Friday, 14 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard the continuation of the story from the Book of Kings on the kingdom of Israel after the time of king Solomon. At that time, after king Solomon has passed away, the kingdom passed to his heir Rehoboam, who followed in the sins of his father’s last years of reign and disregarded God’s will and wisdom, reigning tyrannically and ended up causing the division of Israel as God had foretold His people.

Jeroboam was given the command and kingship over the northern portion of the kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes of the Israelites who went up in rebellion against king Rehoboam and the house of David. This division happened because of the disobedience that Solomon and then his son Rehoboam had shown before God. And unfortunately, Jeroboam himself also fell into sin and disobeyed the Lord, and as a result, his family’s rule too eventually did not last, and other kings took over the throne of the northern kingdom.

All of these accounts of the downfall of the glorious days of the ancient united kingdom of Israel highlighted to us how in God we can have reassurance and true happiness, while away from Him there can only be division, misery and darkness. Many of the kings of Israel and Judah were unfaithful to God and led the people further and further into sin, embroiling them into bitter conflicts and wars that eventually led to the downfall and conquest of both kingdoms by the Assyrians and the Babylonians respectively.

Then we have our Gospel passage today, in which the Lord Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute, by touching His ears and tongue, saying the word, ‘Ephphata!’ that means ‘Be opened!’ which caused the man to be immediately healed from his afflictions and was able to speak and hear again. Through the Lord’s hands and power, the man was cured and made whole again, and everyone who saw the miracle believed in Jesus.

And this is the fulfilment of the prophecy which the Lord gave to His people through His prophets, that His salvation would come to them through His Messiah, the Saviour Whom He promised to them all. And Our Lord Jesus Christ is the promised Saviour, Who came bearing God’s truth and His salvation, touching those who were sick and troubled, and calling many to repent from their sins and to turn towards righteousness in God.

The essence of our Scripture passages today is therefore a reminder that while we may have fallen into sin and become afflicted, struck with divisions and troubles because of those sins and disobedience, but God is the One Who is able and indeed the only One Who can truly heal us from our afflictions and deliver us from our troubles and issues. And what we must all realise is just how much God loves each and every one of us, and how He wants us to be reconciled to Him.

And that is why He gave us His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ to be our Saviour and Redeemer, to loosen the tongues of those who are mute, open the ears of the deaf, make the blind see, allow those who are paralysed to move and work again, and even raise the dead back into life. Through Him, we mankind are restored and made whole, to be reconciled with God the Father, through His singular act of supreme and ultimate love, that is His sacrifice on the Cross.

But do we appreciate what God has done for us? More often than not we ignore His love and generous offer for forgiveness and mercy. We turn a blind eye and brush aside His compassionate care for us. We prefer to carry on living in sin, and allow ourselves to be tempted again and again by the devil rather than to walk in His path, just as how the people of Israel and Judah once lived, rebelling constantly against God, eventually leading to their own downfall and exile.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we need to embrace a new way of life, that is the way of Christ. Let us all now take a look at the lives and inspiring examples of two saints who have been made the Patron Saints of Europe for their wonderful many contributions to evangelisation and the conversion of many souls. They are St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who were two brothers highly credited with bringing the Christian faith to the Slavic peoples in Eastern Europe and for codifying the Cyrilic alphabets, named after St. Cyril himself, now widely used in that region.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius were born in Greece and later on were sent on missions to different areas and territories across Eastern Europe and Western Asia, spreading the Christian faith and conducting diplomacy with the foreign powers in the regions they visited. They were then sent to the Slavic areas upon invitation from one of the kings who requested missionaries to evangelise the people who were mostly still pagan then.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius dedicated themselves to the mission they have been entrusted with, and did even more than what they have been called to do, in helping not just the conversion of the people but even as mentioned, the ordering of the Slavic alphabets and language, as well as codification of laws and customs modelled on the laws of the Roman Empire and the laws of the Church at that time. They truly showed what it means for us to be Christians, in serving God with all of their heart and might.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. Cyril and St. Methodius? Are we willing to commit ourselves anew to the Lord, and devote our lives from now on with greater love and fidelity to God? Let us all seek to be ever more faithful, each and every days of our lives, making good use of all the opportunities that God has given us in this world. May God be with us always and may He bless us with faith and strength to live our lives according to His will, and heal us from our afflictions. Amen.

Friday, 14 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 31-37

At that time, again Jesus set out : from the country of Tyre He passed through Sidon and, skirting the sea of Galilee, He came to the territory of Decapolis. There, a deaf man, who also had difficulty in speaking, was brought to Him. They asked Jesus to lay His hand upon him.

Jesus took him apart from the crowd, and put His fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with spittle. Then, looking up to heaven, He said with a deep sigh, “Ephphata!” that is, “Be opened!”

And immediately, his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly. Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about it; but the more He insisted, the more they proclaimed it. The people were completely astonished and said, “He has done all things well; He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

Friday, 14 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 80 : 10-11ab, 12-13, 14-15

There shall be no strange god among you, you shall not worship any alien god, for I, YHVH, am your God.

But My people did not listen; Israel did not obey. So I gave them over to their stubbornness and they followed their own counsels.

If only My people would listen, if only Israel would walk in My ways, I would quickly subdue their adversaries and turn My hand against their enemies.

Friday, 14 February 2020 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Kings 11 : 29-32 and 1 Kings 12 : 19

Once, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh found him on the road. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah, who had a new garment on, clutched and tore it into twelve pieces.

He then said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself for this is the word of YHVH, the God of Israel : ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hands to give you ten tribes. Only one tribe shall be left to him for the sake of My servant David and Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.’”

So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to the present time.

Thursday, 2 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the Scripture readings which at the same time inspired us with the faith and dedication of St. John the Baptist while also warning us of the false leaders and antichrists who will try to mislead the faithful into the path of sin and darkness, away from God’s salvation. Hence, today we are presented with the contrasts between those who truly are faithful to God and those who served the devil.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the words of St. John the Baptist that he spoke towards the priests and the Levites, likely the members of the Pharisees that would later oppose the Lord Jesus and His works, as these people also doubted the authority and veracity of St. John the Baptist, questioning him on the validity and the source of his teachings and works among the people as he baptised many people at the Jordan.

They asked if he had the authority to do what he has been doing and wondering if he was the Messiah that God has promised to His people. St. John the Baptist clearly told those who asked him that he was not the Messiah and that he was just the one who was sent into this world to prepare the way for the Messiah of God. Had anyone else been asked of this at that time, more likely than not they would have claimed that they were the Messiah promised by God.

As historical evidence had it, and which was recorded even in the Acts of the Apostles, there had been people at that time who claimed that they were the Messiah, gathered a following, large at times, and quite a few rebelled against the Romans and the authorities, only for them all to vanish when their leaders were arrested and condemned to death. Their supposed missions and Messiah title did not last because indeed they were not the Messiah.

St. John had the means to do the same, and he had a large following of people who themselves thought that he was the Messiah promised by God. They came to him and thronged to him because they believed in his words and sought reconciliation with God through baptism. St. John the Baptist’s great charisma and faith could have easily made him the cherished Messiah of the Israelites as other false Messiahs had done before him.

But that was not what St. John the Baptist had chosen to do, as he remained faithful completely to the task that he had been entrusted with, and he clearly stated publicly that he was not the Messiah, but only the one sent to precede the coming of the one and true Messiah, Jesus Christ. He proclaimed this before the priests and Levites sent to question him, and he also did the same before his disciples. And when the Lord Jesus came to him for His baptism, St. John the Baptist proclaimed Him as the Lamb of God and thus the Messiah to his own disciples.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to look upon the good examples set by St. John the Baptist who placed himself completely in the hands of God, entrusting his whole self to the Lord’s providence and giving his whole life to God without regards for his own pride, ego and desire. This is contrasted to the attitudes of many among the Pharisees, the false Messiahs and the leaders who led the people astray.

And today, we have yet two more great examples of faith we can be inspired with, in St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, as we celebrate their feast day today. Both of these saints also had to contend with the heretics and their powerful influence at their time, at a time when those false teachings and ideas threatened not only to destroy the unity of the Church, but also the salvation of many souls and the survival of the Church and faith itself.

St. Basil the Great was the Bishop of Caesarea in Asia Minor, who was the contemporary of St. Gregory Nazianzen, who was the Archbishop of Constantinople. They were strongly opposed to the erroneous and yet popular Arian heresy, as championed by the heretic priest Arius, who claimed that Jesus Christ was not the equal of the Father and that He was created by the Father rather than being co-eternal and co-existing with the Father from before the beginning of time as we believe in our Christian faith.

Arius was a very charismatic man, much like that of St. John the Baptist, but he chose to champion a view divergent and different from the Christian truth, and got a large following especially in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire and among the Germanic peoples beyond the boundaries of the Empire. The Arian heresy affected quite a large portion of the faithful and in fact many bishops took the side of Arius until the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea finally condemned the teachings of Arius as being heretical.

Nonetheless, the Arian heresy still remained for many decades and centuries after the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and it was the vigorous efforts and works of both St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen in opposing this heresy among some other heresies like Apollinarianism and more, that the true Catholic and orthodox faith survived and many among the faithful who had been ensnared by the false teachings returned to the true faith.

In the course of their efforts, they encountered many trials and difficulties, oppositions from clergy and bishops who were favourable to the Arian heresy in particular, and even the hierarchy of the Imperial government and the Emperors themselves who were Arian in their profession of faith. Yet, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen persevered in their faith and in their efforts, and their extensive writings on the truth of the Christian faith made them to be recognised as two of the original Doctors of the Church together with St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Augustine of Hippo.

All of them served the Lord and put Him first and foremost in their lives. Are we able to do the same with our own lives, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we able to be faithful as St. John the Baptist, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen and all of our holy predecessors have shown us? This is the challenge that we have been given as we continue to live our lives and as we embark through the journey in this new year.

May the Lord continue to guide us through life and may He strengthen us always each and every moments of our lives that we may grow ever stronger in faith and that we may always seek the truth of God in all things, and not to allow our pride, ego and desire to overcome us. May the Lord bless each and every one of us, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 2 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 1 : 19-28

This was the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” John recognised the truth, and did not deny it. He said, “I am not the Messiah.”

And they asked him, “Then who are you? Elijah?” He answered, “I am not.” They said, “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Tell us who you are, so that we can give some answer to those who sent us. How do you see yourself?”

And John said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness : Make straight the way of the Lord!”

Those who had been sent were Pharisees; and they put a further question to John, “Then why are you baptising, if you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?” John answered, “I baptise you with water, but among you stands One Whom you do not know; although He comes after me, I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal.”

This happened in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptising.

Thursday, 2 January 2020 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

The Lord has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love nor His faithfulness to Israel.

The farthest ends of the earth all have seen God’s saving power. All you lands, make a joyful noise to the Lord, break into song and sing praise.