians to free ourselves from all those things that often become obstacles in our path towards God and His salvation. He wants us to be rid of the excesses of our greed that kept our attention to be focused on fulfilling our desires and doing things that are contrary to what God has taught us through our Christian faith and the Church. That is why we fast, we abstain and restrain ourselves with humility and determination that we will not end up falling deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

That is why beginning on today, Ash Wednesday, we enter into this time and season of purification and the rediscovery of our faith. It is also a time to reorientate our lives and find our path towards God if we have fallen away or moved in the direction all these while. God has always been willing to welcome us back and forgive us all our sins, provided that we are willing to change our ways and repent wholeheartedly from our previous waywardness and sinful ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is exactly where the difficult part is, as too many of us are prevented by our ego and pride to admit that we have erred and made mistakes in our lives. We are too proud to admit that we have been wrong and that we are in need of healing, and that is why then many among us just carry on through life not bothered by our sins and failures to keep God’s laws and commandments. And thus on this particular day, as the blessed ashes are sprinkled on the crown of our heads or marked on our foreheads, we are reminded to humble ourselves that after all, no matter how great or prideful we are, if we allow sin to continue to reign over our lives, there will truly be nothing left for us but annihilation and damnation.

Many of us are distracted by the temptations I mentioned earlier, and we spent so much time and effort trying to pamper and satisfy ourselves, pleasing ourselves will all sorts of worldly preoccupations and rejoicing. We live thinking as if we will live forever or that whatever we have accumulated in life will be ours forever. We are obsessed with our appearances and with maintaining our good persona in front of everyone else, and yet, we forget that no matter how much we have invested into all these, it takes just one moment of death to separate us from all these.

As I said before, the blessed ashes remind us that ultimately, all of our ambitions and desires, our obsessions and schemings are meaningless due to our mortality, and we are all reminded of the shortness of our lives. We should not think that we can just do it as we please, and take advantage of God’s generous and rich offer of mercy. If we keep on postponing and delaying, waiting for the right moment for us to repent, we will be disappointed to know eventually that we may likely end up in damnation before we manage to repent.

We should not delay or wait any longer, brothers and sisters in Christ, and we have to make good use of this precious opportunity given to us to embrace fully God’s generous mercy and love. That is why this season of Lent is also known as the season of preparation for Easter, as not only just that we are looking forward to the glorious joy of Easter, but we are also reminded that during this period, we are to make ourselves ready in heart, mind, soul and indeed in our whole being to fully immerse ourselves in the celebration of the most important moments of the history of our salvation.

For Lent is when we are constantly reminded of the nature of our frail and weak human existence, easily tempted by the devil and all his wicked allies the evil spirits who are always ready all around us trying to bring about our downfall. And it is also then a reminder that while we have sinned and fallen from grace, but we must remember that in the end, the love of God for each and every one of us is even far greater than the terrible weight of our sins.

And that is why today we are reminded, that for all of our Lenten practices and observances, such as fasting and abstinence, as the Lord mentioned in our Gospel passage today, must have the right intention and purpose. We are warned not to follow the examples of the Pharisees who fasted publicly and with great emphasis to be seen and praised by others for their piety and observance of the Law of God. That kind of faith is empty and meaningless as deep inside their hearts, God was not present. Instead they were too full of pride to allow God to enter.

Why do we fast or do abstinence, brothers and sisters in Christ? Is it so that others see us and applaud our faith? Or is it that we can satisfy certain desires we have, such as being cleansed and forgiven from our sins? The second and latter one is certainly not too far from what we ought to be doing, but as I mentioned earlier, for forgiveness and mercy to come fully to us, there is a need for us to have that love for God and the desire because of that love to seek to be forgiven from our sins.

Remember how Christ loved each and every one of us who are sinners, who betrayed Him and abandoned Him, who were among those who condemned Him to a most painful death on the Cross. And yet, it is exactly because He loved us so much, that He was willing to bear the burden of the Cross for us. That is how the Cross of Christ become for us a symbol of victory and triumph from our sins, a symbol of God’s ultimate love for us and our redemption.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we bear the symbol of the blessed ashes on the crown of our heads today, and begin the proper season of Lent, are we able to love God with a new zeal and commitment knowing just how much He has loved each and every one of us all these while? If He can love us all so much to bear the immense suffering of the Cross, then surely we can also make the effort to love Him no? And this is why we fast and do our abstinence today, and observe our Lenten observations and practices, because we love God and because we love Him, we want to be purified from our previous, wicked ways.

Let us all begin this season of Lent right, brethren in Christ, that we may make good use of this time and opportunity given to us to change our lives and repent wholeheartedly in this season of Lent so that we who are sinners may be forgiven our sins by God, our loving Lord and Father, and receive from Him the assurance of new life filled with true joy and grace, by His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ and His loving sacrifice on the Cross for us. May the Lord be with us always and may His blessings always be upon us. I wish all of us, a most fruitful and blessed season and time of Lent. Amen.

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded that God is so full of love and mercy towards us, that He is willing to forgive us all our sins and to give us once again the wondrous graces and love, the promise of inheritance that we have once been entitled to, through the forgiveness of our sins. Although our sins may have indeed been very great, but God’s love for each one of us is even greater.

That is why He was willing to give it all to us, for our sake, that He willingly carried the heavy burden of the cross, so that by His suffering on the cross and by His death, He frees us all from the bondage of sin and death. The cross of Christ is the perfect symbol and evidence of His love for each one of us, of the great desire which Our Lord has for our salvation and for our turnaround from the path towards damnation, into reconciliation with Him.

God is calling on all of us to repent from our sins, and to turn away from our wicked paths, calling on us to abandon our past ways of disobedience and waywardness, our refusal to listen to Him and our stubbornness in following our own prideful and ambitious ways. God gives us opportunities, one after another, chances after chances, for us to turn back to Him, and to seek Him and His mercy before it is too late for us.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of how the Lord Jesus confronted the Pharisees who criticised Him for His interactions with those whom they deemed to be sinners and to be unworthy of God’s grace and love. The tax collectors were among those who were at the bottom of the society’s regards and status, as they were widely viewed as betrayers and traitors to the nation for having apparently colluded with the Roman overlords.

But the Lord showed pity and mercy towards them, even when the Pharisees were criticising Him before the people for doing so. And the Lord made it clear that He came into the world seeking the healing and forgiveness of sinners, and those whose sins were greater, were those whom the Lord sought first, as He hoped to rescue them from the fate of eternal damnation. And many of the tax collectors were sorrowful and repentant of their sins, and they were forgiven.

And we heard how one among the tax collectors left everything behind and followed the Lord, the man who was known as Levi, later known as St. Matthew the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the Four Evangelists. This example shows us how even great sinners can become great saints, as long as they turn away from their sinful ways and sincerely repented from their wickedness. Those who turn towards God and placed their trust in Him will indeed not be disappointed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must realise that none of us are perfect in our ways, and in some way or another, we have not been fully obedient and good, and therefore, sins have corrupted us and caused us to fall deeper and deeper into this trap, and being led further and further away in estrangement from the Lord. We should not follow the examples of the Pharisees, who took great pride in their supposed piety and righteousness.

Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because it does not matter how small or how great our sins are, as the fact remains that we are all sinners in need of healing and forgiveness. And it does not give any one of us the right to condemn or look down on others just because we think that our sins are lighter and smaller than others’ sins. It is not right for us to be judgmental on others just because we think that we are better than them.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Frances of Rome, a holy woman and religious Benedictine oblate who was remembered for her devotion and piety, despite her noble and privileged upbringing. St. Frances of Rome often took care of the sick and the poor that she encountered, and despite the various challenges that she and her family had to experience, she continued to live a holy life that is dedicated to the service of God, and in her charitable love for her brethren who were in need.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we are called to follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, in how they lived their lives with holiness, turning away from sins and wickedness. God is calling each and every one of us to holiness, to be forgiven from our sins, that we may be redeemed from our bondage to that great obstacle which prevented us from being able to be reunited with our God.

Let us all dedicate ourselves anew to the Lord, our time, effort and attention, to love the Lord our God and to serve our fellow brethren, to care for those who are in need. May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us all in our love and dedication for Him. May God bless us all and our good works. Amen.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are yet reminded again of the matter of fasting and how important this practice of fasting for each and every one of us. As Christians we practice fasting as well as abstinence at certain times in the year, and the practice of fasting have to be done with full understanding and appreciation of what it can do to us, if we truly practice fasting as well as abstinence with the right reasons and purpose.

What we heard today in our first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah as well as the Gospel passage today ought to jolt us and to make us realise that we do not fast or abstain from meat and from other things we want to abstain from, just because it is a formality and an obligation to do so. That is because it is easy for us to practice certain acts of piety and devotions, and yet, we did them not out of love for God, but because we want attention to ourselves, or that we want to satisfy our pride, ego and greed.

That was what happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law during the time of Jesus. When the Pharisees asked the disciples why they did not fast just as they have done, the Lord answered them that they would fast when the time was right, when He was to be taken away from them, and then they would fast. They did not fast just because they wanted to be seen or to be praised for doing so, unlike the Pharisees who made a lot of fuss and brought plenty of attention to their activities and pious acts.

When they fasted, they did so mainly because they were swayed by their pride, ego, desire and ambition. They wanted the people to praise them and respect them because of the things that they did. God did not have place of honour in their hearts and minds, as He should have received. God should have been the focus and at the centre of our every actions and works. But without that genuine love and dedication that each and every one of us should have for Him, we will not be able to remain faithful to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time and season of Lent we are called to redirect our focus in life as well as our attention back towards the Lord, by means of fasting and abstinence. When we fast, we must have the right focus and attention at heart, which means that we fast because we want to restrain our inner desires, all the wicked temptations that are within our hearts and minds, that caused us to sin against God.

When we abstain, we also restrain our own predisposition to sin, our vulnerability to the disobedience against God. Thus instead of following the examples of the Pharisees who used their practice of fasting and abstinence in the entirely wrong direction and intention, using those as excuse to indulge in their own ego, desires and pride, we should reject those prideful thoughts and temptations inside our hearts and minds.

Satan is ever busy and ready to strike at us through these temptations, the desires and greed within us, and by turning our ego, ambition and pride against us. Unless we make the conscious effort to resist the pull of desire, pride, ego and ambition, and dedicate ourselves to reject the pull of sin, we will likely end up falling deeper and deeper into the trap of sin. And this is where, during this time and season of Lent, we should make use of these opportunities given to us to repent from our sinful ways.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of God, a holy and devout servant of God, whose life and examples should become inspiration for ourselves, in how we ought to live our lives faithfully before God. St. John of God was remembered well for his service to the people of God, especially for the sick, the poor and those who have suffered physically and in unfortunate conditions. St. John of God dedicated his life, his time, his efforts and works to care for all of them.

Are we able to follow in the footsteps of this holy saint, brothers and sisters in Christ? God has given us the time, opportunity and ability to give our talents and abilities to be of benefit to one another, especially those who are weak, poor, oppressed and unloved. We are called to love God in ways that St. John of God and many others of our holy predecessors had done. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us progress through this season of Lent, with a new commitment to love God, as well as to love one another. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the pride, the ego and ambition, the greed and worldly desired that can prevent us from truly attaining the fullness of salvation and grace in God. Let us all make good use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith in God. May God bless us all and may He guide us in this journey of faith. Amen.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day each and every one of us are reminded of the need for us to dedicate ourselves to the Lord wholeheartedly, and be ready to commit ourselves to His path. On this day, the day after Ash Wednesday, we continue to uphold our resolve to live through this blessed season of Lent, spending our time to be closer to God, carrying our crosses with Him.

In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, God through His servant Moses communicated clearly to the people the choice that they had before them, as they went through their forty years of journey in the desert while waiting to enter into the land promised to them by God. Many of them had disobeyed the Lord and refused to follow His ways and His commandments, preferring to follow their own, sinful ways, and hardening their hearts and minds against Him.

And thus, through this we are reminded that we too have been given a choice, that is either for us to live in God’s way and obey His laws and commandments, or for us to abandon Him and turn instead to the ways of the world that is full of temptations and are seemingly easier and less challenging for us. We are presented with the choice between the seemingly tougher and less appealing way that God showed us, and the seemingly more enjoyable path of this world.

We are no strangers to the alternative path shown to us by the world, for indeed, we are surrounded by many of the temptations. At the time of the Israelites in the days of the Exodus, the people of Israel constantly grumbled before God and before Moses, complaining that they were hungry without good food, or thirsty without water and good drinks to enjoy. They refused to budge even after they have seen many of the miraculous deeds God performed before them through Moses.

They desired to return to Egypt, saying that it was better for them to go back to Egypt and suffer again under slavery, as they would at least be able to eat decently and not having to worry about dying in the desert without food or drink. They complained and refused to comply to the Lord’s will, just because they had little faith in God. If only they know just how much God loved each and every one of them, as He gave them everything they needed, and yet even those were not enough for those stubborn people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see the parallel between their examples and our own lives in this present world today. The path of the world seems to be easier to us, and it seems to be less arduous, less challenging and more promising to us, as this is the effort by the devil and all of his forces, trying to tempt us into sin, into disobedience against God, by presenting all sorts of wicked temptations that go straight into our pride and ego, our desires and our hearts’ greed.

Some of us may even think that just because we are Christians, then we should expect to have good lives full of graces and blessings, that we do not have to suffer but instead, with greater faith comes greater blessings in life, in physical and material terms. But this is the false ‘gospel of prosperity’ that is unfortunately adopted by some of our separated brethren in faith. We must not fall into that same trap of the devil, who tries to tempt us with worldly temptations.

The Lord made it clear, in our Gospel passage today, that He Himself was to suffer grievously at the hands of His enemies. This was fulfilled when He went through His Passion, suffering persecution and rejection, brutal pain and sufferings, as He was beaten and spat on, ridiculed and made to bear a heavy cross, stripped and nailed to that cross, and made to suffer and die for the sake of all of us mankind.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the suffering that our Lord had to endure, and all of that is caused by His love for us, which is so great that He was willing to even endure those painful torture and experience just so that by His selfless and loving sacrifice, we may be saved from certain destruction. And He Himself said that if we are to be His disciples, then we must follow Him and have a share in the cross that He bore out of love for us.

It does not mean that we will suffer forever. Instead, our suffering now on earth is just a temporary prelude of the greater glory and joy that is to come. God has promised that all those who are faithful to Him will not be disappointed, for in the end of the journey it is nothing less than an eternity of glory and true happiness being in the presence of God forever, where we will not suffer any longer, and all that we need are no longer there, for God alone is enough for everything.

The devil knows this, and he does not want us to be saved. And that is why he is so hard at work, trying to prevent us from finding our way towards Him. He is always at work, trying to lure us away from the right path, and turn us away from righteousness and faith. In fact, we will realise that frequently, we will have to go up even against our friends and those who are dear to us, and we have to make often difficult choices, to choose between obeying God and suffer, or to obey the devil instead and receive satisfaction from him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of two famous martyrs of the Church, two courageous women who defended their faith in God to the very end with great dedication and courage. St. Perpetua was a noblewoman while St. Felicity was a slavewoman, both of whom shared the Christian faith. At that time, during the height of the Roman Empire, Christians have been harassed and persecuted again and again by the authorities, and many had to practice their faith in secret.

But eventually some were found out to be Christians, and put in prison and made to suffer with the hope that they would abandon their faith in God and sought safety and good assurance in life for themselves. Some did fall to the temptations or yielded to the strong pressures and abandoned their faith, but many remained firm in their faith in God, such as St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. These two women were firm in their conviction to remain faithful to God.

Having endured much suffering and pain, opposition and challenges, even from those who were close to them, St. Perpetua, who encountered great challenges from her family, who wanted her to recant her faith, as well as St. Felicity, who suffered in prison while being pregnant with a baby, both of them chose to remain true to their faith, and died as courageous martyrs and examples of true faith and dedication to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to look upon the examples set before us by the holy saints and martyrs of God, particularly that of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity whose feast day we commemorate today. Are we able to make the same commitment and decision as they have done? They carried together the cross of Christ and endured the grievous sufferings just as the Lord had suffered, with the hope of eternal glory and salvation in the end of their earthly journey.

Let us all make good use of this season of Lent to reorientate ourselves and reorder our lives, so that from this moment onwards, we do not live any longer for ourselves, but rather, to serve the greater purpose of God, and to obey Him in all things, standing up to Him and remaining faithful to Him despite the challenges we may encounter in our daily lives. Let us all remain true to Him, and love Him ever more as we pass through this blessed Lent. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the beginning of this penitential season of Lent, the forty days period of preparation before the coming of the Holy Week and Easter. On this day, that is Ash Wednesday, we mark this dramatic change from the Ordinary Time into Lent by the imposition of blessed ashes on our foreheads, and also the first time in the entire Lent and Holy Week until the coming of Easter that the Alleluia is not sung, and also that of Gloria until the Holy Thursday.

There are many significance to these practices that we do during the season of Lent, and in particular today on Ash Wednesday, besides the imposition of ashes, we are also required by the Church to practice fasting as well as abstinence. Fasting is compulsory for all Christian adults of ages between eighteen and sixty, excusing only the very young and the very old. Meanwhile, abstinence is compulsory for Christians above the age of fourteen.

Fasting refers to the practice of not eating more than a full meal and two small collations or snacks each day, limiting our food intake to what is essential to maintain our lives and not indulging in the desires of our body. And abstinence usually involves refraining from eating meat, as well as from committing acts and deeds that are both wicked and sinful in nature, resisting the temptations to do our bad habits and actions that often led us to sin.

But the Lord is reminding each and every one of us, that we should not lose our focus on the intention and purpose why we observe the season of Lent, as a special time of preparation meant to reorientate ourselves and redirect our focus in life, so that we can be spiritually, physically and mentally ready for the celebration of the great mystery of Easter, the pinnacle of our faith and the story of our redemption from sin.

Why is it that the Church place this season of Lent before Holy Week and Easter? That is because throughout the Scriptures, whenever a person was about to go forth on an important mission or spiritual journey, that person usually would go through a certain period of preparation, just as what Moses did when he went up the mountain of God in Sinai, staying up there for forty days and forty nights prior to receiving the Law.

The same happened to the prophet Elijah, when he went to the desert seeking for the Lord after he was exiled from the land of Israel. He walked for forty days and forty nights without rest, with strength from the food provided by the Lord, until he reached the mountain of God in Sinai to meet the Lord and heard His will. Then, the people of Israel themselves travelled through the desert for forty years, going through a long period of self-rediscovery and atonement, after they have rebelled against God and refused to put their faith in Him, that they could not go immediately into the land promised to them, until they have completed that period of purification and waiting.

And it was told that Mary, the Mother of God spent a period of purification after her childbirth, as all women had to go through, when she was unable to enter into the Temple, due to the impurities then associated with the bleeding caused by childbirth. After a traditional period of forty days of preparation, she entered the Temple, which is still celebrated in the Traditional Calendar of the Roman Rite as the Feast of the Purification of Mary, forty days after Christmas on the second day of February each year.

And finally, the Lord Jesus Himself went to the desert right after His baptism at the Jordan River, spending forty days and forty nights fasting as a period of preparation before He officially began His earthly ministry, and which symbolically linked Him to the forty years of journey that the Israelites endured in the desert, as the atonement for their sins and disobedience against God.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, fasting has long been associated with sorrow, mourning and regret. Those who fast often did so with dishevelled appearance and wearing sackcloth, a type of very coarse cloth used as sacks to contain rice and other matter, which is constantly itching on the skin and uncomfortable to wear, as a reminder of one’s physical shortcomings. Fasting is practiced as a means to reorientate one’s life to God.

However, in today’s Gospel passage, the Lord Jesus went through with the people of the dangers of misunderstanding the intention of these pious practices. This has to be understood in the context of the time, when the Lord was faced with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom showed off their actions before the people to show just how pious and good they were, that they might be praised by the people for their actions.

Today we heard how the Lord pointed out the flaws in their actions and how they have not done their fasting with the right intention. They fasted and made themselves to look in a very obvious manner that they have been fasting, so that the people would be in awe towards them. In reality, much of their intention and the driving factor behind their effort to fast and to do all the things that they deemed to be in accordance with the laws and traditions of the Jewish people, was because of their pride and desire to be famous.

This is why the Lord rebuked them because of their lack of real faith in Him. The Lord told the people to listen to them and their teachings, but not in what they are doing, because the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not practice many of the things that they themselves had preached before the people. They professed to be faithful to God, and yet, their hearts were not filled with love for God, but instead with love for themselves, and desire for worldly acclamations and glory.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very important that each and every one of us Christians today reflect on how we are going to observe this most holy and blessed season of Lent, the time and wonderful opportunity that God has granted to us, as a way for us to rediscover our faith and our love for Him. This is the perfect time for us to take stock of our actions in life thus far, looking into how we have lived our lives in the past year, all the good things we have done, and even more importantly, our shortcomings and sinfulness.

Each and every one of us are sinners, because of our disobedience against God’s will. As long as we allow ourselves to be tempted, and fall into those temptations, succumbing to our ego and pride, to our greed and the wicked desires of our hearts and of our flesh, we will continue to sin against God. And unless we turn away from those sins, there will be no way forward to us, as sin has become a great obstacle in our way towards the Lord and His promise of eternal life.

We are reminded that first of all, the Lord’s love and mercy is always readily available for all of us. He is always ever compassionate, loving and merciful towards us, and even though we have often been disobedient and wayward, but He is always ever faithful to the Covenant that He has established with us. That is why this season of Lent is meant as a time for us to truly stop and think, and discern carefully how we want to carry on living our lives from now on.

And we fast as well as abstaining from wicked deeds, not because we want to be praised and acclaimed by other people, as what many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done, but because we truly recognise how sinful each and every one of us are, and how weak we are in our flesh, easily tempted and easily falling into sin. Because of this, we want to restrain ourselves and learn to control our many avenues of temptation, by which we have fallen again and again, into disobedience against God.

Today, as the blessed ashes is imposed on our foreheads, let the blessed ashes be a reminder to each and every one of us, that we truly are mortals and sinners, and by our sins we have deserved to perish and die, and all of us will indeed one day have to face death, as a certainty that no one can avoid at all. But at the same time, let us remember that through the liturgy of Ash Wednesday God through His Church is also calling us to turn away from our sins and repent with sincerity.

As the blessed ashes came from the burning of the blessed palms used at Palm Sunday last year, they remind us of our own mortality, and of the urgency by which each and every one of us must act, to get rid from ourselves the sins that have tainted us. We will perish for sure unless we put our trust in God and turn towards His merciful love. And the blessed ashes is also placed on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, as a reminder that our fasting and abstinence in this season of Lent, is to prepare us to enter into the great mystery of the Holy Week and then Easter, when the Lord saves us by His ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all begin this blessed season of Lent, by making use of every opportunities given to us, that we will not waste this chance that God has given us, for us to change and repent from our wicked ways. God wants us all to receive His salvation, and that is why, through His Church, He is preparing us in our hearts and minds, that we may rediscover our true love for Him, and distance ourselves from whatever is wicked and unworthy of Him in our every actions and deeds.

May God guide us always through our journey of faith in this season of Lent, and may our fast and abstinence help us to reorientate ourselves in life, and find for ourselves a new meaning in life, that is to love God and to serve Him every living moments of our life. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we mark the beginning of the forty days of the season of Lent. On this Ash Wednesday, as we celebrate it every year, blessed ashes are imposed on the foreheads or heads of the faithful, reminding them of the penitential nature of this season. The time of Lent is a time of preparation for us to prepare ourselves in our hearts, minds and our whole being for the upcoming celebration of the mysteries of the Holy Week and Easter.

Ash Wednesday mark the beginning of this wonderful season and time, a time to turn inwards into ourselves and reflect about our lives, our actions and deeds thus far, whether everything has been going on well and whether we are in good standing with God, or whether we have lapsed and fallen along the way, due to the temptations we face in life, and due to our inability to resist the allures of the devil who is constantly trying to undermine us and drag us into sin.

On this day, the ashes are imposed on our heads with the words uttered by the priest, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ These words remind each and every one of us that we are mortals and mere creation, and that we were created from dust and had the breath of life given to us by God, as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Without God we are nothing, and without His love and grace, our existence is empty and meaningless.

Yet, many of us have forgotten about God and His love for us, and instead, we were busy with our many concerns and pursuits in this world. We spent most of our time trying to earn ourselves more money, more prestige, more worldly goods, praise from others, more pleasure and other things that led to our further slide deeper and deeper into sin.

Many of us are also too proud to admit that we have been wrong and mistaken, sinful and unworthy. We think that nothing can go wrong in our own lives, and that we are in control of everything we do. We think that we are the masters of our own lives and everything have to go in accordance to what we desire it to be, and when things do not go according to our desire, we end up becoming angry, jealous and negative.

In the world we live in today, we are inundated and often overwhelmed from every possible sources with the subliminal and often hidden messages, which are the ways that the devil tempt us with, of the materialistic and hedonistic way of life many of us are familiar with. We are presented with a way of life centred on our very selves, on the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ at the main focus, and we are conditioned to be selfish, to put our needs and desires ahead of others.

But let us ask ourselves, what does gaining more power, more wealth, more glory in this world, more prestige and status and all the other things we often desire in our lives can do to us? Can all these things last forever? Can all of them withstand the test of time, fire and all other things that often cause us sorrow because they can destroy all these things we deem to be precious to us?

Can any of those things I mentioned extend our life in this world for even a single second, or even a small fraction of a second? No! None of these will come to any use when the time appointed by the Lord for each and every one of us come upon us, the time of our death. That is the fact and reality which all of us must understand and be aware of, that all man must die. Death is the only certainty in life, and nothing else is less certain than the time of death.

That is why beginning from this Ash Wednesday and throughout the season of Lent, we are all invited to take a break from our daily schedules, business and all the things that have preoccupied us all these while. Year after year, the season of Lent represent a time for us to prepare ourselves, in mind, heart and body, to be able to celebrate the most important mysteries and aspects of our faith with proper disposition and understanding.

We must realise that we are mere mortals, and we will one day die, and we have to face this fact. Many of us are in fact obsessed and desiring to find ways to prevent death, or at least postpone the onset of death. We spent many hours and much money trying to find ways to keep ourselves healthy and looking young, some even resorting to medicines and physical surgeries and modifications, in order to make ourselves look younger and healthier, but how do all these things benefit us?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as I have mentioned earlier, our existence and life has no meaning without God, for it is God Who gave us our life, the breath of life He has given to each one of us. And just as He has freely given this life to each one of us, He is also free to take back the life at the time of His choosing, and it is not for us to decide when we are to die. Today, we all receive the ashes on our foreheads as reminders for our mortality and our sins.

For sin has corrupted us all, as the disease that is slowly consuming us from within. Sin is caused by our disobedience and refusal to follow the Lord’s will, and instead, following our own desires and wants, we rebelled against God and sin entered into our hearts. And unless if we do something about our sinful and corrupted state, we will not be allowed to enter into the new life and the eternal glory which God has prepared for us, His people.

We must be purified and cleansed before we are considered worthy of the Lord, and in order to achieve this, we must be willing to repent and turn away from all the sins and wicked things we do in life. Some of us are afraid to do so, because we are afraid that God is angry with us and therefore we hide from Him, and pretend as if everything is going fine. But if we do so, we are only lying to ourselves, and just as He knew about the sins committed by Adam and Eve, who pretended at first not to know anything about what they had done, God Who knows everything also knows every single sins we have committed, from the smallest to the greatest.

God knows that we have sinned, and He is disgusted and angry at all the sins we have committed. But His great love for us is far greater than His anger and disgust at us, and instead of being angry, He is rather more worried about us, on what will happen to us should we continue to walk in our path of sin. He is always ready to give us another chance, to show us the way back to His embrace and to love us once again fully with all of His most loving heart. However, it is us mankind who have always been stubborn and rejected His attempts to reconcile us with Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, as we enter into this sacred and contemplative season of Lent, and as we receive the blessed ashes on our forehead, let us first and foremost recognise that we are sinners and we are in need of help. And there is no one else we can turn to besides the Lord Himself. He is ever ready to welcome us back and to love us back fully as He had done before, but are we willing to open ourselves to accept His free offering of love and forgiveness?

During this season of Lent, we practice fasting and abstinence, as ways for us to restrain our human desires and to open ourselves to contemplation and direct our thoughts towards the Lord. However, when we fast and abstain from certain pleasures in life, we must also keep in mind that we must do them with the right reason in mind, or else, as mentioned in the Gospel today, we will end up falling back into sin. Do not fast or abstain for the sake of being praised by others, but rather because we want to return to God’s loving embrace.

Let us all then renew our faith in God, and commit ourselves to a new life, turning away from all the past sins we have committed, discarding from ourselves, the anger, the jealousy, the greed, the worldly desires and all that have thus far been obstacles in our journey back towards the Lord. May this time of Lent be a turning point in our lives, that we may reorientate ourselves towards God, to He Who loves us and reconcile ourselves with Him. May God be with us always, throughout this journey of faith. Amen.

Saturday, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard about the healing which God is offering to all of us His people, which He had made by offer through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into this world in order to become the salvation for all the people, and become healing for all those who have fallen into the sickness of sin, the disease of our souls.

The message which the Lord our God had announced to all in today’s readings is that all of us ought to change our lives, and reorientate them towards the Lord, so that if we have once committed sins and wicked acts, we must stop them immediately, no longer disobeying the Lord and His laws, and instead, beginning to follow Him and obey His ways, in all the things we do in this life.

God is merciful and loving, and He wants each and every one of us to be saved and freed from the torment of our sufferings because of our sins. He wants all of us to receive grace, peace and blessings because we have found our way to Him, and no longer are lost in the darkness of this world. That is why He had given His mercy and love so freely through Christ, through Whom He gathered all of us to Himself.

However, many of us do not realise that it is we ourselves who have been stubborn and resistant to God’s mercy and love. We have not been willing to welcome God’s mercy in our hearts, and all of these is because of first of all, our human pride and ego, refusing to believe that we have erred or committed a mistake in our lives. We are not willing to allow God to come in and transform our lives, just because we have too much ego and cannot bear others to see that we have humbled ourselves.

That was exactly what happened to the Pharisees and the elders, the teachers of the Law and the chief priests. Many of them criticised Jesus for having embraced and walked among the tax collectors and prostitutes, and even calling some of His disciples from among them, one of whom was Levi, whose calling was part of the Gospel we heard today. Jesus called Levi from his tax collector post, and he willingly left behind everything in order to follow Him.

Those tax collectors had been hated and resented by the population as a whole, because especially upon the instigation of the Pharisees, they had been seen as traitors of the nations and the people, having worked with their Roman conquerors and helping them in administrative works such as the collection of taxes, resented by the people as a whole.

But many of them were aware of their status and their sins, and when God called them through Jesus His Son, they responded in kind and turned away from their sinful ways, as Levi had done, and followed Him wholeheartedly. They followed Him and were saved because of their sins, and because they humbled themselves before God, fully knowing of their sins and unworthiness, unlike that of those who have accused them.

The same mercy and love have been offered by God to all, but while those who accepted God’s mercy were forgiven, those who refused to acknowledge their sins had not received His mercy. They have haughtily thought that they were worthy of God but they have overlooked their own sins. They thought that they were without blame, but they failed to recognise their own shortcomings and sins. In this manner, those tax collectors and sinners they had ridiculed came before them in attaining God’s salvation and grace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we need to understand from today’s Scripture readings is that, no one is truly beyond God’s forgiveness and ability to forgive, unless they themselves reject being loved and being forgiven by God. God extended His love and grace to all, without any exceptions, and therefore all of us need to respond in kind, doing what we can in order to love Him back, and devote ourselves to Him.

This season of Lent is a very good opportunity for us to reevaluate ourselves and our lives, whether we are ready to continue moving forward in our path towards God’s grace and salvation, or whether we need time to reevaluate and rethink the direction of our lives. It is a good time for us to heed the examples of the holy saints and the holy people of God in the ages past, who had lived a righteous and worthy lives, as examples for us to emulate and follow.

St. Casimir of Poland for example, the holy saint whose feast we celebrate today, is an exceptional role model for our faith. He was a royal prince of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, and eventually became its crown prince after the death of his elder brother. However, despite his noble and high position in life, St. Casimir was renowned to be a person filled with humility and compassion, known for his charity and love for the poor, and for his pious works and devotions to God.

He led a life wholly committed and dedicated to the Lord, and showed others by example on how they ought to be faithful to their Lord and God. He inspired many others in following his footsteps and after his early death at the age of twenty-five, many people continued to venerate him and follow on his examples in their lives, imitating the holy saint for his exemplary life and piety.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on our own lives today and henceforth, and remembering what St. Casimir had done, let us all open our hearts to the Lord, allowing Him to enter into them and thus transforming us from dirty and unclean vessels into worthy and glorious vessels of His Presence. Remember that God Himself has chosen to reside in us, and therefore, all of us need to turn away from our sins and embrace God’s mercy and love. Sin no more and follow the Lord in all that we say and do.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He strengthen us and our resolve to be ever more faithful to Him. Let us all throw far away our pride and arrogance, our human resistance and weaknesses, that we will not end up like the Pharisees who rejected God’s love and mercy, but instead be like Levi and the tax collectors, who humbly repented their sins, and were gloriously transformed by God’s love. May God bless us all always. Amen.