Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the messages of the Scripture, reminding us of the need for conversion and change of heart, especially in this blessed and holy season of Lent, during which time we take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and actions. It is a time for us to contemplate on what we have gone through this far in our lives on our journey towards full reconciliation and returning to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the essence of the words of the Scripture which we have heard today is the fact that we mankind have disobeyed the Lord, Our God, and by that disobedience, we have fallen into sin. But we must not be discouraged, because God is our loving Father, Who knows all that need to be done in order for us to be reconciled with Him in perfect and new love.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard about the moment when the Lord called one of His disciples from among the tax collectors, a man named Levi, who answered the Lord’s call and followed Him, leaving everything behind and became Christ’s disciple. He discarded all that was his, and took for himself a greater possession in becoming one who followed and obeyed the Lord, eventually known as St. Matthew, the Apostle and one of the Four Evangelists.

At that time, tax collectors did not have a good standing in the society. In fact, they were reviled and hated because of their role in collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman rulers and governors who took over the rulership over the Jews and the people of Israel at that time. And as the taxations were heavy and became burdens for the people, they hated the taxes and by extension, those who worked to collect the taxes for the Romans.

Hence, the tax collectors were often considered as sinners and people unworthy of the Lord’s grace. They were often looked down by the society, particularly the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who had high esteem and view of themselves in the matters of piety and faith. To the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they alone had the most perfect observance and obedience to the laws of Moses, and therefore, others had to respect them and obey their teaching authority.

Yet, they failed to see that they themselves were sinners in need of God’s mercy. In all of their supposed righteousness and external forms of piety, they did them not for the glorification of God or because they truly loved God, instead, they loved themselves and wanted to look good before the people. They failed to see that God did not desire their sacrifices and prayers, but their total commitment and desire to repent instead.

The tax collectors readily welcomed the Lord Jesus into their midst, as He sat down at Levi’s house for a meal with them. They listened to His teachings and believed in Him, something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law refused to do. In that sense, the tax collectors were much further ahead than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law on their way towards salvation in God.

In the same Gospel passage today, the Lord made it clear to all of us that He is seeking for the conversion and healing of sinners. That is because ultimately we cannot forget the very important fact that God loves every single one of us, all those whom He had created and to whom He had given the grace of life. He does not discriminate between any one of us, and all of us are equally important to him, from the greatest among us to the poorest and to the least.

And because of sin, due to our disobedience and refusal to walk in His ways, we have fallen away from God’s grace and became separated from Him. Our fate would have been eternal damnation and disgrace in hell, in the eternal fire, because that is what our sins would have merited us. But God had mercy on us, because He did love us greatly, and would not have wanted us to fall into such a terrible fate.

That is why He went all the way to save us, sparing nothing less than the very best effort to help and rescue us from our predicament. He gave us His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour, through Whose death on the cross, we receive the ultimate healing and reconciliation. He Who is sinless and without fault had willingly embraced punishment and suffering in our place, so that all of us may have a new hope in Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord offers us this healing and reconciliation freely and generously. However, the question is, are we willing to take up the offer of forgiveness and love which He has presented to us? Many of us refuse to repent from our sins, and we continue to live in a state of sin, preferring to do what is right according to us, but not what is right according to God.

The problem lies with our inability to resist the temptations of our human pride, our refusal to listen to advice and feedback, because we think that we are always right. And we find it hard to turn to the Lord, because the devil is always active, trying to persuade us, to bring us into a lull, to tempt us, and even to force us to do what is sinful and wicked in the sight of God. And unless we put a strong and conscious effort to resist those temptations, and desire to repent from our sins, we may fail in our endeavour of faith.

Today the Church commemorates the memory of the seven holy saints who were the founders of the religious order of the Servites, formally known as the Order of Friar Servants of Mary. These seven holy and devout men were remembered for their commitment to God, having been cloth merchants of the city of Florence during the Middle Ages era of what is now Italy, being very rich and influential, and yet, voluntarily chose to leave everything they had behind in order to serve the Lord.

They lived a life of poverty and also penance, filled with prayers and devotions, works of charity among the poor and the underprivileged. Through hard work, persistence and perseverance, they inspired many others to follow in their footsteps and lead a life of holiness and purity, no longer chained by the sins of their past. They devoted their time, effort and attention to the Lord, and did their best to advance His good works among His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be inspired by the examples of these holy predecessors, who have gone before us to the glory of heaven. We should spend more time in prayer and contemplation before God, especially during this time of Lent, when we are called to a renewed relationship and connection with God. Let us allow the Lord to speak to us, in the silence of our hearts, that we may know what His will is for us.

May the Lord be with us always, that throughout our journey of faith during this Lenten season and beyond, we may grow ever stronger in faith, and we may draw closer to God, and eventually find full and complete reconciliation in Him. May God bless us all and all of our endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (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, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (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, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (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, 16 February 2018 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we focuses on the aspect of fasting and abstinence which we practice during this season of Lent. Now the Law of the Church prescribed that only on two occasions that we are required to fast, that is during Ash Wednesday as well as on Good Friday. Fasting refers to the practice of not eating more than the equivalent of two full meals in a day, which can be one full meal and two smaller meals, also known as collations.

Meanwhile abstinence refers to the practice of not eating meat and meat products, and instead, fishes and seafood are usually consumed. Both practices had their roots in the Scripture, with fasting as a common practice in the past for those who would like to purify themselves to be ready to meet up with God or to undertake important and holy tasks, in order to prepare themselves wholeheartedly. The Lord Jesus Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights before He began His ministry.

Then, abstinence is a practice linked to the moment when the Lord Jesus was crucified, sacrificing Himself and His Body and flesh for us on the cross, and as the word ‘flesh’ in Latin is the same as used for meat, thus, Christians practiced this abstinence from meat on Fridays, not just during Lent, but in fact throughout the whole year, as Friday marks the day when Good Friday happened, the day of Our Lord’s crucifixion and death on the cross.

It is important that we truly understand the reason why we fast and why we abstain from meat. In fact, abstinence itself is not restricted to the no consumption of meat alone, but can include any other things, pleasures and indulgences that we have, which we want to restrain in order to prepare ourselves better spiritually, mentally and physically, especially in this season of Lent, as we prepare for the coming of Holy Week and Easter.

Otherwise, we will end up being hypocrites in our faith, just as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done. The Lord rebuked them because they fasted in order to be seen by others as being pious and obedient to the Law, and they made a lot of fuss over many external observances of the laws of God, not just in the matter of fasting but also over prayer and other forms of piety, so that all those who saw them might praise them and honour them for what they had done.

Yet, their actions represent exactly what the prophet Isaiah had said in his preachings, which we heard in our first reading today. The prophet Isaiah condemned and rebuked all those who fasted and practiced their faith, and yet at the same time, committing things and actions which were contrary to the Law, such as lying, stealing and cheating on others, and even causing pain and sorrow to those whom they persecuted.

That was what the Pharisees had done, claiming to be pious through their actions and yet, they did their actions for the wrong reasons, seeking self-glorification and to satisfy personal ambitions and greed instead of for the greater glory of God as they should have done. It can be the same for us as well, when we do not practice our faith with the right actions and for the right reasons, even our fasting and abstaining during this season of Lent.

When we fast, do we do it because we truly love the Lord Our God so much, that we want to be rid of our sins and all of the wickedness inside each one of us by the practice of fasting, which restrains our desire and the temptations of our flesh, resulting in greater resilience and endurance in our faith? Or do we do it, because we want to be recognised by others as being pious and devout?

Do we abstain because we want to resist the temptations of our flesh or because we want to show off our piety for others? It is important that we think this thoroughly, as the actions we take without the right reasons will end up causing us to lose the true intention of what we are doing in this season of Lent. Are we doing our Lenten practices correctly so as to make our Lenten experience more meaningful?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, let us reflect on our respective lives, and think of how we can better commemorate this season of Lent, by living a life with a deeper commitment to prayer, spending more quality time with Our Lord, and through our closer relationship with Him, we may draw ever closer to God’s love and grace. And when we fast and abstain, let us, if we have not done so, do them with the right reason and intention.

Let us restrain our human emotions, all the greed, the jealousy, the pride, the ambition, the anger, the hatred and all the negativities present in our lives, through our pious actions and devotions, especially in this blessed season of Lent. May the Lord be with us in our journey of faith, committing ourselves ever more devoutly to the Lord, and that we may find eternal life, glory and joy with Him at the end of our journey. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 16 February 2018 : 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, 16 February 2018 : 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.