Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded of the need for all of us to seek God’s mercy, forgiveness, kindness and compassion. We are all reminded just how we are all truly sinners and unworthy of God and yet, all of us have been so fortunate and blessed to enjoy the graces of God and to be given many opportunities, yet again and again just that we may be reconciled with God.

Continuing from the previous few days’ discourse from the Old Testament in which we heard of the final days of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and how both kingdoms were destroyed because of the disobedience and sins of the people who chose to trust in their worldly designs and other worldly supports and matters rather than trusting in God, today, all of us heard in our first reading the part from the Book of Lamentations, which as the title holds, is filled with sorrow and regret for the sins that people have committed before God.

In that passage we heard of the destructions that had ravaged through the land, the destruction of Jerusalem and the entire kingdom of Judah and Israel centred in Samaria, which have been this week’s topic. And we heard how the Lord had laid the people humbled and low, shamed for their actions, disobedience and all. But at the same time, the author of the Book of Lamentations also called on the people to seek to return to God, to cry out for His mercy and forgiveness, to beg for His compassion and love to allow them to be reconciled with Him.

Then, we remember what we have then heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord encountered an army captain, whose servant had fallen sick and perhaps was on the verge of death. And being an army captain or centurion at that time, it was likely that this army captain was a member of the Roman army, and could very well have been a Roman himself. At that time, it was also quite common for the Jewish people to look down on the pagans and people whom they deemed to be unworthy of God’s kingdom, like the Samaritans as well as the Greeks and the Romans.

That was the context behind what the Lord then uttered when the army captain humbly sought the help of the Lord to heal his sick servant. And when the Lord wanted to go to his house, the army captain politely declined, and instead, spoke in a very interesting if not intriguing manner, saying that since in his position as an army captain, a mere word of his would be translated into direct order to be completed without fail, thus, if the Lord were to just speak the words, then the army captain believed that his servant would immediately be well.

First of all, visiting the house of a Gentile or a non-Jew especially if the Gentile is a pagan was truly a sensitive matter at the time, and many considered interacting with the Gentiles would make them unclean, going to the house of a Gentile made it even more unclean for them, and thus, was frowned upon by the society. The army captain might have been aware of this and wanted to avoid the Lord getting into controversy by visiting his house to heal his servant.

And then, what the army centurion said to the Lord also underlined his great and genuine faith in God, as contrasted to those who have seen the Lord’s works, heard His words and teachings, and yet, continued to doubt Him and demanded to see more signs and miracles, the army captain did not need to see the sign or witness for himself whatever the Lord was going to do. Instead, he believed that by the will of God alone, such a feat was possible and would be accomplished.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is exactly the kind of faith that all of us must have as well. The faith that leads us to seek God wholeheartedly, to be humble before Him and to love Him above all else, and not to allow the pride, ego, hubris and our desires from intervening and swaying us into disobedience and sin against God. In the past it was all these things that had brought the ancestors of the people of God into their downfall through sin and disobedience.

Are we able and willing to commit ourselves to God with new strength and hope, with new courage and desire to love God even more? That is why today we should also take courage and inspiration from one of our holy predecessors, namely St. Cyril of Alexandria, a great Church father and leader of the Church in Alexandria, and as its Patriarch, is one of the members of the Pentarchy, the five most senior leaders of the Church at time, and he was busy dealing with many issues facing the Church at that time.

St. Cyril of Alexandria was a courageous defender of the true Christian faith against the errors and the heresy of Nestorianism, which at that time was endangering the unity of the Church, with the false ideas being promoted by the then Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, the Imperial Capital of the Roman Empire. Nestorius claimed that the humanity and divinity of Christ were separated and not united together, creating a dual personality that were distinct, in contrast to the true teachings of the Church.

As Nestorius had his support from yet another powerful leader, the then Patriarch of Antioch, he had great sway over the Church and the faithful, and being the leader of the See of Constantinople, he had great influence over the secular Empire and its leadership as well. But this did not deter St. Cyril from trying his best to oppose the efforts of the heretics from gaining influence and further ground in the Church and among the faithful. He had to endure much suffering and opposition for his efforts.

But in the end, the efforts of St. Cyril of Alexandria bore fruits, as he managed to gain the support of the Church and many among those who remained true to the Orthodox faith, that the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convoked and in that Council, the true nature of Christ, his two natures, divine and human jointly united though distinct in the person of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, was affirmed and the heresy of Nestorianism was condemned.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having seen and heard what St. Cyril of Alexandria had done, all that he had done for the greater good of the Church, let us all devote ourselves, our time and attention, our faith and commitment to God from now on, that we may truly be able to follow God wholeheartedly from now on, following the good examples set before us by the army captain who professed his faith publicly before the Lord, as well as St. Cyril of Alexandria, the faithful servant of God.

May the Lord continue to guide us all through life, and may He strengthen us in faith and in the resolve to continue living our lives with faith from now on. May God bless us all and all of our good endeavours, at all times, now, always and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

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, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 73 : 1-2, 3-5a, 5b-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, 27 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

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.

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded to be sincere in faith, to be true to the Lord in all things, in following Him and dedicating ourselves and our efforts to serve Him, in whatever He has called us to, in whatever vocations He has shown us, the paths that He has laid out before us. We heard the Lord telling us through our Scripture passages today to be genuinely faithful and to be filled with real, living and true faith in us at all times.

In our first reading today, we heard from the First Book of Kings the story of the calling of the prophet Elisha, whom the Lord had appointed and chosen to be the successor for the prophet Elijah. The prophet Elijah found Elisha tending to the farm and the oxen, and he revealed to Elisha what God had planned with him, and almost immediately, Elisha told the prophet Elijah that he would follow him, and abandoned everything he had, saying his farewells to his family, and left, following Elijah to serve God.

Elisha had everything he needed, family, property, a sure guarantee of a good and settled life, with land and house of his own family, and yet, he chose to abandon everything and follow the Lord in whatever designs He had for him, and he obeyed the Lord entrusting his life to His care and providence. He embraced his calling fully and later on would become a great prophet much like his mentor, Elijah, performing many great works and miracles among the people of God.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke to His disciples with regards to the matter of making oaths and vows. He told them all not to go around making vows and oaths, and base those oaths on either heaven or earth, or on their own body, even the smallest part of their body. And yet, we know that vows are an integral part of our Christian faith, with religious congregations and the order of priesthood making vows and oaths before the Lord, as with many other examples.

How do we then reconcile these facts? It is actually quite simple, and first of all, we need to understand that what the Lord truly wanted us to know is not to make vows and oaths that are merely gestures and empty in meaning, as when we make oaths and vows, and do not fulfil them, as what many of the people living during the time of the Lord had done, then what they did was actually very wicked, as they dishonoured and tarnished the name and identity of what they used to base their oaths on, including, the Holy Name of God.

What the Lord wants us to know is that, we need to mean what we say, and do as what we have said that we would do. That is why He said, ‘said yes when you mean yes, and said no when you mean no.’ Otherwise, we become hypocrites and liars. That is why, we have been reminded of the example of the prophet Elisha in our first reading today. When he responded to Elijah and the Lord that he would leave everything behind, and follow the Lord, he really meant what he said, and did everything as he said.

As Christians, all of us are thus called to mean and live through what we have promised to the Lord upon our baptism and entry as members of the Church. We have promised to reject Satan and all of his false promises, and we believe in the Lord and in His teachings and truth. And this is why, we need to truly live our faith actively, commit ourselves to the path that the Lord has shown us. Today, we can also then look upon the good examples of one of our holy predecessors to help and inspire us.

St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most famous saints within our Christian faith and Church. He was a renowned priest and Franciscan friar, who dedicated much of his life to the service of the people, especially those who were sick and abandoned. He spent much time to reach out to the people and called many to repentance. St. Anthony of Padua was also deeply honoured and remembered for his deep and extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, his eloquence and great ability in teaching and preaching the faith.

Through his many writings and his many works, St. Anthony of Padua dedicated his whole life to the service of God. Many were inspired by these and many believed in God because of his efforts and hard work, much like the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the old days. And through this, we are shown what it means for us to be genuine and sincere in our faith, that we live up to our faith as Christians, and truly mean what we say and what we believe in.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to do this in our own lives? Are we able and willing to commit ourselves to the cause of the Lord and to live ever more faithfully from now on, not just in words, but also in every actions and deeds, at all times? Are we willing to follow the good examples of St. Anthony of Padua, and of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, among many other inspiring examples we know of? To each and every one of us, God has given wonderful gifts, talents, abilities and opportunities, and it is up to us whether we want to use them for the greater glory of God, or whether we want to ignore them instead.

Let us all discern carefully our path in life from now on, keeping in mind that each and every one of us have been called to follow the Lord through the various avenues by which we can contribute. Those of us who are called to be holy through raising good and faithful Christian families, let us do our best, and to those who have been called to serve the people of God as priests and religious brothers and sisters, let us all also embrace God’s calling and do as what the Lord has told us to do.

May the Lord be with us in our respective journeys of faith, and may He strengthen each and every one of us that we may truly devote ourselves, our time, effort and attention as good and faithful Christians, living a meaningful and good Christian living from now on. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 5 : 33-37

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “You have also heard that people were told in the past : Do not break your oath; an oath sworn to the Lord must be kept. But I tell you this : do not take oaths. Do not swear by the heavens, for they are God’s throne; nor by the earth, because it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King.”

“Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white of black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything else you say comes from the evil one.”

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 15 : 1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10

Keep me safe, o God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “O Lord, my inheritance and my cup, my chosen portion – hold secure my lot.”

I bless the Lord Who counsels me; even at night my inmost self instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; for with Him at my right hand, I will never be shaken.

My heart, therefore, exults, my soul rejoices; my body too will rest assured. For You will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor will You suffer Your Holy One to see decay in the land of the dead.

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Kings 19 : 19-21

Elijah left. He found Elisha, son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah and said, “Let me say goodbye to my father and mother; then I will follow you.”

Elijah said to him, “Return if you want, do not worry about what I did.” However, Elisha turned back, took the yoke of oxen and slew them. He roasted their meat on the pieces of the yoke and gave it to his people who ate of it. After this, he followed Elijah and began ministering to him.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Deacons)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, all of us heard of the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in our first reading today, and followed by the parable of the Lord, the famous parable of the salt of the earth and the light of the world in our Gospel passage today. Through all these, all of us as Christians are reminded to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ in all of our words, actions and deeds.

In our first reading today taken from the First Book of Kings, we heard of the story of how the prophet Elijah went to the region of Sidon, during the time of the three years of great drought and famine, in which the whole land of Israel and the surrounding regions were deprived of any rain, with the whole land in drought and lacking water, and hence, are in great suffering for the lack of food. But the people remained stubborn in sin, especially the king Ahab, which caused the prophet Elijah to have to flee to the neighbouring territories.

It was in this occasion that the prophet Elijah encountered a widow in the town of Zarephath, who was also having difficulty herself, as she was bereft of hope and despairing, hoping that she could just have one last meal for herself and her son before they died out of food and income from the famine and drought. But the prophet Elijah told the widow to have faith in God, and to provide for him with food as he had requested, for the Lord would definitely take good care of her and provide for her for her faith.

The widow trusted Elijah and did as the prophet asked of her. Miraculously, the flour she used to make the bread for the prophet Elijah did not run out, as with the oil she used to make the bread. God provided for both His prophet Elijah, as well as for the widow of Zarephath and her son, whom at that time belonged to the non-Israelites living outside the bounds of the land of Israel. She was a pagan, and yet, she chose to believe in God and open her heart and mind to the Lord’s words and truth.

Through the love and the compassion, the kindness that the prophet Elijah showed to the widow, he himself had been blessed by God. And in later occasion, still during the drought as Elijah stayed for some time with the widow, the son of the widow fell seriously ill and died. The widow was very distraught at the loss of her son, but the prophet Elijah reassured her and entrusted the dead son to the Lord’s mercy and love. And through his prayers, the Lord resurrected the son of the widow and returned him to life.

Certainly, through all these, the widow must have become a firm believer in God, in contrast to the lack of faith among the Israelites and their king, Ahab. And in this way, the prophet Elijah had indeed showed us what it means for us to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. Why is that so? That is because in the depth of her despair and darkness, the prophet Elijah had shown the path to liberation and salvation, to a new hope in God, even though he himself had been in difficulty himself.

In our Gospel today, we heard these two parables the Lord mentioned, on the salt of the earth and the light of the world, two very important commodities especially at that time. Salt was a very important preservative that helped to keep a lot of food produce from spoilage and was also important in its use in giving flavour to the food, while light was crucial in a society before the advent of cheap and easily obtainable light sources using electricity, in a world where darkness was often feared, and how light was so essential for many people’s livelihood.

Therefore, the Lord is calling on each and every one of us to be the bearer of this new hope and strength, courage and perseverance to one another during times of great difficulties and challenges. This is especially relevant this year, considering the numerous troubles, trials, dangers and problems we have encountered in the first few months of this year alone. How have we as Christians acted in the midst of all these challenges? Have we borne hope and light into our communities, and helped one another to shore up hope amidst despair and strength amidst weakness? Or have we instead been preoccupied with fear ourselves, and failed to put our trust in God, and ended up causing even more darkness, negativities and evil?

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Ephrem the Deacon, a holy man of God, whose life can be additional inspiration for us on how we ought to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. St. Ephrem the Deacon lived during the early years of the acceptance of Christianity as the widespread religion and faith of the Roman Empire, and he was remembered for the immense collections of his many writings, poems and works, many of which inspired countless people to follow the Lord with greater zeal and faith.

St. Ephrem might not have had wonderful and mighty deeds filled with miracles and glory, and yet, in his tireless efforts and works in writing, in composing and creating inspiration and faith-filled contents in his numerous books, works and poems, he has become that ‘salt of the earth’ by enriching the lives of others, and the ‘light of the world’ by showing the light of God to those who were still in darkness and ignorance of God’s truth and love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord as the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ from now on? Let us all commit ourselves anew and be inspired by the good examples of our holy predecessors, and be good Christians from now on in words, actions and deeds, at all times. May the Lord bless us all and guide our path, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Deacons)

Matthew 5 : 13-16

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It has become useless. It can only be thrown away and people will trample on it.”

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a mountain cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and covers it; instead it is put on a lampstand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before others, so that they may see the good you do and praise your Father in heaven.”