Saturday, 20 February 2021 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the Lord speaks to us through the words of the Scriptures that we have just heard, in which we heard a message of repentance and forgiveness from God. Through what we have heard, we are all reminded that God extends His mercy and forgiveness to all those who come and seek Him, and provided that we change our ways and sincerely seek to be reconciled with Him, we shall be forgiven our sins.

The prophet Isaiah came and preached at the pivotal moments in the history of the people of Israel, as he lived during those years when the northern kingdom of Israel, covering most of the ten tribes of the Israelites had been destroyed recently by the forces of the Assyrians, and most of its people brought off into forced exile in far-off lands in distant Assyria and Mesopotamia, away from the lands of their ancestors.

And at that time, the southern kingdom of Judah itself had been existentially threatened by its powerful neighbours, including from the Assyrians themselves, who came up to Jerusalem and besieged it, as king Sennacherib of Assyria almost conquered all of Judah and Jerusalem if not for the divine intervention of the Lord that wiped out the Assyrian forces and sent the king of Assyria back to his lands in shame.

All those were because of the lack of faith in the people of Israel, as they had abandoned the ways of the Lord, disobeyed the laws and commandments of God again and again, and refusing to listen to the many prophets and messengers that had been sent into their midst to call them back and remind them to stop their rebellious ways and turn back towards God.

Yet, the Lord never gave up on us, and He did not stop trying to seek us out and to turn us back towards Him, that we may be reconciled to Him, be forgiven from our many sins, and thus, He tirelessly continued to seek us out, and He gave us all the best of all gifts in this regard, that is the gift of our salvation through His own most beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have received the new assurance of eternal life and glory in God.

In our Gospel passage we heard of the calling of Levi, the tax collector by the Lord, Who called him to follow Him to be His disciple. Levi listened to the Lord’s call and immediately left everything behind and followed the Lord. Through this call, the man once known as Levi became a new man, called by God to be His Apostle, St. Matthew, who was also one of the Four Evangelists, in writing the Gospel attributed to him.

We see therefore how this man, a former tax collector, widely condemned and ostracised at his own time by the rest of the general community due to the strong prejudices that then existed on the tax collectors in labelling them as traitors to the nation and the people, as well as being greedy and exploitative of others, could become a great saint and one of the Apostles and the Evangelists no less.

We need to know that no one is truly away from God’s salvation and grace, and just as God Himself is also consistently and actively reaching out towards us, then in fact the mercy and forgiveness of God are truly readily and easily accessible for us, and the story of many of our predecessors, turned from sinners to saints, only serve to highlight this fact even more.

However, the main obstacle preventing us from finding our way to God is in fact our own reluctance, doubt and refusal to accept God’s generous offer of mercy and forgiveness. Many of us are unwilling to commit to the Lord and continued to live in the state of sin. That is why so many people still failed to receive the rich bounties of God’s grace and mercy. As long as we allow the many temptations present in the world to tempt us away from the Lord, then we are likely to remain distant from Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore do our best to overcome the temptations of worldly desires and all other obstacles that are in the way of our reconciliation with God. Let us all be courageous in responding to the Lord with a renewed faith from now on, that we will remain faithful to the path that the Lord has showed us, and that we will always strive to walk faithfully in His presence, now and always. May God bless us and guide us in our path going forward in life. Amen.

Friday, 19 February 2021 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures, we are all reminded that in our every Lenten observances and actions, such as fasting, abstinence, spiritual discernments and recollections, all these must be done with God as the focus and the centre of all things, or else we may end up losing sight on the true reason and purpose for those actions, all the fasting and abstinence we do.

In our first reading today, we heard the prophet Isaiah speaking clearly the Lord’s words and intentions, highlighting the folly of someone who practiced fasting and other actions as prescribed by the Law, and yet, at the same time, committing actions that are sinful such as being angry towards one another, quarrelling and fighting over certain matters with their fellow brothers and sisters. That is tantamount to being hypocrites, not truly believing in the Lord and doing the fast and other actions just for one’s own ego and benefits.

In the same reading then the Lord also highlighted how it is important for us to fast and to do our actions with sincere faith and genuine purpose, especially in showing that we are sincerely regretful and remorseful over our sinful ways, and that we are willing to reach out to the Lord, as well as showing His righteousness and virtues through our actions. That is why the prophet Isaiah spoke of how the kind of fast that the Lord wants is that of being loving and compassionate to one another, to reach out to the poor and the less privileged, among other things.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the confrontation between the Lord and the Pharisees, the latter whom complained that the Lord’s disciples had not been fasting in the manner prescribed by the laws of Moses, and especially that they did not follow the Law in the manner that the Pharisees themselves had done. Essentially, they were using themselves as a benchmark and point of reference especially in condemning others for their lack of faith and obedience.

In doing so, those Pharisees have lost the essence and meaning, the purpose and intention of doing the fast and other faithful actions in the first place. In criticising others for their difference in te way they lived their faith without understanding the context, first of all they had not done what the Lord had entrusted to them, the responsibility to teach and guide, to show and the lead the way by their examples. Instead, as the Lord pointed out in other occasions, they fasted and prayed to be seen and praised by others.

This is why through these readings today, all of us are called to reflect on how we are going to make good use of this time and season of Lent, the time to prepare ourselves for the great celebrations at Holy Week and Easter. That is why we are reminded now that as we carry out our Lenten fast, abstinence and other things we do in this period, we should remain focused on the Lord and not be distracted by other, less than noble pursuits just as the Pharisees had done.

That means we should fast and abstain because we know that we are sinners and are in need of discipline, to resist the temptations of our flesh, that we may focus our attention on the Lord better, rather than gloating over others and thinking that we are better than them, or that we are more righteous and virtuous than others. All of us are sinners before the Lord, whether our sins be great or small, and as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, we should help one another and show care and concern to others especially to those who are in need of our help.

In this season of Lent, let us especially remember our brethren who are needy and who are suffering, also because we have not yet completely weathered through this current pandemic and its fallout just yet. Many people are still suffering daily and are struggling to make ends meet for themselves and for their families. If we are able to help and provide assistance, then why not? And when we do help, let us help because we really want to help and not that we are looking for fame and glory, or any praise from our actions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore strive to do whatever we can in order to be good and faithful Christians in our respective communities, in showing the love of God to all those who are in need, to show that there is still hope and light present in this world despite the darkness and the many challenges that many people are facing at the moment in their lives. Let us all make our Lent observances a meaningful and good one, in dedicating ourselves to our fellow brothers and sisters, and ultimately to the Lord, our Saviour and God. Amen.

Thursday, 18 February 2021 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we remind ourselves with the help of the readings of the Scripture of the path that we ought to take as we proceed forward in life. We are reminded that we have been given the free will and the opportunities to choose the path we are to take in life, to choose between God’s righteousness and virtues, or that of evil and wickedness, sin and the falsehoods of the devil, all of his false and empty promises.

In our first reading today taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses the leader of the Israelites during their Exodus from Egypt after having revealed the Law and commandments of God that he has received from the Lord, presented to the elders and all the people of Israel, the choice between following what is right and just according to the Law, or to continue to be disobedient and walking down their own paths, in opposition against God.

Moses made it known to all of the people that their actions and choices would be held against them, and if they so chose to disobey and walk the path of sin and disobedience then they would not be part of the glorious inheritance and blessings that the Lord has intended for all of His faithful people. The Lord will bless those who have chosen His path, and those who have not, He will still call them to Himself and attempt to bring over to Him.

However, if they constantly and consistently refuse to believe in Him, then it was by their own conscience and by their own choice that they have chosen their lot among those condemned and rejected, for it was themselves who rejected God and His most generous and loving kindness towards us. We have to choose between God and the world, between Him and the temptations of wealth, glory and human desires.

In our Gospel today, we heard the Lord making His point before His disciples, saying that He Himself would suffer at the hands of those who refused to believe in Him, and He, the Son of Man, would be persecuted and crushed for the sins of mankind, condemned to die on the Cross and through His death, bring about the salvation of all mankind through His resurrection.

And the Lord said that in order to be His followers, they would have to deny themselves, pick up their crosses and follow Him wholeheartedly, or otherwise, they could not become His true disciples. He pointed to them the same choice that Moses had presented before the whole assembly of Israel, the choice between following God and following their own human ambitions, desires, pride, ego and all the temptations present in the world.

As Christians all of us are called to heed this call, and realise this choice which we have to make, in choosing between following and obeying God or to follow the whims of our desires and all the temptations present around us. Are we willing to commit ourselves to the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to make the effort and give the necessary contributions and sacrifices to be good and faithful Christians?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all spend time to discern these and how we are to lead a more wholesome and faithful Christian living from now on. Let us all make good use of this season of Lent to redirect our lives and actions, to change our lives for the better and to dedicate ourselves from now on for the greater glory of God, and being good examples in life, to show what it truly means to be Christians, in living up our faith, and in picking up our crosses and follow the Lord.

May God be with us always and may He strengthen us with conviction and courage that all of us may come to stand up for our faith, and be filled with genuine desire of love for the Lord and our fellow brothers and sisters from now on. Amen.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Ash Wednesday and therefore we mark the beginning of the season of Lent, the time of renewal of our faith and of reconciliation with God. This season of Lent is truly a special time to remind us of the great and wonderful grace of God’s love, how He willingly embraced us and wanted us all to be reunited with Him, no longer separated from Him because of our sins.

On this day, all of us focus our attention on the most merciful love and generosity of God in loving us and in showing us so much compassion despite everything that we have done towards Him, all the times we have not obeyed Him and wandered far off away from His path. God has always sought us and tried to call us back to Him, and here we are now, bruised and broken, humbly seeking the Lord to be forgiven and to be reconciled to Him.

On this Ash Wednesday, as it is named, we receive the imposition of ashes on our heads as the symbolic and powerful reminder that first and foremost, we are all sinners, through our disobedience against God, and as said, that from the dust we have come from and thus to dust to we shall return. This highlights to us the mortality of our human bodies and existences, how vulnerable and weak we are, and how we need God to be with us, to be the strength and guidance that we need, at all times.

The imposition of ashes also reminds us of our humble selves, that we are truly nothing before the Lord, all of our achievements and prideful glory, all of our power and wealth, all are nothing compared to the glory of God. And there is nothing in this world that is also everlasting. If we think that our power, wealth and glory can be sustained forever, then it will take just a little for us to be reminded how limited we are, and how we will not bring all these with us on the journey to the life to come.

These ashes, made from the burning of the remnants of the dried blessed palms from the previous year is a reminder that nothing in this world is permanent, and death will come to us as surely as we know that no one can escape death, and that is why these ashes remind us both of our mortality as well as what awaits us, should we remain in the state of sin, unreconciled with God, unredeemed and unforgiven from our sins. Thus, we humble ourselves with these ashes, asking God for His forgiveness and mercy.

Today we also mark our commemoration of Ash Wednesday with fasting and abstinence, as we restrain our own physical desires and also focus our attention from our bodily needs, and refocus our attention on the Lord. Today we fast such that we only have a single full meal and two smaller meals, so that we can keep our mind away from the temptations of greed and desire, from the desire of worldly goods and to help control ourselves.

We also abstain from the consumption of meat today, as well as abstaining from other forms of vices and wicked deeds, actions and other things in our lives, so that we remind ourselves of the conscious efforts and work that we have to do if we want to be truly dedicated as Christians, as those who believe in the Lord and committing ourselves to a new life and existence, one no longer led and guided by our selfish desires but rather by our faith in God.

But as the Lord said in our Gospel passage today, are we truly genuine in our regret and remorse for our sins, in our practice of fasting and abstinence, as well as how we are going to spend this time and season of Lent? Are we sincere in our devotion to God and in our faith in Him? God has always loved us and wanted us to find the way to Him, and this is the time for us to rediscover the love we ought to have for Him. Let our fasting and abstinence be the genuine show of our sincerity in faith, our sign of true love for God.

During this period of time, we are preparing ourselves for the upcoming celebration of the Holy Week and Easter, when we shall celebrate and commemorate the occasion of Our Lord’s Passion, His suffering and death on the Cross, and finally His triumph and glorious Resurrection, the most important celebration of all in our Christian faith. It is so important that we are given this time and opportunity to properly get ourselves ready.

In order for us to prepare ourselves well for those series of celebrations and commemorations, that is why we have this entire season of Lent, a period of over forty days long, as it spanned forty days excluding the Sundays of Lent, which marked the time of preparation and spiritual renewal, a time of reconnection with God and a return to His righteousness and way.

That is why today we are called to reflect both on our lives and on our faith, and consider how each and every one of us can draw ourselves closer to God, to repent and turn away from our sins, abandon our recklessness in life and our ignorance of God and His ways. And in all of our Lenten observances, in our fasting and abstinence, let us all do them with genuine commitment and desire to be good and faithful Christians.

Let us all be exemplary in our actions and conduct, in how we live our lives so that we may help one another in reaching out to the Lord and find our way to His salvation. May the Lord help us and strengthen us to persevere in our faith, and help us in making our lives more and more Christ-like. Let us humble ourselves and seek the Lord for His healing, for all of the corruption and wickedness of our sins.

May God bless us all, and may He bless our Lenten observances beginning today. May these blessed ashes that we have been imposed with help to remind us of our humanity, mortality and sinfulness, and remind us also of the love that God has for us, in forgiving us and showing us compassion and enduring love. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

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.