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

Liturgical Colour : White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 31-37

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Colour : White

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Colour : White

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 February 2019 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of the creation of man and woman, whom God had created in His own image, and how He has given everything that He has created to each and every one of them, to be the caretakers, owners and stewards of His creation, for mankind are His most beloved creations, the ones closest to His own image and His own heart and mind.

He made all of them because of His love for them, that He wanted to share with them the love that He has in Him, bursting out of the perfect love of the Trinity, and which then came upon us. And He saw how man was lonely without company of an equal, reflecting on the nature of His very own Trinity. The Most Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is perfect, but each part of the Trinity cannot be separated from each other without destroying this perfection and balance present among the unity of the Trinity.

And as the Father loved the Son and the Holy Spirit, and as the Son loved the Father and the Holy Spirit, and as the Holy Spirit loved the Father and the Son, therefore, God created us man to be creatures of love as well, to be filled with love and to be made all good and perfect, first and foremost in union with God, and then in union with one another. That was why God created us man and woman, as we heard in our first reading passage taken from the Book of Genesis.

God created us man and woman to be part of the one body, one flesh and one existence. Just as the rib bone and the flesh were symbolically taken from man to create woman, as an equal partner to man, thus man and woman are destined to be together, to be united in a holy union that reflects upon the perfect unity and love found in the Most Holy Trinity. Through this union, the fruits of God’s love came forth, that is the fruits of life, in the children born of the union of man and woman.

Unfortunately, at the time of the Lord Jesus, just as it frequently happened throughout history, man and woman had not treated each other with respect or regards to their equality with one another. Instead, women were often put in disadvantage and treated unequally or in a biased way, where many of these women had to endure injustice and often even intrusion to their basic human right, to live as a person with dignity.

That was what the Lord tried to bring forth to our attention through His interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman in our Gospel passage today. In that passage, we heard how a Syro-Phoenician woman asked the Lord Jesus to come and heal her afflicted daughter, who was troubled by sickness and by the attacks from evil spirits and demons. Yet, the Lord seemed to be unfazed and unaffected by her pleas, and in fact, seemed to be kind of rude when He was making an indirect comparison between her and that of a dog.

This was in fact the Lord’s way of putting forth all the accumulated prejudices and terrible biases present within the community of the people of God during that time, when so many people looked down on the non-Jewish people, those of pagan origins and were not therefore counted among the people of Israel. And in particular, all the more because the Syro-Phoenician was a woman, that the ridicule, bias and prejudice against her were even more rampant and terrible.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, many of us living in this world today surely have heard how women have often been marginalised, being prejudiced against, and even been exploited for the benefit of those who were greedy and wicked in hearts and minds. Yet, this is not what the Lord wants from us when He created each and every one of us. As mentioned, He made us all, man and woman, to be co-equal partners in the holy union He Himself will bless, where both man and woman make each other perfect by that unity in love.

Many of the current challenges, difficulties and marginalisation due to gender, are caused by our own limited ability to look beyond the flesh and the appearances, which have unfortunately caused many to go down the path of sin, when we are tempted by the temptations of the flesh. We seek what is on the external, and seek for the beauty of the exterior, while failing to recognise the presence of the great love within.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we celebrate in the secular world, the celebration of Valentine’s day, which came about because this day, the fourteenth day of February, used to be the Feast day of St. Valentine, who inspired many by his loving care for others, even for those who persecuted and imprisoned him. Over time, this celebration became corrupted and changed, misguided and done wrongly because of the secularisation of its meaning.

We see how Valentine’s day became one of the worst outlets and reminders for us, of our ugly human nature, filled with lust and desire for the pleasures of the flesh, and of materialistic excesses, which are often associated with the celebration of the Valentine’s day. But, in truth, as Christians, all of us are called to go out of this problem, and overcome it through our understanding and participation in God’s real work of love among us.

God sowed within us, the seeds of His wonderful love, giving us the same love that He has between Himself, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is love that is not corrupted nor made impure by the desires of our flesh, but one that is selfless and self-giving, sacrificial and committed at the same time. For God so loved the world, that He gave us all His only beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour, that through Him we may have life and be saved.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should imitate the perfect love shown by the Lord, and which His holy saints had emulated in their own lives. St. Valentine acted with love even towards his enemies and those who persecuted him, while St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two saints highly venerated especially among our brethren in the Eastern Churches, devoted their whole lives in the service of the people of God, in bringing the truth of the Gospels and the Words of God to those people who have yet to receive the light of God’s truth.

Are we able to overcome the temptations of our flesh, and resist those wicked desires present in us to act without genuine love, and instead cause pain and suffering on others? Are we able to do our best in order to love one another equally just as God has intended us to do? Let us all reflect on today’s Scripture readings again, and think well in our minds as well as feel with our hearts, how we should be treating one another from now on, that is with love, compassion and fairness.

May the Lord continue to guide us with His love, that we too may grow ever stronger in our faith in Him, and that we may love Him with all of our hearts, and with all of our capabilities and strengths. Let us draw closer to Him, and draw ever closer to His love, with each and every single words and actions we take. May God bless us all, always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 14 February 2019 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 24-30

At that time, when Jesus left the place where He rebuked the Pharisees, He went to the border of the Tyrian country. There He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know He was there, but He could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet. Now this woman was a pagan, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter.

Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to puppies.” But she replied, “Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.” Then Jesus said to her, “You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Thursday, 14 February 2019 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop, Patron Saints of Europe (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 127 : 1-2, 3, 4-5

Blessed are you who fear the Lord and walk in His ways. You will ear the fruit of your toil; you will be blessed and favoured.

Your wife, like a vine, will bear fruits in your home; your children, like olive shoots will stand around your table.

Such are the blessings bestowed upon the man who fears the Lord. May the Lord bless you from Zion. May you see Jerusalem prosperous all the days of your life.