Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the need for us to do what is right and just before the Lord and man alike, and to shun the path of wickedness and evil. All of us as Christians are expected to do what is right and just, worthy and good as our Lord has taught and shown us to do. This season of Lent in particular we are reminded of our weakness and vulnerabilities to sin, our wickedness and evils, all of our failures to do what God wanted us to do, and everything that had kept us away from the fullness of God’s grace and love. If we continue to walk down the path of disobedience and evil, then we ought to know that it will lead us to damnation and ruin, and eternity of regret, when the time comes for us. On the other hand, those who keep their faith in God will not be disappointed, as God is always ever faithful to the Covenant that He had made with us.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah in which God spoke His words to His people through Jeremiah, to the people and the kingdom of Judah that Jeremiah had been sent to minister in, during the final days of the existence of that kingdom. Jeremiah was sent to a people who had lived in sin and often disobeyed God, leaving and abandoning Him for the pagan idols and gods, persecuting the prophets and messengers that God had sent them patiently and constantly in order to remind them and to call them kindly to repent and turn away from their sinful ways. Jeremiah himself was persecuted, hated and often ridiculed, and even treated and considered as a traitor for his words and actions that were considered as treasonous, as he spoke of the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, that would happen because of the people’s continued sins against God.

The Lord spoke the truth to them, as He presented the fact of how those who continued to disobey Him and depended on worldly and human strength, would fail and falter, as the people and kingdom of Judah would regret later on, because they chose to depend on the powers of the world, on their idols and politics rather than to depend on God. The then king of Judah, Zedekiah, who would be the last king of Judah, chose to depend on the power of Egypt and its Pharaoh, and rebelled against the Babylonians, who ruled over the land, resulting directly in a punitive expedition that led to the destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple and the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, beginning a painful many decades long period of exile for many of the people living in Judah, cast out and exiled from their ancestral lands.

That was indeed the fate of those who were wicked and those who refused to put their faith in God. Jeremiah and many other prophets had repeatedly reminded them, only to be faced with hard hearted rejection and stubborn attitudes, persecution and even martyrdom. But the Lord still loved His people and continued to send them help and reminder, and when they repented and turned away from their sinful ways, having been humiliated and suffered during their exile, God brought them back to their own land, and moved the heart of the King of Persia, Cyrus the Great, to allow His people to return to their homeland, and even to reestablish their cities and the Temple of God in Jerusalem. All of those were eventually restored, and that was yet again another proof of how God would provide for all those who are faithful in Him and placed their trust in Him.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the story that the Lord Jesus told His disciples regarding a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man, both of whom had a very different kind of life, with Lazarus suffering all throughout his life with great poverty and physical suffering, while the rich man enjoyed all the bounties and good things that this world could provide. Lazarus, the poor man, sat by the door of the rich man’s house, and no one lifted a hand to help this poor man, even when he had nothing to eat at all. As we heard in the story, Lazarus hoped to eat even the crumbs and leftovers from the rich man’s table, but even that was denied from him. Eventually we heard how both Lazarus and the rich man died, and how they ended up in truly very different fate, as Lazarus ended up in Heaven with Abraham and the saints, while the rich man fell and damned into hell, to suffer for eternity.

The essence of that story is a reminder for all of us that each and every one of us as Christians are constantly being reminded to be faithful to God and to do what the Lord had told us to do, and this includes not forgetting those around us who are in need. We are all called to do what is good, and when we commit things that are evil, those are considered as sin for us. Yet, if we fail to do what we should have done, that is also sin too. That is what we know as the sin of omission, the failure to do what God had called us to do, just as the rich man could have been moved to help Lazarus, even in the smallest things he could. But he chose to look away and to ignore Lazarus, leaving him to suffer all alone and endure a most painful life in this world while he enjoyed his life amidst all the joy and celebrations.

Linking to what we have spoken and discussed about in our first reading today, regarding the prophet Jeremiah and what God had told His people, all of us are reminded in particular during this season of Lent of the dangers of worldly attachments and temptations. If we allow those things to mislead us, just in the way how the people of Judah, God’s own people had turned away from God and sought to satisfy their own selfish desires, then we may likely end up in the same fate as well, like that of the rich man, who might have been so distracted and tempted by worldly riches and glory that he failed to recognise what the Lord has called him to do with his life, his calling and all the responsibilities he had given the blessings and graces that he had been blessed with. God is not against the rich or us being wealthy, but we must discern how to make good use of our blessings and riches in life, not only for our own good but for everyone.

Today perhaps we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, St. Frances of Rome, a holy woman and servant of God, who had dedicated her life to follow and serve the Lord. St. Frances of Rome was a wife and mother who was known in her role of caring for the poor and the sick in her community. St. Frances spent a lot of time and effort in reaching out to the less fortunate all around her, and when she became a widow, she even made part of her own family’s country estate into a hospital for the poor and the sick. She experienced a lot of hardships, challenges and difficulties throughout her life and ministry, but all those things did not discourage her from continuing to carry out her work and mission, and inspiring many others to follow her examples and doing what they could to care for the good of the people of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore discern carefully our path in life through this season of Lent, so that we may truly find our way forward, living our lives with faith and commit our time and effort to love God more and to love one another as well, distancing ourselves from sin and turning back once more towards God. Let us all be more generous in giving, in giving our love for others around us, those who need our help, like what St. Frances of Rome had done, and many others. Let us not forget that as Christians, it is our calling and in fact, obligation to do what the Lord had always called on us to do, in serving Him and in loving our fellow men and women. May God bless us always, and may He guide us in our journey, and help us through this blessed season and time of Lent. Amen.

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 16 : 19-31

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Once there was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted every day. At his gate lay Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who longed to eat just the scraps falling from the rich man’s table. Even dogs used to come and lick his sores.”

“It happened that the poor man died, and Angels carried him to take his place with Abraham. The rich man also died, and was buried. From hell where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham afar off, and with him Lazarus at rest. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus, with the tip of his finger dipped in water, to cool my tongue, for I suffer so much in this fire.'”

“Abraham replied, ‘My son, remember that in your lifetime you were well-off, while the lot of Lazarus was misfortune. Now he is in comfort, and you are in agony. But that is not all. Between your place and ours a great chasm has been fixed, so that no one can cross over from here to you, or from your side to us.'”

“The rich man implored once more, ‘Then I beg you, Father Abraham, to send Lazarus to my father’s house, where my five brothers live, let him warn them, so that they may not end up in this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'”

“But the rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham; but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the one who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the law of the Lord and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 17 : 5-10

This is what YHVH says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings and depends on a mortal for his life, while his heart is drawn away from YHVH! He is like a bunch of thistles in dry land, in parched desert places, in a salt land where no one lives and who never finds happiness.”

“Blessed is the man who puts his trust in YHVH and whose confidence is in Him! He is like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots towards the stream. He has no fear when the heat comes, his leaves are always green; the year of drought is no problem and he can always bear fruit.”

“Most deceitful is the heart. What is there within man, who can understand him? I, YHVH, search the heart and penetrate the mind. I reward each one according to his ways and the fruit of his deeds.”

Wednesday, 9 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Scriptures in which we are all reminded to have faith in the Lord and to trust in Him, believing in all that He has done for us and shown us. We must be strong in faith and do not waver amidst the trials and challenges, the many temptations we may be facing in this world. And through what we have heard from the Scripture passages today, we have to believe in the Lord and turn towards Him with heart full of love and contrition especially during this time and season of Lent.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jonah in which we heard of the moment when the Lord sent His servant Jonah to the city and the people of Nineveh, then the great capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire. Contextually and historically, as the Assyrians had conquered numerous nations and peoples, they were a very proud people and nation, and their glory and power unparalleled. Yet, they had also committed great atrocities and sin before God, and the Lord sent Jonah to them to warn them of this and the retribution that they were to face.

Immediately upon hearing the news of the revelation of their impending destruction, the king and the whole entire people of Nineveh believed in the Lord and in His words, and they immediately humbled themselves before the Lord, went into mourning and contrition, dressed in sackcloth and regretting all the sins which they had committed before God and men alike. And seeing the actions and the sincerity of the people of Nineveh in believing in Him and in repenting from their sinful ways, God spared Nineveh from destruction.

From what we have heard, the Lord truly loves His people, all without exception. He loves all, including even those who have sinned against Him. No sinner, no matter how great, can be excluded from God’s love. They all still enjoy God’s love as always, which is even more powerful than our sins. Unfortunately, it was our own rejection of God’s love and mercy, generously given and offered to us, which had kept us in the state of sin. Many of us proudly stood by our own actions and refused to admit our faults and sins, as contrasted with the attitudes of the people of Nineveh we have heard just earlier on.

That was exactly the attitude showed by the people of Jesus’ time, especially by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law during the time when they demanded to see signs from Him. This was the context of what we heard in our Gospel passage today, as many among the people still refused to believe in the Lord and His works, despite having themselves witnessed in person all the wonders, miracles and hearing the great wisdom with which the Lord had spoken His teachings and parables, all of which clearly indicated and showed that He was the One sent into the world to be its Saviour.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke of Jonah and what the Lord had done through him, as compared to what He had Himself done as He came into the midst of His people. While the people of Nineveh, a pagan people who had no obligations and ties to God whatsoever even believed in Him and in His prophet when he came to their midst, the contrast between those people of Nineveh and those who were supposedly the descendants of the Israelites was really stark, as the latter, who ought to have been faithful to the Lord had faltered in their faith and refused to see and believe in His truth.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we listened to these words of the Lord we are all reminded this Lent to be more dedicated to Him, to walk ever more faithfully in His path and presence. We are reminded to realise how we need God and His love, His compassion and mercy, and how we are all far from being perfect. Instead, all of us have often kept our pride and ego, our greed and desires, keeping ourselves separated from God and remaining in the state of sin as we have always been thus far. The Lord has called us to Him, but we have often been deaf to His call.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we have the good role model and examples of St. Frances of Rome, a great and dedicated woman, a faithful servant of God, whose life and inspirations should be our encouragement to live according to God’s will. St. Frances of Rome was born to a rich noble family and wanted to be a nun at an early age, but she was for ed to marry and although she did have a happy marriage, she remained committed to her desire to love the Lord and to serve Him, through her love for her fellow brethren, her fellow brothers and sisters.

She often visited the poor and the sick, and she has often showed compassion, love and care for those who needed it. She cared for the many of the sick, the poor and the less fortunate in her community, just as much as she also loved her husband, children and family. She led a holy and devout life, full of faith and contemplation, of chastity and righteousness. St. Frances founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary as a confraternity of women dedicated to serve the Lord, among her many other contributions to the Church and the faithful.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has called on all of us to follow Him, and all of us should seek Him wholeheartedly and turn towards Him with great faith, and devote ourselves much as how St. Frances of Rome and many of our other holy predecessors had done. Let us all follow the Lord and spend all of our efforts to walk in His presence, glorifying Him and loving Him, at each and every moments of our lives. May the Lord be with us all and may He empower each one of us to walk with Him, especially through our Lenten observances and works, our fasting and abstinence, and our almsgiving and generosity among others. May God bless our Lenten observance and works, and be with us always. Amen.

Wednesday, 9 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (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, 9 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (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, 9 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (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.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard of the mercy, love and benevolence of God Who has heard the prayers and pleading of His people, beginning with the prayer of Azariah, and the other friends of Daniel, who have been put into a most difficult situation, and they prayed before the Lord asking for His mercy and love, and then in our Gospel passage today we heard the Lord speaking about the parable of the ungrateful servant which is related to this matter as well.

In our first reading today, as mentioned we heard of the moment when king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sentenced the three friends of Daniel to be burnt in a great fiery cauldron that was made even hotter because they adamantly refused to worship a great golden idol that the king had built in his own image. The king demanded all of his subjects to worship the golden idol or be punished to death. Everyone obeyed the king’s commands except for the three friends of Daniel.

The king was enraged when the three of them not only refused to obey the king’s commands but reiterated and reaffirmed their faith in the Lord publicly before the king and all those who were gathered. Thus, they were condemned to death and they should have perished in the great furnace that was prepared for them and others who dared to disobey the king. But Azariah, one of the three, together with the other two friends of Daniel prayed to the Lord, showing their commitment and faith, while also showing the repentance of the people of Israel.

Through this, they represented the people of God who at that time was in exile, having lost their homeland and their Temple, their kingdom and honour. They expressed their regrets and sincere mournfulness over all of their sins. They also expressed their dedication and love for the Lord, and that they hoped their example and courage in standing up for their faith would finally move the Lord to show His mercy and forgiveness to His people.

The Lord sent His Angel to safeguard the three men, and they all miraculously survived the flame unharmed, and all those who witnessed this miracle, including that of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, were astonished at what they had seen. Not only that the three men were unharmed, but they were released without injury and the king himself tore down the golden statue that he had built.

In the Gospel reading today, we heard of the parable of the ungrateful servant in which the Lord told His disciples about a servant who owed an immense amount of ten thousand pieces of gold to his master, who should have suffered the terrible consequence of his debt, having to lose his property and even loved ones. But the master took pity on the servant when the latter begged for mercy, and he was forgiven all of his debt, therefore becoming a person free from bondage and obligation of his debt.

Yet, as we heard, the servant was not grateful for what he had received, and instead he persecuted his own fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount of merely a hundred pieces of silver. Not only that the amount owed to him was a mere hundredth of what he used to owe the master, but as it was of silver rather than gold, this served to highlight just how much smaller that debt was in comparison to what the master had earlier on forgiven him.

That ungrateful servant was then on punished by the master for his lack of gratitude and for not forgiving his fellow servants when he himself had already been forgiven so much, and this parable together with our first reading today served to remind us all Christians that all of us are called to forgive much and to get rid of vengeance and all related things from our hearts and minds, just as we ourselves have been forgiven so much more by God.

We cannot be angry and be nasty to our fellow brothers and sisters, and we should not hold grudges and any sorts of negative feelings against our neighbours, just as the Lord Himself had willingly forgiven us from our sins when we come to Him seeking for forgiveness and mercy. This Lent, we are all challenged to be more forgiving and to be more filled with mercy and compassion in all of our actions and deeds, in everything that we say and do.

Today we can also be inspired by the examples shown by St. Frances of Rome, a mother of a family and a venerable woman who was remembered for her kindness, charity and compassion for others, especially for the poor and the less privileged. She also founded a community of Benedictine oblates who were committed to a holy life in the Lord but without professing solemn religious orders and vows. She was remembered for her care for the poor, and was generous in giving when there were others in need.

It was told that on one occasion, St. Frances’ giving so annoyed her father-in-law that he locked the supply room to prevent her from giving any more to the poor and the suffering. Yet, the same father-in-law returned the key to her when miraculously the supplies in the boxes were refilled just as St. Frances finished her prayers. And although she did encounter much difficulties during her own life, having to endure exile and devastations due to wars and plagues, St. Frances remained firm in her faith and in her charitable efforts, no matter what happened.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore follow the good examples set by St. Frances, and dedicate ourselves anew as Christians to be loving and more forgiving, to be more compassionate and committed in our faith and service to God, as well as to our fellow brothers and sisters. Let us all turn towards the Lord with a new conviction and desire to love Him, and do our very best to glorify Him by our actions and deeds in life. May God bless us all and may He be our guide, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 18 : 21-35

At that time, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offences of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven : A king decided to settle the accounts of his servants.”

“Among the first was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment. The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.'”

“The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even cancelled his debt. When the servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his companions, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the neck and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!'”

“His companion threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ The other did not agree, but sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt. Now his fellow servants saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord.”

“Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed when you begged me to do so. Were you not bound to have pity on your companion, as I had pity on you?’ The lord was now angry, so he handed his servant over to be punished, until he had paid his whole debt.”

Jesus added, “So will My heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”