Monday, 3 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard from the Scriptures first of all the story of the conflict between king David of Israel and his son, Absalom, who rebelled against his own father due to some earlier intrigues and wanted to seize the kingdom from him with the support of quite a few segments of the community of Israel. Absalom rose in rebellion and marched against David, and as we heard in our first reading today, king David had to abandon the city of Jerusalem. Even some of his courtiers abandoned David and chose to welcome Absalom instead.

At that moment, we also heard how Shimei the Benjaminite cursed David and shouted at him even as he and his supporters fled the city of Jerusalem. Some of David’s supporters wanted to punish and kill Shimei, but David stopped them and remained firm in continuing the struggle despite all those who opposed him at the time. It was a very troubling and difficult time for David, but David trusted in the Lord and remained faithful, knowing that God was with him regardless.

It is the sentiment that we have also heard from today’s Psalm, how when our enemies and all our opponents rise up against us, God is our Shield and our Help. And it is in God alone that we can have full confidence and complete trust which nothing else in this world can give us. The Lord has always been true and faithful to His Covenant with us and He will protect and bless all those who trust in Him. For the truth is indeed that no evil can stand before God, and God will have the ultimate triumph over all evil.

This is what we have also heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard the story of the Lord Jesus casting out demons and evil spirits from a man in the region of Gerasenes across the Jordan. The man was afflicted and possessed by a large number of evil spirits and demons that called themselves as ‘Legion’ as a reference to their large numbers. The Lord sent the evil spirits away from the man into a nearby herd of pigs that went down the hill in berserk. But the man was completely healed from his previous affliction and was normal again.

No one wanted to come close to the possessed man earlier on, and because of the evil spirits that were within him, many kept a great distance from him. The man wandered off in the wilderness away from the community until the day when the Lord came and liberated him from those evil spirits. And this is in fact parallel to what we have heard of the story of the temporary exile of king David from Jerusalem because of the rebellion of Absalom. Like David who had to leave behind Jerusalem and wander to the wilderness, the possessed man also wandered off in the wilderness of Gerasenes.

But as I mentioned, God was with David and eventually, He gave David his kingdom back when Absalom was killed at the battle of the Woods of Ephraim according to the Scriptural accounts. Although the challenges and trials David faced at that time seemed very great, just like that possessed man who suffered from all the evil spirits that bothered him, but God proved to them all that He was still greater, and through Him, they both received liberation and deliverance from their troubles.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what then is the significance of today’s Scripture passages? They remind us of the need for us to trust in God and to put our faith in Him. We should not forget that God is always by our side, listening to us and providing us with what we need in His own good time. But we often conveniently forget about this and instead turned to many other things of the world we grew dependant on, such as wealth, pleasures, material goods, status, fame among many others.

Today we are called to remember God and His love, His ever caring presence in our midst. We are called to remember all the times which He has stood by our side especially in our moments of great sorrow and distress. God has always been there by our side, and although sometimes we may not be able to recognise Him, but He is always there nonetheless. That is just how amazing God’s love is for each and every one of us.

Today, let us also look upon the faith of two of the Lord’s faithful saints, that hopefully we may live our lives with greater devotion and love for God after witnessing their faith and love for their Lord and Master. First of all, St. Blaise was a bishop of the Church, known today as the patron saint for all those who are working as healthcare workers taking care of those with throat diseases. The unique blessing of throats on St. Blaise’s feast day is still widely practiced today, and many who had throat complaints or troubles seek St. Blaise for his intercession and help.

St. Blaise was a Roman martyr who was a doctor and healer who was called to heal God’s people spiritually, and eventually became the bishop of Sebastea in what is now the eastern part of Asia Minor near Armenia. St. Blaise had many people seeking him for both physical and spiritual illnesses, and it was told that he miraculously healed a person who was suffering from fish bones that were stuck in the throat. St. Blaise was martyred under the Emperor Licinius who carried out one of the last persecutions of Christians, but the legacy of St. Blaise remained till this day.

St. Blaise reminded us all that through God’s grace and help, everything is possible. Even the greatest of ailments, threats and troubles are nothing for the Lord Who is Almighty and All-Powerful. The Lord Himself is All-Powerful over all those evil spirits whom many had feared from the possessed man. If only we trust in God, everything will be right for us if we follow His way. There will be plenty of trials and struggles, but God will help us and lead and guide the way for us going forward. And perhaps now is also a good opportunity for us to ask St. Blaise for his intercession, especially as the world is now facing the threat of the new 2019-nCoV or novel Coronavirus, that are spreading around the world and has killed hundreds of people so far.

Today we also remember the works and life of St. Ansgar, frequently known as the ‘Apostle of the North’ for his missionary and evangelising works among the pagan Germanic peoples. He worked at the forefront of Christianisation of the many areas in northern Germany where paganism were still common and strong among the populace. St. Ansgar also faced lots of challenges and difficulties through his ministry, but he persevered on, trusted in the Lord’s guidance and providence, and remained true to his calling to spread the Good News and the truth of the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on what we have just discussed earlier on, and pray that each and every one of us will be strengthened in our faith that we will be courageous in facing the many trials and challenges in life, doing whatever we can for the greater glory of God and to fulfil whatever missions that God has called us to. Let us all serve the Lord with ever greater love and devotion from now on. May God bless us all and be with us, and may His love and grace be upon us always. Amen.

Monday, 3 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

Mark 5 : 1-20

At that time, Jesus and His disciples arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. No sooner did Jesus leave the boat than He was met by a man with evil spirits, who had come from the tombs. The man lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him, even with a chain.

He had often been bound with fetters and chains; but he would pull the chains apart and smash the fetters; and no one had the strength to control him. Night and day he stayed among the tombs on the hillsides, and was continually screaming, and beating himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell at His feet, and cried with a loud voice, “What do You want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, I beg You, do not torment me!” He said this, because Jesus had commanded, “Evil spirit, come out of the man!”

When Jesus asked the evil spirit, “What is your name?” It replied, “Legion is my name, for we are many.” And it kept begging Jesus, not to send them out of that region. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside, and the evil spirits begged Him, “Send us to the pigs, and let us go into them.”

So Jesus let them go. The evil spirits came out of the man and went into the pigs; and immediately, the herd rushed down the cliff; and all were drowned in the lake. The herdsmen fled, and reported this in the town and in the countryside. So all the people came to see what had happened.

They came to Jesus, and saw the man freed of the evil spirits, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind; the same man who had been possessed by the legion. They were afraid. And when those who had seen it, told what had happened to the man and to the pigs, the people begged Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.

When Jesus was getting into the boat, the man, who had been possessed, begged to stay with Him. Jesus would not let him, and said, “Go home to your people, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

So he went throughout the country of Decapolis, telling everyone how much Jesus had done for him; and all the people were astonished.

Monday, 3 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

Psalm 3 : 2-3, 4-5, 6-7

O YHVH, how great in number are my foes! How numerous are they who rise against me! How many are they who say of my soul : “There is no help for him in God!”

But You are my Shield, o YHVH, my Glory; You lift up my head. Aloud I cry to YHVH, and from His holy hill He answers me.

If I lie down to sleep, again I awake, for YHVH supports me; no fear of the thousands standing against me.

Monday, 3 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr and St. Ansgar, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

2 Samuel 15 : 13-14, 30 and 2 Samuel 16 : 5-13a

A messenger came to report to David that the Israelites were siding with Absalom. Then David said to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem, “Let us flee, for we cannot resist Absalom. Go quickly, lest he come hurriedly and overtake us. Surely he will put the city to the sword if he can bring disaster upon us.”

David himself went up the Mount of Olives, weeping. He was barefooted and had his head covered, and all the people who were with him had their heads covered and wept as they went. When king David came to Bahurim, a man from the clan of Saul’s family named Shimei, son of Gera, came out cursing him. He threw stones at David and his officers although the king’s men and warriors flanked the king on the right and left.

As he yelled curses, Shimei said, “Leave! Leave! You man of bloodshed, you wicked man! YHVH has brought down on your head all the blood of the family of Saul. You became king in his place, but God has now placed the kingdom in the hands of your son Absalom. Ruin has come upon you because you are a wicked man.”

Then Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go and cut his head off.” But the king said, “Why should I listen to you, sons of Zeruiah? If YHVH has ordered him to curse me, who shall ask him why he acts like this?”

Then David said to Abishai and his officers, “If my own son wants to kill me, how much more this Benjaminite! Leave him alone and let him curse me if YHVH has ordered him to do so. Perhaps YHVH will look on my affliction and turn to good things the curses heaped on me today.”

So David and his men went on their way while Shimei, following on the hillside opposite him.

Saturday, 3 February 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s first reading we heard about the young king Solomon at the start of his reign praying to the Lord asking for guidance and strength. And God asked Solomon for what he desired, and he answered the Lord with the request for wisdom, the wisdom to judge right from wrong, in leading the people of God as he was still young and lacking in experience.

God was pleased with Solomon’s request, praising him because he did not ask what the others in the world normally would have requested. Given that we can request for anything we want to have, many of us would have chosen to request for money, or material possessions, or prestige, or worldly glory, or length of life and comforts of life, or even all of them. But Solomon did not do that.

He asked from God what the world could not give him, and wisdom, that is true wisdom is something that only God alone can grant to those to whom He was willing to reveal it. Ultimately money, wealth, prestige, long life and everything else that we normally desire, are all temporary and impermanent, and eventually we will lose all of them, and we will bring nothing with us at the end of our lives.

But even wisdom itself cannot guarantee everything or safeguard everything. If we read on further about the life of king Solomon, we will notice how in his later age, during his old ages, he was swayed by his many wives and fell into sin, erecting many pagan idols and altars to the foreign gods to satisfy his wives and concubines. God was angry at Solomon because he was unable to keep his commitment to Him and instead fell into temptation of his great wealth and power.

This is a reminder for us, that all of us must not be tempted and must resist the temptations of money, of prestige, of worldly glory, of material possessions, that we do not fall into sin as Solomon had been. Instead, we should really put our complete trust in God, in His wisdom and in His ways. When we start to put our trust in our own power and abilities, that is when we begin to sway away and be tempted.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God cares for us so much that He is willing to go to such great lengths to provide us what we need, and give us what we need. Just as He has offered help to Solomon in his time of need, He gave us nothing less than His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Lord and our Saviour, and in the Gospel passage we heard today, we see just how committed He is to all of us.

Despite being very tired, as Jesus and His disciples ministered to many people in many different places, when He saw the people being lost, leaderless and clueless, like sheep without a shepherd, He had pity and compassion on them, and He continued teaching them for many hours, guiding them to the right path by His words, telling them and calling them to repentance from their sins.

We should heed what the Lord has done, and as Christians, we must be courageous in doing what the Lord Himself had done and shown us. And we should perhaps model ourselves after faithful servants of God, whose memory we remember and celebrate today, namely St. Blaise and St. Ansgar. St. Blaise was a holy bishop and martyr of the faith, who lived in what is now today Armenia. St. Ansgar was a renowned missionary and bishop who worked hard to spread the faith in the region now part of northern Germany.

St. Blaise was a very skilled and experienced physician who often ministered to the people for their various sickness and illness, caring for them physically as well as spiritually, as their bishop and shepherd. He cultivated a strong spiritual life and habits, which was notable among his flock, and many were inspired by his great faith and dedication to God.

During one of the last great persecutions of the Church and the faithful, St. Blaise was among those who were arrested by the authorities, and as he remained steadfast in his beliefs and in his zeal in living the faith he had, he was martyred by beheading. However, his examples and great faith remained alive many decades, centuries after he died, even until this very day.

St. Ansgar meanwhile ministered to the many pagan peoples and tribes living in the area now found in the northern parts of Germany and Scandinavia. He went from place to place, working hard in the footsteps of the Lord Himself, teaching the people about the faith and about God. Many turned to the faith and converted because of his hard work, and slowly, more and more people, throughout northern Germany and Scandinavia became Christians.

He lived simply and devoutly, committing himself to prayer and fasting. St. Ansgar cared greatly also for the weak and for the poor, ministering to them regularly. Many were inspired by his examples and followed suit in the ministry to the people of God, and more and more people wanted to be baptised as Christians, having witnessed what the holy man of God had done.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all as Christians also do the same in our own lives, that in whatever capacity we are in, and in whatever way we can contribute, we may be able to spend our time, effort and attention, to love the Lord all the more, to dedicate ourselves ever more, and to put our trust in God alone, just as St. Blaise and St. Ansgar had done.

Let us not be tempted by worldly glory, hubris, desire, greed, ambition and all the other things which are major obstacles in our path to reach out to the Lord. Rather, let us all be ever more humble before God and men alike, so that in everything we do, we say and we act, we do them for the greater glory of God, and God Who knows all that we do, will bless us greatly. May God be with us always, with our efforts and works. Amen.

Saturday, 3 February 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

Mark 6 : 30-34

At that time, the Apostles returned and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. Then He said to them, “Let us go off by ourselves into a remote place and have some rest.” For there were so many people coming and going that the Apostles had no time even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a secluded area by themselves.

But people saw them leaving, and many could guess where they were going. So, from all the towns, they hurried there on foot, arriving ahead of them. As Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.

Saturday, 3 February 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

Psalm 118 : 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

How can young people remain pure? By living according to Your word.

I seek You with my whole heart; let me not stray from Your commands.

In my heart I have kept Your word, that I may not sin against my YHVH.

Praise to You, o YHVH; instruct me in Your statutes.

That, with my lips, I may declare all Your spoken decrees.

I delight in following Your laws, more so than in all riches.

Saturday, 3 February 2018 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Ansgar, Bishop (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)

1 Kings 3 : 4-13

The king used to sacrifice at Gibeon, the great high place; on the altar there he had offered a thousand burnt offerings. It was in Gibeon, during the night, that YHVH appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask what you want Me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown Your servant David my father a great and steadfast love because he served You faithfully and was righteous and sincere towards You. You have given him proof of Your steadfast love in making a son of his sit on his throne this day.”

“And now, o YHVH my God, You have made Your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a young boy who does not know how to undertake anything. Meantime, Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen – a people so great that they can neither be numbered nor counted.”

“Give me, therefore, an understanding mind in governing Your people that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to govern this multitude of people of Yours?”

YHVH was pleased that Solomon had made this request. And He told him, “Because you have requested this rather than long life or wealth or even vengeance on your enemies; indeed, because you have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I shall grant you your request. I now give you a wise and discerning mind such as no one has had before you nor anyone after you shall ever have.”

“I will also give you what you have not asked for, both wealth and fame; and no king shall be your equal during your lifetime.”

Friday, 3 February 2017 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded by the Scripture readings on the importance and the sanctity of the matter of marriage, which is the union that God had made between a man and a woman. In the first reading, we are told by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, that marriage must be respected by all, and that we should not depend on money.

Indeed, it is worldly cares and temptations such as money, pleasures of the flesh, lust, immorality, fornication of the flesh and many others which are able to endanger the sanctity and unity found in our marriage. It is from them that adultery and all sorts of despicable sins were born from, as what we can see in the example of the adultery of king Herod, as told in the Gospel today.

King Herod was the ruler of Judea, who was one of the sons of king Herod the Great. Philip was his brother, the ruler of Decapolis, but this brother died before Herod, and left behind a widow named Herodias with a daughter, as mentioned in the Gospel today. It was not lawful for him to take Herodias as a wife, as she had been lawfully and rightfully wed to his own brother.

But both of them persisted in their sins, not least Herodias who resented John the Baptist for telling them off on their adultery. After all, she was most likely still young, even with a daughter, and in the world then, even today, who would not be tempted to be the wife of a king? She would be influential, powerful and wealthy, instead of being a sombre widow of a deceased king.

Herod himself also embraced the sin, and he was unable to restrain himself, which became the source of his undoing. He tried to listen to John the Baptist, and tried to restrain himself, but he was not able to resist the temptations of the flesh, as shown in the Gospel today. He lusted in the daughter of Herodias who danced so beautifully as to mesmerise him and turn his heart away from anything else. He was so tempted as to make vows and promises, even to give away half of his kingdom.

In the end, that led to him being responsible for the death and martyrdom of John the Baptist, a holy man and the herald of the Messiah. In this, he had committed a great sin, not just because of his adulterous behaviour and relationship with Herodias, but all the more because he was unable to restrain himself and succumbed to the temptations that led him to commit a murder, even when done unintentionally.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important that all of us heed the lessons to be learnt from today’s Scripture passages. We must learn to resist our vulnerabilities and all the temptations that lead us to sin. We must not be complacent and neither should we give in to the temptations that can bring about our downfall. We have to be upright and we must commit ourselves to the way of the Lord and not to worldly values.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Blaise and St. Ansgar, the two holy saints whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Blaise was a bishop of the Church, and also a famous physician, who was renowned for his prowess as a physician, healing many people from their bodily illnesses. Later on, he would devote himself to the Lord, becoming a physician and healer for the souls.

Through his many works, he helped many people to overcome their attachments to sin, to worldliness and to all temptations of the world. St. Blaise showed the people how they ought to live in faith and avoid all forms of fornications and sin. He was later arrested and tortured under the persecution of the faithful by the Emperor Licinius, and was told to have suffer torture with iron combs and was later beheaded.

Meanwhile St. Ansgar was a devout servant of God and an influential preacher, whose works of evangelisation in the region now known as northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden and some other areas in Northern Europe had led to the conversion of the pagans and the sinners there into the Christian faith. At that time, many of the people there still lived in ignorance of the faith, and they sinned against God.

But St. Ansgar showed them by examples, and also through his teachings, by revealing to them the Sacred Scriptures and the Good News of the Lord, that their ways had been wrong, and encouraged them to return to the Lord and accept baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. This St. Ansgar had done, and many were saved by his works. He helped to lay a solid foundation for the Church and the faith in the places where he worked to minister to the people of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in the Scriptures today, the bad examples of Herod and Herodias, and the virtuous examples of St. Blaise and St. Ansgar, let us all as Christians learn to uphold Christian teachings and values, and strive to be upright, honest and just in all of our ways and deeds. May the Lord help us in all of our good works, and may He strengthen in us the resolve to live our lives free from sin. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 3 February 2017 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr and St. Ansgar, Bishop (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)
Mark 6 : 14-29

At that time, king Herod also heard about Jesus, because His Name had become well-known. Some people said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in Him.” Others thought, “He is a prophet like the prophets of times past.” When Herod was told of this, he thought, “I had John beheaded, yet he has risen from the dead!”

For this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested, and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her, and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John; and wanted to kill him, but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed, whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.”

And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.”

The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of his bodyguards with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother.

When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.