Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the first reading today, we listened about the humiliation of Israel, because of their sins and disobedience, they have been rejected by God, as they have rejected God first. The people of Israel had been uprooted from the land given to their ancestors, and had to endure humiliation in exile, because they were not faithful to the Covenant which God had made with them.

And they therefore had to endure the punishment due for their rebelliousness, and endure the bitter consequences that arise because of their own stubbornness and refusal to repent, despite the many reminders and the constant promptings from the Lord through His messengers and prophets. Instead, they hardened their hearts and persecuted those whom the Lord had sent to call them to return to Him.

Yet, the Lord in His most tender love and gracious mercy, was always ever willing to extend His generous offer of mercy and forgiveness to all of us. Through sin we have been sundered and cut off from His love and cast away from His grace, but through sincere and genuine repentance, all of us have been given the way out of our predicament, that is none other than, following the path that the Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, has shown us.

And in today’s Gospel passage, we heard about how the Lord encountered a faithful army centurion or captain, who came to Him asking for a favour of healing to his very sick servant, who was dear to him. In this passage, we heard the amazing and unusual action of the centurion, who, when the Lord was about to go into his house in order to heal the sick servant, uttered the words that we now utter at every celebrations of the Holy Mass.

‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.’ These were the words of the centurion, who later then added, ‘Just say the word, and my servant shall be healed.’ In these two sentences alone, were summed up the great profession of faith and sincere prayer made by the centurion to the Lord. Such a great faith amazed the Lord, Who immediately granted all that the centurion had asked for, and the servant was healed.

First of all, we must understand how, as an army centurion, it was likely that the centurion did not belong to the race of the Jewish people, or followed the Jewish traditions and faith. It was likely that he was both a Gentile or non-Jew, and a pagan. According to the customs and practices at that time, it was taboo for a Jew to enter into the house of a pagan and Gentile, as it would, according to the Jewish customs, defile the person.

That was why, the centurion, who was likely aware of this custom, would not want the Lord to be defiled by his non-Jewish and pagan background. And yet, through the words he said, in fact, as the Lord Himself pointed out, the centurion showed a pure and genuine faith, that was not found even among the Jews themselves. First of all, he admitted openly his sinfulness and unworthiness to receive the Lord into his humble abode. This is a trait that many of us did not have with us.

Then, he was filled with such a great faith and trust in the Lord, knowing that even if the Lord did not directly perform miraculous deeds or touch his servant to heal him, just through a word of the Lord, his servant would be immediately healed. The centurion trusted in the Lord so greatly, that he was totally unlike the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who had seen so many of the miracles and deeds performed by the Lord Jesus, but still refused to believe.

How many of us are able to be as humble and as faithful as the centurion? Do we truly love the Lord our God, with all of our heart, and give Him the very best of our attention and focus? Have we been true Christians in all of our actions and dealings? We are all called to follow in the footsteps of the faithful centurion, and truly mean it, every time we say at the Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under My roof.”

Now, today, we also celebrate the feast of the first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church. On this day, we celebrate those courageous members of the faithful who suffered the first great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire under the reign of the Emperor Nero. This feast is celebrated a day after the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, as it was likely that the two holy Apostles were martyred in Rome as part of this great persecution.

At that time, the Christian faith was flourishing in every parts of the Empire, despite the challenges they encountered from various origins. Many of the faithful also lived in the city of Rome, the capital of the Empire. And more and more of the faithful were added to the Church with every passing moment, as the fruits of the dedication and hard work shown by the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord.

Then, in the year 64 AD, a great fire engulfed most of the city of Rome, one which, according to historians, was started by the eccentric Emperor Nero himself, who quickly laid the blame of the fire on the growing Christian community. Hence, the first great persecution of the faithful began, and many were forced to choose between abandoning their faith and losing their lives.

Yet, many of the faithful, including St. Peter and St. Paul remained true to their faith, and refused to bend to the demands of those who persecuted them. They remained true to their faith in God, and devoted themselves wholeheartedly, and committed themselves, to the very end, courageously declaring their faith to the One Who has saved them from eternal damnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the examples set by the faithful centurion and the first holy martyrs of the Roman Church, shall we all be inspired by those examples that they have set? Shall we follow in their footsteps, and learn to commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to the Lord, in all the things that we say and do? This is our calling as Christians, and we are all challenged to be ever better Christians, day after day.

May the Lord bless us all, and may He strengthen each and every one of us in our faith. May He continue to watch over us and may He remain with us, on our side, through the challenges and trials of life, that we may remain wholly faithful to Him, at every moments of our life. First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, pray for us all, sinners still living in this world. Amen.

Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Matthew 8 : 5-17

At that time, when Jesus entered Capernaum, an army captain approached Him, to ask His help, “Sir, my servant lies sick at home. He is paralysed and suffers terribly.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

The captain answered, “I am not worthy to have You under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed. For I myself, a junior officer, give orders to my soldiers. And if I say to one, ‘Go!’ he goes; and if I say to another, ‘Come!’ he comes; and if I say to my servant, ‘Do this!’ he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, He was astonished; and said to those who were following Him, “I tell you, I have not found such faith in Israel. I say to you, many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; but the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown out into extreme darkness; there, they will wail and grind their teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the captain, “Go home now. As you believed, so let it be.” At that moment, his servant was healed. Jesus went to Peter’s house and found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with fever. He took her by the hand and the fever left her; she got up and began to wait on Him.

Toward evening, they brought to Jesus many people possessed by evil spirits; and with a word, He drove out the spirits. He also healed all who were sick. In this way, what was said by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled : He bore our infirmities and took on Himself our diseases.

Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 73 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7, 20-21

O God, have You rejected us forever? Why vent Your anger on the sheep of Your own fold? Remember the people You have formed of old, the tribe You have redeemed as Your inheritance. Remember Mount Zion, where You once lived.

Climb, and visit these hopeless ruins, the enemy has ravaged everything in the Sanctuary. Your foes have roared triumphantly in the holy place, and set up their banner of victory.

Like lumbermen felling trees, they smashed the carved panelling with hatchets, hammers and axes. They defiled Your Sanctuary and set aflame the dwelling place of Your Name.

See how they keep Your Covenant, in the dark caves of the land. Do not let the oppressed be put to shame; may the poor and needy praise Your Name.

Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Lamentations 2 : 2, 10-14, 18-19

Without pity YHVH has shattered in Jacob every dwelling. He has torn down in His anger the ramparts of Judah’s daughter. He has thrown her rulers and her king to the ground, dishonoured.

The elders of the daughter of Zion sit in silence upon the ground, their heads sprinkled with dust, their bodies wrapped in sackcloth, while Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads to the ground. With weeping, my eyes are spent; my soul is in torment because of the downfall of the daughter of my people, because children and infants faint in the open spaces of the town.

To their mothers they say, “Where is the bread and wine?” as they faint like wounded men in the streets and public squares, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms. To what can I compare you, o daughter of Jerusalem? Who can save or comfort you, o virgin daughter of Zion? Deep as the sea is your affliction, and who can possibly heal you?

Your prophets’ visions were worthless and false. Had they warned of your sins, your fate might have been averted. But what they gave you, instead, were false, misleading signs. Cry out to the Lord, o wall of the daughter of Zion! Oh, let your tears flow day and night, like a river. Give yourself no relief; grant your eyes no respite.

Get up, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him, for the lives of your children, who faint with hunger at the corner of every street.

Friday, 29 June 2018 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this blessed and momentous day, we celebrate the great occasion of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, the Patron saints of the Church of Rome, as both of those great servants of God were martyred in the city of Rome, at that time the capital and centre of the Roman Empire, which ruled most of the Mediterranean and Europe then.

Those two Apostles were considered to be the greatest among the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord, for St. Peter was the leader of the Apostles and the one to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted His whole Church, the flock of sheep of the whole faithful. And then, St. Paul was the great Apostle whose role in the evangelisation and conversion of the Gentiles was crucial, through his many missionary journeys and numerous Epistles and letters.

Hence, the two Apostles were essentially important pillars of the Church, together with the other Apostles of the Lord who spread the Christian faith far beyond their origin in Judea and Jerusalem. However, we may think that those Apostles were great and mighty people, who were endowed with great intellect and powerful in the sight of men. But those are the qualities and the perceptions of the world, and not what God’s truth prescribes.

Just as the Scriptures said, ‘It is not man who chooses to be worthy of God, but rather, God who made His people to be worthy.’ Essentially, we do not claim to be worthy of God, for if we judge ourselves by God’s standards, none among us are worthy of Him. But God empowered ordinary, mortal men like us to be His disciples, and make us to be worthy through the works He performed through each and every one of us who did His works.

Likewise, many of the Apostles came from humble and ordinary background, and even most likely of origins, those whom the world would never have thought to be possible as even consideration for those who would be called to the position and responsibility as the disciples and followers of the Lord God Most High, King of all kings and Master of the whole universe.

Many of the Apostles were illiterate and uneducated, as poor fishermen, and some others were rebels and thieves, and simple people making their living in various professions and works. One was a tax collector reviled and hated by his own countrymen, and deemed as a sinner for his work and role. And yet some were once enemies of the Lord and the faithful, like St. Paul had been, in his younger days.

St. Peter himself was a simple fishermen at the Lake of Galilee, doing his work and making a living, doing what many considered as a menial and unappreciated profession. But when the Lord Jesus came and called him, St. Peter together with his fellow fishermen left behind their fishing nets and boats, and followed Him from then on, to be fishers of men, just as He had told them.

He would go on to be the leader and the chief among all the disciples and followers of the Lord, because of his great faith and love for the Lord. But of course this did not mean that he had a perfect faith and pathway during his journey of faith. In fact, as we all should have known, St. Peter during the time when the Lord was arrested and tortured during His Passion, denied that he knew the Lord not just once, but three times.

He was utterly devastated after having realised the truth, and he was disappointed on his lack of faith, especially after he professed his faith and dedication to the Lord earlier on during the Last Supper. But unlike Judas Iscariot, the traitor, who also showed regret but chose to take the easy and cowardly way out through suicide, St. Peter chose the path of repentance and recommitment to God.

St. Peter reaffirmed his faith and dedication to the Lord, when the Lord Jesus spoke to him privately, asking him three times, “Peter, do you love Me?’ And Peter reaffirmed his love for Him with true sincerity and genuine intention. The Lord entrusted His Church and His entire flock to his care as leader of the Church and Vicar of Christ, through the words, ‘Feed My lambs’.

St. Peter would face many difficulties, challenges and persecutions, including what we have heard from the Scripture passage from the Acts of the Apostles, telling us how St. Peter was arrested during the episode of persecution by king Herod Antipas. He was imprisoned and was slated to face martyrdom just as what happened to St. James, the brother of St. John, by the same king Herod Antipas.

But God had greater plans for St. Peter, and He sent His Angel to free St. Peter from prison as we heard in our first reading passage today. He would continue from then on, to lead and guide the Church of God, and eventually established more Christian communities, becoming the first Bishop of Antioch and the Bishop of Rome. It was told that at the end of his missionary journey, he went to Rome, the capital of the Empire.

Meanwhile St. Paul was once known as Saul, who came from the region and city known as Tarsus, in southern part of what is now Turkey. He was born as a Pharisee, who were influential group of the Israelite elites at that time, particularly devoted to the preservation and conservation of the traditions and laws of the Jewish people. And St. Paul himself mentioned how he was very fanatical and dedicated to the cause of the Pharisees, even more than many others.

Hence, he was a great enemy of the faith at the very beginning of the Church. As Saul, according to the Acts of the Apostles, he took part in the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, who died defending the faith, stoned by the enemies of the faith, including Saul himself. And Saul took part in the intensive persecution of the Church, causing great fear and grief among the early Christian communities.

Surely, he would have been the least likely among those who would turn towards the Lord and be a Christian, at least in our worldly view of things. How could such a great enemy of the faith become one of the members of the Church? But as mentioned in the Scriptures, what is impossible or seemingly impossible for men, is possible for God. And God had a different plan for Saul.

He called Saul on the way to Damascus, when he was bent on destroying the Church and the faithful living in that city. He converted to the faith and turned himself completely from his past mistaken ways, and entrusted himself to the Lord and hearkened to the mission that was entrusted to him. Thus, he became the renowned St. Paul, a great enemy of the faith and the Church turned into one of its greatest champion and defender.

St. Paul travelled extensively throughout the eastern part of the Mediterranean region, visiting cities and towns, establishing Christian communities in those places and evangelised the faith to the pagan and non-Jewish peoples. His particular approach and passion in bringing about the faith and opening the door of salvation and the Church to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people made him to be remembered as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

We knew of his many letters or Epistles to the various Church communities, in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, and many more, and he was renowned for his great missionary zeal and commitment to the Lord, that just as St. Peter had suffered many persecutions and difficulties, St. Paul, as well as the other Apostles, also had to endure similar tribulations and trials.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, both St. Peter and St. Paul dedicated themselves completely, to serve the greater purpose of the Lord, the conversion and the salvation of souls, and the establishment and empowerment of the early Church. They were truly exemplary in their actions, as the important foundation of the Church of God, because of which, the Church, as the Lord had said, remained firm even in the midst of the most intense persecutions and trials, to this very day.

St. Peter himself, in the end, met his martyrdom in Rome, punished to die on the cross. To the very end, he showed his great faith and love for God, by humbly requesting that he should not die in the same way as his Lord and Master. He was crucified upside down at the site where now the great Basilica of St. Peter stands. Meanwhile, St. Paul was beheaded as part of the great persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Nero. Yet, the contributions and the importance of these two Apostles remain strongly felt even to this very day.

Now, each and every one of us as Christians must follow in the footsteps of those courageous and holy servants of God, by realising that all of us are the successors of the Apostles, who ought to continue the good works that they have begun among the people of God. There is a need for witnesses of the faith, to continue spreading the message of God’s Good News and truth among the people of various nations.

Are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord as the Holy Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul had done? Are we able to live our lives as faithfully as they have done, in the giving of their whole lives and their whole effort to serve the greater glory of God? We are called to follow in their footsteps, and if we think and feel that we are not worthy, as we probably do, then we must realise that no one will ever be worthy of God, as we are all sinners by nature.

Rather, we must realise that God makes those whom He calls, to be worthy, and He called us in various ways, to follow the path that He has shown us. He called us from our various origins, backgrounds, and from our past, wicked and sinful lives, all to become His disciples, with a renewed life, with a new purpose, to devote ourselves to a new Christian existence, showing our faith by examples of our life.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He continue to guide us in our lives. May St. Peter and St. Paul, holy Apostles and patrons of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, intercede for us, and pray for all of us in the Church of God, that all of us will remain true and faithful in our dedication and life to the Lord. May God bless all of us and bless all of our endeavours. Amen.

Friday, 29 June 2018 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 16 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them, You are John the Baptist; for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter; and on this Rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”

Friday, 29 June 2018 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

2 Timothy 4 : 6-8, 17-18

As for me, I am already poured out as a libation, and the moment of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, with which the Lord, the just Judge, will reward me, on that day, and not only me, but all those who have longed for His glorious coming.

But the Lord was at my side, giving me strength, to proclaim the Word fully, and let all the pagans hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will save me from all evil, bringing me to His heavenly kingdom. Glory to Him forever and ever. Amen!