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.

Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He 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, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

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

Listen, o YHVH, 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 YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

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

Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

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 fall. 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, 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.

Friday, 28 February 2020 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 9 : 14-15

At that time, the disciples of John came to Jesus 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, 28 February 2020 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (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, 28 February 2020 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (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 offences, 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, you will cry and He will say, I am here.

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.

Thursday, 27 February 2020 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “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?”