Saturday, 8 March 2014 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard in the Gospel, about the calling of Levi the tax collector by Jesus. Levi was called, and he heeded the call. He became one of the Twelve Apostles, and later was known as St. Matthew the Apostle, one of the Four Evangelists, the writer of the Four Holy Gospels.

Levi showed us that the Lord did not condemn sinners but sin. He did not condemn His own people when they made the mistake, if they do not persist in their sinfulness and in their erroneous ways. He will come to them, seeking them, and calling them to repent from their ways, and to turn back towards the Lord as He had done to Levi.

And another lesson that we ought to learn is that we have hope, brethren! In Jesus we have hope, because He had come to seek those who had been lost to the darkness. We who have wandered into the darkness Christ will bring once again into the light. And if we follow Him, we will surely receive the reward which He had promised to be ours.

Brothers and sisters, it is also important to note that we must never condemn anyone, nor should we have any prejudice or be judgmental upon others. If we do so, then we are doing precisely what the Pharisees and the elders of the Jews had done. They looked down on the tax collectors and the other people whom they called and considered as ‘sinners’.

Yes, they considered themselves pious, obedient and righteous, because they have followed strictly the rigorous requirements of the Mosaic law, whom they over the generations as the leaders of the people had expanded, and which they, in their arrogance and hubris, thought of themselves as better than those who had not done what they did.

Yet they forget that they themselves had flaw in them. Yes, sinners themselves! Everyone who was descended from Adam and Eve the first mankind had sinned, and we are all sinners. Yet it was Jesus our Lord who came to us in order to deliver us from the consequence of sin that is death. Jesus came to bring new hope and light to those who had been trapped in the darkness of sin.

The Pharisees had no right to label and condemn the tax collectors as sinners because they themselves were sinners and were in need of salvation themselves. Yet again you can contrast how the supposed ‘sinners’, the tax collectors reacted to Jesus as compared to the ‘pious’ Pharisees and the elders. The tax collectors welcomed Jesus and Levi followed Him, leaving everything he had. Meanwhile, the Pharisees rejected Jesus and fought against Him and plotted against Him wherever He went to.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from this example, are we able now to understand what it means to be a disciple of the Lord? Are we all now aware of the love our Lord has for all of us. Shall we repent and change our ways, professing our faith and love for Him?

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. John of God, a Portuguese priest and holy man of the faith. St. John of God was known to be a great worker of mercy and compassion especially those who were suffering in poverty and sickness. St. John of God established an order of brethren dedicated to the service of the stricken and the downtrodden.

But in all of his great accomplishment and great holiness, we may often forget that St. John of God was once an orphan and someone who did not have a clear purpose in life. And yet St. John of God met a life changing experience in his life, not quite unlike what had happened to Levi, who was called from the darkness into the light. Like Levi, St. John of God was called because the Lord had clear intention in mind for him.

Can we also be like St. John of God? Of course we can! It is up to us now, whether we are to take up the Lord’s offer and heed His call. We can choose to be either like the Pharisees or to be like Levi. We can choose between accepting the Lord’s call or refusing to acknowledge Him when He calls. It is entirely within our choice, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Therefore, let us make our choice now, to dedicate ourselves to the Lord from now on, and become His tool for change, for the betterment of ourselves and for the sake of our fellow brothers and sisters. May the Lord continue to love us, bless us, and strengthen us in our faith. God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 8 March 2014 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

After this Jesus went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax-office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it that You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 8 March 2014 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o Lord, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o Lord, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant, for You, o Lord, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o Lord, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o. Lord, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

Saturday, 8 March 2014 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

You will cry and YHVH will say, I am here. If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word, if you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses. If you stop profaning the sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob.

The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Friday, 7 March 2014 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue our progress through this holy season of Lent, and as we follow our faith’s instruction on fasting and abstinence, let us all keep in mind that we all have to do them with full and complete understanding of why we fast on certain days, and why we abstain from certain activities throughout this season of Lent.

Yes, brethren, our fasting and abstinence cannot be merely an observance of fhe customs or the laws of God or of the Church. Our fasting and abstinence cannot be done, especially if it is just for show, that we boast in our piety or greatness when we fast. And when we fast and abstain, we should do them with full understanding, and perfect grace, truly abstaining ourselves from doing anything that is evil in the sight of God.

Recall indeed what the first reading today had told us. That passage from the Scripture told us much about what we ought to do and not to do in fasting, and indeed in any kind of observations of the law of God. When we do something, we have to be genuine, and when we do it, we must have purpose in our hearts. And yes, our purpose is to do penance for our sinfulness, asking God to forgive us from our faults and purify us in His light.

Fasting is our way to kill and dampen our own human ego. Remember what Jesus said that in order to be truly His disciples we have to die to ourselves? This is what He meant, that we all destroy our own human ego, pride and arrogance, and lower ourselves as sinful, unworthy man before the presence of God. Through fasting, we train ourselves to shun excesses in the world, and we train ourselves to reject the temptations of Satan, which are designed to make us fall into damnation.

Abstinence is even more appropriate, because while fasting deals with the limiting of food intake in a day, abstinence is broader in scope, which includes anything that basically cause us to sin or bring us towards disobedience, such as worldly pleasures of the flesh, gambling, computer games, and many other examples. It is important that we understand the reason behind doing such practices that we can do it meaningfully.

And remember always, brethren, that fasting is not meant to be like mourning, nor should it be like self-punishment and self-condemnation. The purpose of fasting and abstinence, as well as the other Lenten practices are not to be a burden to us or to crush us, but to bring us closer to the love of God. Their purpose is to bring us to greater understanding about how we stand in the sight of God.

Today, brethren, we celebrate the feast of two great martyrs, that is St. Felicity and St. Perpetua, both of whom were the converts to the faith. They were arrested and put on trial for their following the faith in the Lord, in contrast to the pagan ways that the Roman Empire adopted at the time. St. Felicity and St. Perpetua were persuaded and forced to abandon their faith and recant their obedience to the Lord, but they refused to do so.

St. Felicity and St. Perpetua persevered through various sufferings and torture, and yet they did not give up. This is the cross they carried with them, as they went along with the Lord towards their martyrdom and death. They accepted death willingly, knowing that their death will serve to be inspiration for countless other faithfuls.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians, and indeed, St. Felicity and St. Perpetua persevered till the end, and through their exemplary faith, they inspired countless others including us, to also follow in their example of the faith, in the example of their devotion. They shirked not their obedience nor duty just in order to gain happiness and avoid troubles in this world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we also able to follow the examples of St. Felicity and St. Perpetua? Are we able to be like them in our faith? Let this Lenten season be the perfect opportunity for us all to be more like them, and to change our ways if we have gone wayward. Let us all go and find the Lord, and when we find Him, let us seek forgiveness and may we be in His love forever. Amen.

Friday, 7 March 2014 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 9 : 14-15

Then the disciples of John came to him with the question, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not Your disciples?”

Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Friday, 7 March 2014 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 18-19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against you alone have I sinned.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart You will not despise.

Friday, 7 March 2014 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 1-9a

Cry out aloud for all you are worth; raise your voice like a trumpet blast; tell My people of their offenses, Jacob’s family of their sins. Is it true that they seek Me day after day, longing to know My ways, as a people that does what is right and has not forsaken the word of its God?

They want to know the just laws and not to drift away from their God. “Why are we fasting,” they complain, “and You do not even see it? We are doing penance and You never notice it.”

Look, on your fast days you push your trade and you oppress your labourers. Yes, you fast but end up quarrelling, striking each other with wicked blows. Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high. Is that the kind of fast that pleases Me, just a day to humble oneself?

Is fasting merely bowing down one’s head, and making use of sackcloth and ashes? Would you call that fasting, a day acceptable to YHVH? See the fast that pleases Me : breaking the fetters of injustice and unfastening the thongs of the yoke, setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke.

Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin. Then will your light break forth as the dawn and your healing come in a flash. Your righteousness will be your vanguard, the Glory of YHVH your rearguard.

Then you will call and YHVH will answer.

Thursday, 6 March 2014 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Brothers and sisters in Christ, carrying one’s cross is the thing which most of us did not want to do, and we refused to do so even after the Lord made it clear what He wanted from us. We prefer to enjoy the pleasures of this world rather than following the Lord, and we prefer the ways of Satan to the way of Christ.

The path of the Lord is not an easy one, and there will be lots of suffering and challenges, as Satan owns this world, and he works his plots and attacks against God and His people through that same world, the one where we are living at the moment. But even though the path of the Lord is not an easy one, at the end of the way is happiness and blessing, such as what God had promised His people in the first reading today, if they kept His commandments and walked in His ways.

On the other hand, the path of Satan appears to be an easier and a much better one, because it seems that this path has much fewer obstacles and challenges facing us, as compared to that of the path of the Lord. But the pleasures and happiness with which the devil had spiced up his path are not true happiness and joy. These are illusions and attempts to replicate true happiness that exists only in God.

And brethren, you all know what awaits at the end of the path of Satan, that is death, and not just the kind of death that we know of, but eternal death. That is because the Lord, as He also said to the people in the first reading, will withdraw His blessing and instead His curse will hang over the people should they fail to follow His commandments and disobeyed His will.

If we choose to follow the path of evil, and choose the apparently easier path, then we are dooming ourselves. That is because in doing so, we reject the Lord and His love, rejecting the blessing of eternal life which He had promised for all those who remain faithful to Him and those who dedicate themselves to Him. We certainly do not want ourselves to end up this way, do we not?

Perseverance is the key, brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are to receive the blessings of Almighty God, then we ought to persevere in our faith. We cannot take our faith for granted, and neither should we take for granted the salvation which God had promised us all who believe in Him. Our faith must be living and genuine, and we must keep in mind always, that our faith must indeed be like carrying the cross, our own crosses, imitating what Jesus had done as He went on His Passion to save us.

Yes, brethren, if we want to follow the Lord and walk in His ways, then we should be ready to bear the burden of being His faithful ones. There will be opposition and even mockery, and there will be those who will look down on us because of our choice. But if we are to persevere and keep strong our faith, then we will persevere. Shall we choose the easy way out, a good life in this world, and yet in the end, be thrown into eternal suffering?

It is not wrong, brothers and sisters, to enjoy our life in this world, but it also means that we cannot just enjoy and do nothing else. We cannot just enjoy the pleasures and happiness of this world, without doing anything in accordance to the will of God. In fact, the more we immerse ourselves in the joy of this world, the less likely we are to act in the way that is pleasing to God. We have to be always mindful of this and keep a steady balance in our life.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is imperative for us to carry our cross, not literally or figuratively, but to do what is right and what is according to the will of God, that we may endure together as one, the suffering of Christ, and therefore understand the love that God had for us all, so much that He gave us Himself and His own life, that we all may live.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Lenten season, let us maximise the time and opportunity that we have, so that we may seek to devote ourselves more and more to the Lord, and if necessary, changing our ways that we may once again walk in the way of the Lord, and no longer following the devil into his rebellion. May God our Lord and our loving Father continue to bless us, watch over us, and protect us as we walk with Jesus His Son, towards our salvation and eternal glory. Amen.

Thursday, 6 March 2014 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

And Jesus added, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be put to death. Then after three days He will be raised to life.”

Jesus also said to all the people, “If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me! For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for My sake, you will save it.”

“What does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you destroy or damage yourself?”