Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s readings from the Scripture we heard about the contrast between what happened in the time of the Old Testament, when the prophet Jonah came to the city of Nineveh, preaching to them that the Lord would destroy their city within forty days for their sins and wickedness, and with what we heard in the Gospel passage today, of the Lord Jesus and His unhappiness over the people’s lack of faith as they kept demanding for signs and miracles.

At the time of the prophet Jonah, the people and ruler of the city of Nineveh, which was a great city and capital of the Assyrian Empire, the mighty kingdom that conquered and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and subjugated much of the Middle East at its heyday, they came to believe in all that the prophet Jonah said before them, that God would punish them for their sinful ways, and they immediately showed great repentance.

And all of that happened without the prophet Jonah even performing any miracles or wonderful deeds at all. They realised their sinful ways and wickedness, and they simply came to believe in the prophet. This is despite the Assyrians, deemed as barbarians and pagans in the eyes of the Israelites, as they worshipped pagan idols and did not believe in God, and despite all of their wicked and heinous deeds, they believed in God when He came to punish them.

Yet, it is a great irony that the people of God, who were supposed to obey the Law and listen to the will of their Lord, were themselves the ones who refused to believe in Him, when He Himself came in person into this world, and not through the intermediary of a prophet as what was the case between the prophet Jonah and the people and city of Nineveh. And the Lord came with many signs and wonders before His people through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus Himself performed many miracles and wonders, healing many who were sick, feeding multitudes of people by multiplying loaves of bread and fishes, casting out demons and many more, but the people still failed to believe. He has done so many wonders and yet, the people who had seen them kept asking for more signs and miracles, and for the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they continued to doubt Him and refused to believe in Him.

Why is this so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because they hardened their hearts and refused to believe in God, no matter what amazing things and miracles He has performed before them. If the hearts and minds have refused to believe, then it does not matter how much the eyes, the ears, the noses and all the senses experience, we will end up not believing, just as what the people had done.

In this time and season of Lent, all of us go through this moment of exceeding grace when we are given the opportunity to reexamine our lives through the daily readings of the Scripture and by deepening our relationship with God. Are we all able to rend our stubborn minds and hearts that once refused to believe, and open the doors to our minds and hearts wide, to allow God to enter into them and speak His will inside us?

We are called to repentance and to a change in lifestyle, following the examples of the Assyrians living in Nineveh. God has called us all to repent, just as He has done through the prophet Jonah. Are we willing to humble ourselves as the people of Nineveh had done, or are we rather like the people of the time of Jesus, when He came into this world, and they rejected Him and refused to believe in Him because of their pride and their prejudices against Him?

Let us all follow the example of the great saint whose feast we celebrate on this day, namely St. Peter Damian, great and holy servant of God, as bishop and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, an important figure in the Church at that time, who was remembered for his great piety and devotion, leaving behind everything he had to serve the Lord, and many followed his examples to life faithfully in God’s ways.

St. Peter Damian helped to reform the whole Church at that time, and he zealously sought for the renewal of the Church against the excesses of sin and wickedness which dominated many of the people at the time, even those who were among the clergy and the priests, those who were holding high and influential positions in the Church and among the faithful. St. Peter Damian was determined to get the Church to overcome the problem, and through his works, eventually the Church was able to overcome the problem it faced.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the zeal and commitment of St. Peter Damian should be reminder for us that we should also have the same kind of faith and devotion in our own life. Let us all during this season of Lent reflect on what he has done, and how he has devoted himself throughout his life to serve the Lord, abandoning the temptations of worldly power and glory, and sought nothing else other than the greater glory of God.

May each and every one of us draw ever closer to the Lord, and may we find in Him the source of true joy and happiness, and that we may turn our hearts and our whole being to Him, no longer held back by sin and by our refusal to listen to Him and by our stubbornness. May we grow to love Him more and more, every day of our lives. May God bless us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 11 : 29-32

At that time, as the crowd increased, Jesus spoke the following words : “People of the present time are troubled people. They ask for a sign, but no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah became a sign for the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be a sign for this generation.”

“The Queen of the South will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and here, there is greater than Solomon. The people of Nineveh will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for Jonah’s preaching made them turn from their sins, and here, there is greater than Jonah.”

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 12-13, 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.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

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.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jonah 3 : 1-10

The word of YHVH came to Jonah a second time : “Go to Nineveh, the great city, and announce to them the message I give you.”

In obedience to the word of YHVH, Jonah went to Nineveh. It was a very large city, and it took three days just to cross it. So Jonah walked a single day’s journey and began proclaiming, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.”

The people of the city believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Upon hearing the news, the king of Nineveh got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. He issued a proclamation throughout Nineveh :

“By the decree of the king and his nobles, no people or beasts, herd or flock, will taste anything; neither will they eat nor drink. But let people and beasts be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call aloud to God, turn from his evil ways and violence. Who knows? God may yet relent, turn from His fierce anger and spare us.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not carry out the destruction He had threatened upon them.

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.