Wednesday, 8 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord, we are all presented with the reality of what it truly means for us to be Christians, to be followers and disciples of the Lord. To be Christians means that our lives have to be centred on Christ and His truth, and we have to resist the temptations of worldly glory and attachments, which may lead us down the wrong path. To be Christians we also have to be prepared to face disagreements and even sufferings because of the incompatibility of some of our beliefs with that commonly accepted by the world. It is whether we are able to remain rooted in faith and strong in our willingness to follow the Lord, that we can remain firm in the path that God has shown us and led us through, to reach His grace and salvation.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah in which the hardships and challenges faced by Jeremiah during his ministry, as he faced opposition from many of those that disagreed with him and refused to believe in his words, and resisted the attempts by Jeremiah to call them all to repentance. Jeremiah has been sent by God to minister among the kingdom and the people of Judah, who had fallen into evil ways, turning away from God and His path. The Lord has always been patient with His beloved people, reaching out to them and showing them His love, and yet, they stubbornly refused to believe in Him and persecuted the ones whom God had sent to them including that of Jeremiah. Many of the false prophets and the leaders of the people plotted against Jeremiah, and they almost managed to kill Him if not for God’s kind providence.

God showed Jeremiah His help and kindness as He moved the heart of the king of Judah and also the few remaining allies that he still had among the people of Judah, who rescued Jeremiah from his predicament and kept him hidden and safe until the time of the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Everything turned out to be exactly just as how the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied it to be, and God’s warnings that went unheeded caused the people of God to be scattered and humiliated for their disobedience against Him, losing not just the Temple and House of the Lord that has been the centre and focal point of the people of God, but also the city of Jerusalem itself and the institution of the kingdom of God’s people. Through this, God showed that those who have kept their faith in Him will triumph in the end, and will be remembered by Him, while those who have refused to walk in His path, would suffer the right consequences for their sins.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the words of the Lord to His disciples especially regarding what it truly means to be His disciples and followers, and what it is that they were all called to do in their lives, as the servants of God’s truth and love. We heard of how the brothers, St. James and St. John, the sons of Zebedee and two of the closest among the Lord’s own disciples came up to Him with their own mother, asking for special privileges and favours over that of the other disciples. This led to the ire and jealousy of the other disciples who became angry at the two of them. The Lord rebuked all of them, and told them all that following Him is not about what they might imagine, as it was likely that they were all trying to seek favours from the Lord, to gain position, privileges and rewards that were better than that received by the others.

They were all looking at things from a rather worldly perspective, seeking for things of this world like fame, glory, renown, wealth, greatness among other things. As such, this was why they were unable to realise that the Lord’s coming into this world was not to give them all those worldly satisfactions and pleasures, achievements and glories. Instead, He came into this world to reach out to us all and to be reconciled with us, and also to teach us what it truly means for us to be the followers and disciples of the Lord, to be His faithful and committed people. He told St. James and St. John, that following Him would result in a lot of hardships and challenges, which He metaphorically mentioned as drinking the cup that He Himself was to drink. This was a reference to His upcoming Passion, suffering and death, all of which He endured out of love for us.

Essentially, if the world itself has persecuted the Lord and rejected Him, as what would happen to the Lord Jesus, rejected, betrayed even by one of His own closest disciples, humiliated and made to bear the punishments for sins and mistakes that were not His, then all of us, who are His disciples and followers, will likely face a similar rejection, condemnation, scrutiny, hardships and trials as well. This was what the prophet Jeremiah and many other prophets and servants of the Lord had experienced, as they were persecuted and made to suffer for their devotion and faith in the Lord, for having stood up for their faith, and for tirelessly doing everything that God had commanded them to do. That is why, today, as we continue to journey through this season of Lent, all of us are called to examine our way of life and our direction going forward.

Are we going to continue to walk down the path of sinfulness and evil, and continue to be swayed by the many temptations all around us? Or are we going to commit ourselves to the path of God’s righteousness and holiness? The Lord has given us all the freedom to choose our own path in life, whether we want to follow Him or to walk away from Him. And ideally of course, we should do whatever we can to follow Him, and to do His will. That is why today, all of us ought to remember the holy life and works of one of our great predecessors, as we celebrate his feast day today. St. John of God was a great man and servant of God who was a soldier that turned into a healthcare worker, living about five centuries earlier than our time. He was kidnapped from his family at an early age and was raised to be a soldier, but he became disillusioned with his way of life and turned towards the Lord.

St. John of God spent years on the road seeking for the meaning of life and faced many struggles during those years of hardships and changes. Yet, eventually he encountered the Lord and went through a great conversion of heart, as he heard the sermon of another great saint, that was St. John of Avila. This led him to begin many works of charity and outreach to the poor and the suffering all around him. He ministered to them and became a great and renowned healthcare worker, who inspired many others to follow in his footsteps. This eventually became the foundation of what was to be known as the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God after their patron and founder. Until his passing from this world, he continued to labour for the good of the people of God and for the care of the sick and those who suffer.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples and life of St. John of God showed us that becoming a true disciple and follower of our Lord is not something that is easy for us. We may encounter many hardships and trials in our journey, but God will always be there by our side, strengthening and supporting us throughout the way. This is what we should be inspired to do as well, in doing what God has commanded us all to do, to love Him and our fellow brothers and sisters more and more with each and every passing moments. Let us all therefore make good use of this season of Lent to redirect our efforts and attention in life, away from worldly excesses and sin, and instead focus our attention more on God and His Law and precepts, and do whatever we can to walk faithfully in His path, shunning worldly glory and ambition, now and always. May God be with us all and bless our every good efforts and endeavours. Amen.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 20 : 17-28

At that time, when Jesus was going to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples and said to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem. There the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, who will condemn Him to death. They will hand Him over to the foreigners, who will mock Him, scourge Him and crucify Him. But He will be raised to life on the third day.”

Then the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down, to ask a favour. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?” And she answered, “Here You have my two sons. Grant that they may sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, when You are in Your kingdom.”

Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink My cup, but to sit at My right or at My left is not for Me to grant. That will be for those, for whom My Father has prepared it.”

The other ten heard all this, and were angry with the two brothers. Then Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations act as tyrants over them, and the powerful oppress them. It shall not be so among you : whoever wants to be more important in your community shall make himself your servant.”

“And if you want to be the first of all, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man Who has come, not to be served but to serve, and to give His life to redeem many.”

Wednesday, 8 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 30 : 5-6, 14, 15-16

Free me from the snare that they have set for me. Indeed You are my Protector. Into Your hands I commend my spirit; You have redeemed Me, o Lord, faithful God.

I hear whispering among the crowd, rumours that frighten me from every side – their conspiracies, their schemes, their plot to take my life.

But I put my trust in You, o Lord, I said : “You are my God;” my days are in Your hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, from those after my skin.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 18 : 18-20

Then, they said, “Come, let us plot against Jeremiah, for even without him, there will be priests to interpret the Teachings of the Law; there will always be wisemen to impart counsel and prophets to proclaim the word. Come, let us accuse him and strike him down instead of listening to what he says.”

Hear me, o YHVH! Listen to what my accusers say. Is evil the reward for good? Why do they dig a grave for me? Remember how I stood before You to speak well on their behalf so that Your anger might subside.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we listened to the words of the Scriptures today, we are all called to pray more and to spend more time in quality moments with God, which we can achieve through that prayerful time and silence, as we come to Him with a contrite and loving heart, remembering His most generous love and compassionate mercy, all that He had done for us, all these while. The Lord has shown us His great willingness to welcome us back to His embrace and to love us once again, and we are all called to remember this love and mercy at all times.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord has shown us all the model prayer that He Himself had made, in praying to His heavenly Father, the model prayer that we all definitely know too well. The Lord’s Prayer, also known as Pater Noster or Our Father, after the very first words in that prayer is a model for all of our Christian prayers, in how we make our prayers and how we can make sure that those prayers help us in deepening our relationship with God, as they should have. Prayer is the way for us to communicate with God, to speak with God our loving Father, and to listen to His speaking in our hearts and minds.

The Lord is indeed Our Father, the One Who created us all out of love, and through Christ, His Son, Who has willingly embraced our humanity and taken up the existence in the flesh, we who share in His humanity has now therefore shared in having the Lord our God as our loving Father. And if God is our Father, then why do we hesitate to communicate with Him and spend quality time with Him? Through what He Himself had done, the Lord reminded us that we have to spend time in prayer to the Lord and pray in the right manner, and with the right disposition in our heart and mind.

First of all, prayer must first be about giving thanks to God, thanking Him for all the wonderful things that we have received, no matter how all they might have been. And least of all, we have to give Him thanks for the continued gift of life that He has blessed us with. We have to thank Him for all the opportunities that He had provided us with, all the people whom He had blessed us with, our families, friends and other loved ones. We have to thank Him for everything He blessed us with despite us having often betrayed Him for false idols in life.

Then, prayer is also about listening to God and not just wanting or even demanding God to listen to us. It is about opening our hearts, minds and our senses to allow for genuine communication between us and God. If we only want God to listen to us and we are not willing to listen to Him, then it is not a communication at all. Our prayer has instead become a litany of demands that we make to the Lord and we are forcing our will on God. How can this be, as we are only a mere creation, daring to make demands on our Lord, Master and Creator?

And then, prayer is also the means by which we also seek the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy, as we ask Him to forgive us the multitudes of our sins. It is by God’s grace alone that we can be forgiven, and we who are sinners are in need of God’s forgiveness, that we may be reconciled to Him. The Lord will forgive us our sins, as long as we have ourselves learnt to forgive each others’ sins and faults to one another, just as mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer. We humble ourselves as sinners, all needing that much needed reconciliation with God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to cultivate in us the habit of good and true prayer, prayer that is genuine from our hearts and not prayer that is merely recited without meaning or understanding. This season of Lent is a time for us to reflect deeply on ourselves and our path in life. We have to remember that we have with us now the opportunities for us to return to the Lord and reclaim our positions of honour, filled with the grace of God through our reconciliation with Him. This season of Lent is the perfect time for us to redirect our focus and attention once again at God.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of God, a holy servant of God, who dedicated his life to the works of God. He was a young man who became a soldier and later on, disillusioned with the betrayal he experienced and all other matters, he eventually followed the path of God, committed to serve the people of God. And based on his earlier experiences, his journeys in places like Africa and among enslaved Christians and other less fortunate people, he became inspired to work among the poor and the less fortunate, dedicating himself to the service of God.

St. John of God founded the religious order known as the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God with the emphasis and charism in caring and reaching out towards the sick, the poor and the less fortunate in the community. He dedicated his life to serve the Lord and His people and many people flocked to follow his examples and his order flourished in numbers and their works. The Lord has guided St. John of God who responded passionately to His call. And he did this to the very end, even at his own expense, when he eventually died of pneumonia after rescuing a drowning person in a cold river. He did not hesitate to jump into the river to save that person.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in St. John of God we have seen a great role model for all of us, a role model that can and should inspire us in this season of Lent, as a model of virtue and faith, and of selflessness and charity, care and compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. This is what we have been called to do this Lenten season, to draw ever closer to God through prayer and also through our charitable actions, our giving and love in almsgiving, in loving others more, in sharing more of our blessings with those who have less or none.

Let us all make great use of this ample opportunity during this blessed season of Lent to come ever closer to God. Let us all be inspired by the great examples of our predecessors, to walk in the path of Our Lord and His saints. Let us all make this Lent a truly meaningful and good one for all of us, that we may each and all come to God’s presence, and be worthy of God and His love and grace. Amen.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 6 : 7-15

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do; for they believe that, the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask Him.”

“This, then, is how you should pray : Our Father in heaven, holy be Your Name, Your kingdom, come, Your will, be done on earth, as in heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are in debt to us.”

“Do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their wrongdoings, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you.”

Tuesday, 8 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 33 : 4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19

Oh, let us magnify YHVH; together, let us glorify His Name! I sought YHVH, and He answered me; from all my fears He delivered me.

They who look to Him are radiant with joy, their faces never clouded with shame. When the poor cry out, YHVH hears and saves them from distress.

The eyes of YHVH are fixed on the righteous; His ears are inclined to their cries. But His face is set against the wicked, to destroy their memory from the earth.

YHVH hears the cry of the righteous and rescues them from all their troubles. YHVH is close to the brokenhearted and saves the distraught.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 55 : 10-11

As the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it yield seed for the sower and food for others to eat, so is My Word that goes forth out of My mouth : It will not return to Me idle, but It shall accomplish My will, the purpose for which It has been sent.

Monday, 8 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Scripture in which we heard about the healing of the Syrian general Naaman by the prophet Elisha through the power of God, and how the same healing was mentioned by the Lord as He spoke to the people of His own hometown in Nazareth, as He was not trusted and believed by the latter.

In our first reading, Naaman the Syrian was the trusted general and right hand man of the Aramean king, the rival kingdom of Israel, who unfortunately had contracted leprosy, a disease that was much dreaded at that time. Those who contracted leprosy would end up losing their limbs and might even end up in death, as the disease would keep on spreading through the body and inflict more damage unless the person was able to fight off the infection, which was actually quite rare given the then relatively primitive form of healthcare.

That was why the Aramean king was desperate to find cure for Naaman, and hearing that the famous prophet Elisha and his miracles in Israel, the king endeavoured to send Naaman to his rival king and enemy, to seek for healing. Naturally the king of Israel, who was no friend of Elisha, refused to help, and Naaman had to go and visit Elisha on his own.

When he found the prophet Elisha, he was told to go and immerse himself seven times in the River Jordan and he would be healed. Naaman was angry that the prophet did not come and do as what he had expected, that Elisha would touch him and make him whole again in body and healed from his leprosy. He found that the task of immersing himself in the River Jordan to be ridiculous, and that the rivers of his own homeland were no less great.

However, as we heard, Naaman’s servant begged him to listen to reason and just do as the prophet had asked him, as it was just something very simple to be done, to immerse himself seven times in the River Jordan. And almost immediately after Naaman did so, he was healed and was perfectly healthy again. Naaman obeyed and swallowed his pride, and he was healed by God.

This is what the Lord referred to when His own people rejected Him and refused to listen to Him, as He stated how during the time of Elisha, it was the pagans like Naaman who came to be healed by God and who was the one that eventually became a believer, while the Israelites of Elisha’s time remained distant and in open rebellion against God and His ways.

What is the significance of these readings, brothers and sisters in Christ? First of all, we are all called to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, to be healed of our sins, for indeed our sins are just like leprosy, eating and gnawing at us, the ‘leprosy’ of our souls. And unlike the physical leprosy of the body that can still be healed by medicine and worldly means, the only cure for sin is God’s forgiveness and grace.

God alone can heal us from our sins, and through His forgiveness we are made whole once again. However, it requires from us the desire to be forgiven, and for us to humble ourselves like what Naaman had done. More often than not, it is our pride and ego, our stubbornness and desire that become major obstacles preventing us from gaining forgiveness and mercy from God.

As Naaman’s servant pointed out, it was actually not a difficult thing that the prophet Elisha had asked of Naaman to do in order to be healed, and thus, it is the same for all of us as well. God has abundantly made available His forgiveness and mercy, constantly seeking for us and wanting all of us to be reconciled to Him. However, it is we ourselves who have delayed, postponed, refused to commit to the Lord and was ambivalent in our attitude towards Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this cannot be the case anymore. We must not allow our pride and ego from undermining our path towards reconciliation with God. In this season of Lent, that is why we are all called to embrace God’s ever generous mercy and compassion, and seek to be healed just as God has healed Naaman from his leprosy, that we too can be healed from the sins we have with us.

Today, let us all follow the good examples set by St. John of God, one of our holy predecessors in faith. St. John of God was a soldier and later on farmer, who grew dissatisfied with the way he led his life, as he struggled spiritually with all the hardships he saw in all those whom he encountered. In the end, this led to him going through a period of conversion and became a dedicated servant to the Lord and His people as a religious brother, serving the poor and the sick in particular.

St. John of God was thereafter renowned for his care for the sick and the poor, and he inspired many others to follow his examples, in being charitable and generous in giving, in obeying the Lord’s commandments and being righteous and good in his deeds, and this is what all of us as Christians can also be inspired to do as well. It is by following these faithful examples as shown by St. John of God that we can draw closer to God and find healing and justification through Him.

May the Lord be with us always and may He guide us all through life, and may He help us to remain humble and to desire His forgiveness and mercy so that we may find healing and reconciliation through our humility and sincere desire to seek Him for forgiveness and grace, that we may once again be living worthily in His presence, free from sin and from its corrupting influence and power so that in the end, we may enter into the eternal glory of heaven. Amen.

Monday, 8 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 4 : 24-30

At that time, Jesus said to the people of Nazareth, “No prophet is honoured in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land. Yet, Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet; and no one was healed except Naaman, the Syrian.”

On hearing these words, the whole assembly became indignant. They rose up and brought Him out of the town, to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth is built, intending to throw Him down the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went His way.