Thursday, 17 September 2020 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, 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 each and every one of us are reminded of the faith and the teachings which we have received from God, and to which we have been called, just as St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians in our first reading reminded us, that we need to cling closely to the Good News and the truth which God has revealed to us through His Apostles, their successors and the Church.

And what is this truth and Good News, brothers and sisters? It is what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, the essence of our Christian faith in how the Lord treated the sinful woman, a prostitute who came to the feast hosted by the Pharisees for the Lord. When the Pharisee host saw this he was evidently hoping for a chance to catch the Lord off His guard by this opportune moment, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law and large segments of the Jewish society then looked down on prostitutes whom they considered as sinners and unworthy.

Therefore, as the sinful woman came to the Lord, they would perhaps hope that the Lord would either cast out the woman and condemn her, therefore affirming their own position and practices of the faith, by showing that even the Lord Jesus was on their side supporting their way of interpreting the Law, or else, by allowing her to touch Him without resistance, the Pharisees could then discredit the Lord and condemn Him for allowing a sinner to taint Him among other things.

But what the Lord did to the woman, just as what the woman also did to Him were surely beyond belief of all those who witnessed the occasion. The woman took a very expensive jar of alabaster with best perfumes inside, and used the perfume to anoint the feet of the Lord with great love, and she humbled herself, most likely kneeling down low in doing so, and then dried the feet of the Lord with her own hair, the crown of her beauty and her pride.

In doing so, the sinful woman lowered herself and humbled herself such before God, with tears and sorrow, repenting for her sins with great sincerity. She must have heard of the Lord’s coming, and His fame and works, which preceded Him, must have stirred the woman, who wanted to be forgiven from her sins and faults. And that was how the woman came to the Lord and humbled herself before Him, begging for His mercy and forgiveness. And God gave her the forgiveness for the sincere repentance she had shown.

The Lord then pointed out immediately to the Pharisees who were baffled by what the woman had done and by what the Lord had told her, that the Lord is loving and forgiving, generous with His mercy and compassionate forgiveness. He used the parable of a creditor who had two people owing him money at the same time to explain this, and highlighted how the forgiveness of those debts made the indebted ones felt so thankful and appreciative of the forgiveness.

Thus, the woman, who was sinful and had done many wicked things earlier on, would naturally be more grateful for the mercy shown to her, rather than the Pharisees for example, who did not appreciate this mercy and love of God. And the Lord made this to point out that, after all, every one of us are sinners, regardless whether we are great sinners or whether we have only sinned a lot less against God, and sin is still sin to be forgiven.

Unless the sinner seeks the Lord’s forgiveness with an open heart and with the genuine desire for repentance, the sinner will not be forgiven. And as the example showed has clearly been presented to us, for each and every one of us to be forgiven, we need to get rid from ourselves pride and arrogance, hubris and ego, and be open to God’s mercy and forgiveness, to seek Him with a remorseful and repentant heart.

We are truly so fortunate to have such a loving and merciful God, and we often do not appreciate this opportunity presented to us, spurning the chances that God has given to us, in His generosity and kindness, and therefore, we should embrace this love and mercy wholeheartedly and not wait until it is too late for us. And today we should follow the good examples of the saint whose feast we celebrate, namely St. Robert Bellarmine, a great bishop and servant of God, declared Doctor of the Church for his works.

St. Robert Bellarmine was one of the most prominent leaders of the Church at the height of the Counter-Reformation, in his many writings and works, and in his role as a bishop and Cardinal in assisting the Pope in the governance of the Universal Church, particularly in the struggle against the many heresies and divisions, various conflicts and disagreements among the members of the faithful at the time.

Through his many actions, writings and efforts, St. Robert Bellarmine was instrumental in the efforts of the Church at the time to bring many segments of the people and the communities to return to the true faith in God, to abandon the false ways and all the false heresies and divisions, and to be reconciled to God. And as we celebrate his feast day today, we ought to recall our own sinfulness and imperfections, all the obstacles that had prevented us from being reconciled to God.

Let us all atone for our sins, turn our hearts, minds and indeed, our entire beings to God, our loving and most merciful Lord and Master, that He may forgive us our sins, and forgive our great transgressions and sins. Let us all be genuinely repentant and regret fully our sins, and endeavour not to sin any more, and to be righteous and worthy of God, from now on. May God be with us always, and guide us through this journey of faith. Amen.

Thursday, 17 September 2020 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Luke 7 : 36-50

At that time, one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to share his meal, so He went to the Pharisee’s home, and as usual reclined at the table to eat. And it happened that, a woman of this town, who was known as a sinner, heard that He was in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and stood behind Him, at His feet, weeping. She wet His feet with tears; she dried them with her hair; she kissed His feet and poured the perfume on them.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus was watching, and thought, “If this Man were a Prophet, He would know what sort of person is touching Him; is this woman not a sinner?” Then Jesus spoke to the Pharisee and said, “Simon, I have something to ask you.” He answered, “Speak, Master.”

And Jesus said, “Two people were in debt to the same creditor. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. As they were unable to pay him back, he graciously cancelled the debts of both. Now, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, who was forgiven more.” And Jesus said, “You are right.” And turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? You gave Me no water for My feet when I entered your house; but she dried them with her hair. You did not welcome Me with a kiss; but she has not stopped kissing My feet since she came in. You provided no oil for My head; but she has poured perfume on My feet. This is why, I tell you, her sins, her many sins, are forgiven, because of her great love. But the one who is forgiven little, has little love.”

Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others reclining with Him at the table began to wonder, “Now this Man claims to forgive sins!” But Jesus again spoke to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace!”

Thursday, 17 September 2020 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 117 : 1-2, 16ab and 17, 28

Alleluia! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His loving kindness endures forever. Let Israel say, “His loving kindness endures forever.”

The right hand of the Lord is lifted high, the right hand of the Lord strikes mightily! I shall not die, but live to proclaim what the Lord has done.

You are my God, and I give You thanks. You are my God, and I give You praise.

Thursday, 17 September 2020 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

1 Corinthians 15 : 1-11

Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the Good News that I preached to you and which you received and on which you stand firm. By that Gospel you are saved, provided that you hold to it as I preached it. Otherwise, you will have believed in vain.

In the first place, I have passed on to you what I myself received that Christ died for our sins, as Scripture says; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures; that He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. Afterwards He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters together; most of them are still alive, although some have already gone to rest.

Then He appeared to James and after that to all the Apostles. And last of all, He appeared to the most despicable of them, this is to me. For I am the last of the Apostles, and I do not even deserve to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me has not been without fruit. Far from it, I have toiled more than all of them, although, not I, rather the grace of God, in me.

Now, whether it was I or they, this, we preach, and this, you have believed.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we heard the words of the Lord through the Scriptures, we are brought to attention on the matter of ‘wisdom’. What is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? What is the significance of wisdom to us? Wisdom is, according to its definition, the ability to discern something with great understanding and grasp of the matter, and to have the ability to make good judgment based on what we know of the situation.

Therefore, once again, what is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Scriptures placed before us the contrast between divine and human wisdom, between the wisdom of the world, the knowledge and the ways, the understanding and all the combined efforts of people throughout the centuries in trying to figure out more and more about their lives and about the world around them. But, looking at it all, we have never been able to attain true understanding, that is if we keep God out of the equation.

In our first reading today, as St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth, clearly addressed to both the Jewish and the Greek converts to the Christian faith, he focused on the matter how the Lord confounded the expectations and the wisdom of man through whatever He has revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, and which His Apostles and disciples then spread throughout the whole world.

To the Jews, whom having been brought up through the centuries fearing God and His punishments and laws, and the supreme authority of God over all things, many of them could not comprehend the fact that He has come down into this world as a Man, to share in their humanity and to live just in the same way that they had lived. They therefore found it hard to believe, and as St. Paul said, demanded miracles again and again to prove to their confounded beliefs and minds that the Lord Jesus is truly the Messiah and Son of God.

To the Greeks, who valued knowledge and learning above many other things, proven by just how many philosophers, thinkers and politicians came out from their ranks at the time, it seemed foolish and nonsense to believe in the Lord Jesus as they thought that they had known all that there was to be known, in their gods and deities, to which they attributed their understanding of the nature and the world around them, and which is why, their pantheon represent closely the world, both in the behaviours of the Greek gods and goddesses that mimic closely human behaviours, and also their actions.

The Greeks could not comprehend how a mere Man, born of a woman like Mary, could be the most powerful, Almighty God, far beyond all of their own gods and goddesses, and how their understanding, learning and knowledge could have been wrong. But this was exactly where St. Paul, throughout his long years of ministry to the various Greek communities and cities throughout the Mediterranean region, helped to dispel the falsehoods and reveal to them the truth about God.

And while many of the earliest Christians were Jews, but many among the Jewish people still then refused to believe in Christ and His teachings. But nonetheless, the efforts of the Apostles and the disciples did bear fruit, as more and more among those who initially refused to believe eventually were willing to listen to the truth and believe in God. Those who refused to believe clung on to their own wisdom and understanding, such as many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who thought that they could not have been wrong and condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and false Messiah.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we have seen how the Lord wanted us to understand that it is often our stubbornness and pride that prevented us from being able to seek out and approach the Lord with faith, as we clung to our own interpretations, intellect and wisdom, rather than to trust in the wisdom of God we have heard and which have been revealed to us. We must understand, brethren, that our wisdom and intellect are limited, and are nothing compared to God’s wisdom and truth.

Today, all of us also celebrate the feast day of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original and greatest of the Doctors of the Church and one of the most influential early Church fathers and leaders of Christendom. St. Monica, his mother was celebrated in her feast day yesterday, as we heard how her persistence, constant prayer and effort to seek her son’s conversion eventually led to St. Augustine’s conversion, and today, we focus our attention on the great saint himself.

St. Augustine of Hippo was born to St. Monica, a Christian woman and a pagan father, and his early life was surrounded by the many wickedness of the world. And as he grew up, he began to be attracted by philosophical pursuits and learning, which was then dominated by pagan philosophers, prominent among the Greeks as mentioned earlier. The young St. Augustine was curious for knowledge, and he was seeking for truth and satisfaction on knowledge and understanding.

However, no matter how much he tried to find solace and satisfaction in human wisdom, and in his adoption of the Manichaean heresy in his youth, in his hedonistic lifestyle and pursuit of worldly pleasures, none of these were able to satisfy him. It was then that the prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, led him to St. Ambrose of Milan, another one of the four great Doctors of the Church and charismatic leader of the faithful, who began to plant the seeds of faith in St. Augustine.

Eventually, St. Augustine discovered God and His truth, and having found the true wisdom and the truth itself, far surpassing all forms of human and worldly knowledge, he converted to the true faith. St. Augustine had been baptised earlier in his life, but lapsed and resisted for many, many years before finally embracing his faith fully, with the constant and never-ending support from his mother, St. Monica.

And later on, as St. Augustine wrote his most renowned treatise on the Most Holy Trinity, known as ‘De Trinitate’, it was told that as the saint wandered on the seashore looking for inspiration on what to write on this most mysterious and difficult of the divine aspects to be explained, St. Augustine saw a young boy trying to pour water from the sea using a scallop shell into a hole in the sand.

When St. Augustine approached and asked the young boy, the boy said that he wanted to empty the entire ocean into that small hole in the sand. When St. Augustine said that such thing is impossible as the ocean is so vast while the hole in the sand is so small, the young boy, whom in truth was God in disguise, spoke to him, that it was thus the same for the mysteries of God, the concept of the Holy Trinity and others that are just so infinitely great and far beyond the ability of our small human minds to fully appreciate, symbolically shown through the action of trying to empty the ocean, representing the fullness of God’s mysteries, into the small hole, representing our minds and human wisdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our Scripture readings today therefore, all of us are called to reflect on our own lives and our faith. Have we placed our faith and trust in God as we move along in life, or have we instead put our trust more in our own strength and wisdom, in our own limited perception and understanding of things around us? More often than not, we falter in our journey of life and faith because we did not trust enough in God.

Let us all pray therefore for the grace to listen to God and His will, and pray that we will always be strengthened in faith so that we may trust Him more and more, and follow Him ever more faithfully, as St. Augustine had done. And as St. Augustine himself had discovered, let us all find our true joy and satisfaction in life in God, and not in other pleasures of the world, that may be joyful, but are temporary, false and are mere distractions preventing us to find the true joy in God. May God bless us always, and guide us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 25 : 1-13

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven : Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were sensible. The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were, and did not take extra oil. But those who were sensible, took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.”

“But at midnight, a cry rang out, ‘The bridegroom is here, come on and meet him!’ All the maidens woke up at once, and trimmed their lamps. Then the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’ The sensible ones answered, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you. You had better go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.'”

“When the bridegroom came, the foolish maidens were out buying oil, but those who were ready went with him into the wedding feast, and the doors were shut. Later the other bridesmaids arrived and called out, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered, ‘Truly I do not know you.'”

“So stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 32 : 1-2, 4-5, 10-11

Rejoice in the Lord, you who are just, praise is fitting for the upright. Give thanks to Him on the harp and lyre, making melody and chanting praises.

For upright is the Lord’s word and worthy of trust is His work. The Lord loves justice and righteousness; the earth is full of His kindness.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and brings to nothing the peoples’ designs. But His plan stands forever, and His heart’s design through all generations.

Friday, 28 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Corinthians 1 : 17-25

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to proclaim His Gospel. And not with beautiful words! That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ. The language of the cross remains nonsense for those who are lost. Yet for us who are saved, it is the power of God, as Scripture says : I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make fail the foresight of the foresighted. Masters of human wisdom, educated people, philosophers, you have no reply! And the wisdom of this world? God let it fail.

At first, God spoke the language of wisdom, and the world did not know God through wisdom. Then God thought of saving the believers, through the foolishness that we preach. The Jews ask for miracles and the Greeks for a higher knowledge, while we proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal! And for the Greeks, what nonsense! But He is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, for those called by God among both Jews and Greeks.

In reality, the “foolishness” of God is wiser than humans, and the “weakness” of God is stronger than humans.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Scripture passages today, we heard of the encouraging story of renewal and salvation that each and every one of us are to receive from God. We are reminded how God desires to make us whole again, cleanse and purify us from our sins, to renew us and to put a new heart and Spirit inside each and every one of us. This is a very clear sign of God’s enduring love for us, and all the more reason why we need to heed His call.

In our Gospel today, we heard a similar theme as we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking of the parable of the king and his son’s wedding banquet which alluded to the call that God has given to all of us His people. In that parable, a king held a grand and magnificent banquet for his son’s wedding, and invited everyone who had been known to the king and therefore, worthy of the joy that the king wanted to share as he celebrated his son’s wedding.

However, those who were invited to the banquet of the king refused to come for the wedding, although everything had been well prepared for them, and they truly ought to have been honoured to be invited as such. But they ignored the king’s invitation, pretended that they were busy and unavailable, found excuses of why they could not attend the wedding banquet to which they had been generously and kindly invited to, and there were even those who persecuted and killed the servants sent to them.

This is a reference and also a sad reminder of how many of us mankind, who are the sharers and invitees to God’s great and wonderful heavenly banquet, and yet, we did not appreciate just how fortunate and blessed we are to be part of this great banquet of the Lord, to be part of His great Covenant and to enjoy the fullness of His grace and love. Instead, we busied ourselves with the many worldly matters and desires, concerns and other things that distracted us.

That is why we rejected His love and mercy, preferring to chart our own path rather than trusting in Him and following Him. We shut ourselves from His generous love and kindness because we thought that we know better how to live our lives. And this is where we need to realise that unless we follow the path that the Lord has shown us, we are likely to fall into sin, and from sin, into eternal darkness and death, for there is no salvation outside God and His Church.

And then, we heard in the same parable, how the king then told his servants to gather everyone they could find, that they filled in the seats that those unworthy guests had refused to fill up earlier on. All the people were gathered into the banquet, from all sorts of places, and whether good or bad. All of these are symbolic of how God’s kingdom and His salvation are truly open to everyone and all have equal chance to receive His inheritance and to be part of His glorious kingdom.

However, we must then take note of how when one of the guests did not turn up in the right garment in attending the wedding, as is customarily expected at the time, and which is surely also expected in our communities today, an the king ordered the guest to be taken out and thrown into the outer darkness. While the turn of events might confuse and surprise some of us, but in fact, this reminds us also that while everyone is welcome and has been called by God to enter into His kingdom, but we must also wear the right ‘garment’ in order to do so.

What does it mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? Just as the Lord said in our first reading today through the prophet Ezekiel that He would renew us and put a new heart and Spirit in us, therefore, this ‘garment’ refers to the new self that we put on, replacing our old selves of sin and darkness. Through baptism, we have been cleansed from the taint and corruption of our original sins, and we have received a new life, sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ.

But we must also remain faithful to that Covenant and path we have chosen in God, as baptism is only just the beginning of a new journey of life, and not a happy ending. Baptism sets us on the right path and direction, but we must maintain our direction by remaining focused on God, and keeping our lives virtuous and filled with faith and love for God, as well as the love for our fellow brothers and sisters. We must not succumb again to the temptations that led us to ignore God’s love and mercy as I mentioned just earlier.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern carefully our path in life going forward from now on as we reflect on these Scripture passages today. Have we lived our lives as God has called and taught us to? If we have not, then perhaps it is time indeed for us to take on the ‘garment’ of faith and discard the old sinful self of ours. Today, let us all also be inspired by the good examples set by St. Bernard, a famous and dedicated holy saint of God, a holy man and Abbot.

St. Bernard, also known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a renowned Abbot who was instrumental in the major reform in the monastic practices in the early Medieval era, especially among the Benedictine monks that St. Bernard was an Abbot of, and he was also renowned for his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, St. Bernard was instrumental in his efforts opposing heretical teachings and also in improving the then increasingly lax spirituality, discipline and morality among not just the monks, but also the general Christian population.

He encountered many difficulties throughout his life and ministry, but all these did not hinder or discourage St. Bernard in his dedication to the Lord and His Church. In time, his efforts began to bear fruit as more and more people came to be attracted by his reforms, and many began to commit themselves to monastic life following the rigorous reforms enacted by St. Bernard for stricter discipline and deeper spiritual life.

St. Bernard even attracted his own family members to join religious life, and through his other efforts, his many writings and contributions, he inspired many others through his faith and dedication, and was even instrumental in making peace among states and kingdoms that were then feuding and in conflict with each other. And through all these and many other deeds, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has shown us, what it means for us to live with faith, and to wear our ‘garment’ of faith with joy and pride.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all proceed forth in life, with a new heart and Spirit filled with love and devotion to God. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith, and be ever more committed, each and every moments of our lives, to be good Christians, to be faithful children of God, and to be worthy to enter into the eternal kingdom of God. May God be with us always and guide us all into eternal life that He has prepared for us. Amen.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 22 : 1-14

At that time, Jesus continued speaking to the people in parables : “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven : A king gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the banquet, but the guests refused to come.”

“Again, He sent other servants, instructing them to say to the invited guests, ‘I have prepared a banquet, slaughtered my fattened calves and other animals, and now, everything is ready. Come to the wedding!’ But they paid no attention and went away, some to their farms, and some to their work. Others seized the servants of the king, insulted them and killed them.”

“The king was furious. He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is prepared, but the invited guests were not worthy. Go instead to the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding feast.'”

“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, so that the hall was filled with guests. The king came in to see the wedding guests, and he noticed a man not wearing a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in without the wedding clothes?'”

“But the man remained silent. So the king said to his servants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”