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.

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

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 41 : 2, 3 and Psalm 42 : 3, 4

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for You, o God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I go and see the face of God?

Send forth Your light and Your truth; let them be my guide, let them take me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You reside.

Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my gladness and delight. I will praise You with the lyre and harp, o God, my God.

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

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Kings 5 : 1-15a

Naaman was the army commander of the king of Aram. This man was highly regarded and enjoyed the king’s favour, for YHVH had helped him lead the army of the Arameans to victory. But this valiant man was sick with leprosy.

One day some Aramean soldiers raided the land of Israel and took a young girl captive who became a servant to the wife of Naaman. She said to her mistress, “If my master would only present himself to the prophet in Samaria, he would surely cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to tell the king what the young Israelite maidservant had said. The king of Aram said to him, “Go to the prophet, and I shall also send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman went and took with him ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces and ten festal garments.

On his arrival, he delivered the letter to the king of Israel. It said, “I present my servant Naaman to you that you may heal him of his leprosy. When the king read the letter, he tore his clothes to show his indignation, “I am not God to give life or death. And the king of Aram sends me this man to be healed! You see, he is just looking for an excuse for war.”

Elisha, the man of God, came to know that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, so he sent this message to him : “Why have you torn your clothes? Let the man come to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and stopped before the house of Elisha. Elisha then sent a messenger to tell him, “Go to the river Jordan and wash seven times, and your flesh shall be as it was before, and you shall be cleansed.”

Naaman was angry, so he went away. He thought, “On my arrival, he should have personally come out, and then paused and called on the Name of YHVH, his God. And he should have touched with his hand the infected part, and I would have been healed. Are the rivers of Damascus, Abana and Pharpar not better than all the rivers of the land of Israel? Could I not wash there to be healed?”

His servants approached him and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had ordered you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? But how much easier when he said : ‘Take a bath and you will be cleansed.’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan where he washed himself seven times as Elisha had ordered. His skin became soft like that of a child and he was cleansed.

Then Naaman returned to the man of God with all his men.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are yet reminded again of the matter of fasting and how important this practice of fasting for each and every one of us. As Christians we practice fasting as well as abstinence at certain times in the year, and the practice of fasting have to be done with full understanding and appreciation of what it can do to us, if we truly practice fasting as well as abstinence with the right reasons and purpose.

What we heard today in our first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah as well as the Gospel passage today ought to jolt us and to make us realise that we do not fast or abstain from meat and from other things we want to abstain from, just because it is a formality and an obligation to do so. That is because it is easy for us to practice certain acts of piety and devotions, and yet, we did them not out of love for God, but because we want attention to ourselves, or that we want to satisfy our pride, ego and greed.

That was what happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law during the time of Jesus. When the Pharisees asked the disciples why they did not fast just as they have done, the Lord answered them that they would fast when the time was right, when He was to be taken away from them, and then they would fast. They did not fast just because they wanted to be seen or to be praised for doing so, unlike the Pharisees who made a lot of fuss and brought plenty of attention to their activities and pious acts.

When they fasted, they did so mainly because they were swayed by their pride, ego, desire and ambition. They wanted the people to praise them and respect them because of the things that they did. God did not have place of honour in their hearts and minds, as He should have received. God should have been the focus and at the centre of our every actions and works. But without that genuine love and dedication that each and every one of us should have for Him, we will not be able to remain faithful to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time and season of Lent we are called to redirect our focus in life as well as our attention back towards the Lord, by means of fasting and abstinence. When we fast, we must have the right focus and attention at heart, which means that we fast because we want to restrain our inner desires, all the wicked temptations that are within our hearts and minds, that caused us to sin against God.

When we abstain, we also restrain our own predisposition to sin, our vulnerability to the disobedience against God. Thus instead of following the examples of the Pharisees who used their practice of fasting and abstinence in the entirely wrong direction and intention, using those as excuse to indulge in their own ego, desires and pride, we should reject those prideful thoughts and temptations inside our hearts and minds.

Satan is ever busy and ready to strike at us through these temptations, the desires and greed within us, and by turning our ego, ambition and pride against us. Unless we make the conscious effort to resist the pull of desire, pride, ego and ambition, and dedicate ourselves to reject the pull of sin, we will likely end up falling deeper and deeper into the trap of sin. And this is where, during this time and season of Lent, we should make use of these opportunities given to us to repent from our sinful ways.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of God, a holy and devout servant of God, whose life and examples should become inspiration for ourselves, in how we ought to live our lives faithfully before God. St. John of God was remembered well for his service to the people of God, especially for the sick, the poor and those who have suffered physically and in unfortunate conditions. St. John of God dedicated his life, his time, his efforts and works to care for all of them.

Are we able to follow in the footsteps of this holy saint, brothers and sisters in Christ? God has given us the time, opportunity and ability to give our talents and abilities to be of benefit to one another, especially those who are weak, poor, oppressed and unloved. We are called to love God in ways that St. John of God and many others of our holy predecessors had done. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us progress through this season of Lent, with a new commitment to love God, as well as to love one another. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the pride, the ego and ambition, the greed and worldly desired that can prevent us from truly attaining the fullness of salvation and grace in God. Let us all make good use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith in God. May God bless us all and may He guide us in this journey of faith. Amen.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 9 : 14-15

At that time, the disciples of John came to Jesus with the question, “How is it, that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not Your disciples?”

Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then, they will fast.”

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 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.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone, have I sinned.

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.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 1-9a

Cry out aloud for all you are worth; raise your voice like a trumpet blast; tell My people of their offences, Jacob’s family of their sins. Is it true that they seek Me day after day, longing to know My ways, as a people that does what is right and has not forsaken the word of its God?

They want to know the just laws and not to drift away from their God. “Why are we fasting?,” they complain, “and You do not even see it? We are doing penance and You never notice it.” Look, on your fast days you push your trade and you oppress your labourers. Yes, you fast but end up quarrelling, striking each other with wicked blows. Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that pleases Me, just a day to humble oneself? Is fasting merely bowing down one’s head, and making use of sackcloth and ashes? Would you call that fasting, a day acceptable to YHVH? See the fast that pleases Me : breaking the fetters of injustice and unfastening the thongs of the yoke, setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke.

Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin. Then will your light break forth as the dawn and your healing come in a flash. Your righteousness will be your vanguard, the glory of YHVH your rearguard. Then you will call and YHVH will answer, you will cry and He will say, I am here.

Thursday, 8 March 2018 : 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, on this day we heard the clear frustrations of the Lord in two cases. The first one, from the Old Testament was the Lord voicing out His displeasure of His people through His prophet Jeremiah, about their constant disobedience and refusal to listen to His reminders and teachings as He made it clear to them through His prophets.

They continued to sin and disobey the Lord, and they did not follow the examples of their ancestors who obeyed the Law meticulously and genuinely. They persecuted the prophets and messengers sent to them to remind them and to call them to repentance. Instead of turning towards the Lord, they hardened their hearts and sinned further before the Lord.

In the Gospel today, we heard yet another example of this stubbornness, as the Lord Jesus met lots of resistance from the Pharisees who accused Him wrongly and maliciously of using the power of the devil in order to perform all of His miraculous deeds, healings and wonders. They were the ones who were highly educated and were knowledgeable about the Scriptures, and yet they failed to recognise God and His works when He came to their midst.

Why is that so? That is because of their stubbornness and refusal to believe in the Lord’s words as they were so set in their ways and thoughts that they refused to listen to an alternative opinion, even if their thoughts and ways were wrong. They stubbornly clung on to their false beliefs because of their pride and arrogance. They even went to the extent of doubting God’s presence and works in their midst in doing so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to reflect on these Scripture passages, looking at all the sinful ways and actions we have done in the past, and which we may still be doing at the moment. Have these prevented us from seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, because of our pride and our stubbornness, thinking that everything is fine and good for us? Have we allowed ourselves to be swayed by our desires and ambitions that we forget that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness?

In this time of Lent, we are called to reexamine our lives and our actions, and see what we can do in order to bring ourselves closer to God. God has called us to be His disciples, and to follow Him in the path that He will show us, but we must have the commitment to follow in His footsteps, and to walk in His path, which will not be easy and will be full of challenges and difficulties.

We will be tempted in various ways to leave the way of the Lord, and we will be tempted to return once again to our old, sinful way of life. That was why the Israelites fell again and again into sin, because they did not remain true to their faith in God and make little effort to resist the temptation of the devil. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law similarly allowed the devil to enter their hearts and sway them with hubris and arrogance, that closed their hearts and minds from understanding God’s words and truth as revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what we must not do with our lives. On the contrary, we must open our hearts and minds, allowing the Lord to enter and transform us completely, from beings filled with darkness and sin, into beings filled with light and grace of God. Let us heed the example set by our holy predecessor, St. John of God, in his dedication and commitment to live his life filled with faith and devotion to God, through his actions and deeds.

St. John of God was orphaned in his young age, and later became a soldier in his early adulthood, and because of injustice and false accusation, he was wrongly blamed for a crime that he did not commit. Turning away from all worldly ways and concerns because of these turn of events, he began to turn towards God and trying to seek Him in his life, as he felt a strong spiritual longing due to the emptiness he felt in his soul.

He saw a vision of the Infant Jesus, Who bestowed on him the name, John of God, the name he was to be known by henceforth. When listening to a sermon of St. John of Avila, another great saint of the Church, St. John of God felt the calling to serve the Lord with more commitment. He began to work among the poor and the needy, caring for them and providing for their material and spiritual needs.

Later on in his life, he established a religious congregation gathering all like minded people and devoted servants of God, dedicated to the care of the sick and the poor. These dedications to the weakest and the least among God’s people should be inspiration for all of us, in how we should carry on our lives from now on, in how we ought to devote ourselves to God in a better way.

May the Lord help us through our faith journey in this season of Lent, that we may grow ever closer to the Lord, devoting ourselves, our time, effort and attention to care for the needy around us, to be humble in all that we do, and remember that we must not be proud or arrogant in mind. We must not follow in the footsteps of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in their stubbornness and refusal to believe in God.

Let us instead imitate the humility of Our Lord Himself, Who came into this world as a servant for all, loving and caring to all those who have been entrusted to Him. Let us all make our Lenten observation more meaningful and fruitful, by doing acts of charity and grace to others around us, doing our very best to help those who are in need, that through us, God may perform more of His wonderful works among us. May God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 8 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 11 : 14-23

At that time, one day Jesus was driving out a demon, which was mute. When the demon had been driven out, the mute person could speak, and the people were amazed. Yet some of them said, “He drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of the demons.” Others wanted to put Him to the test, by asking Him for a heavenly sign.

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them, “Every nation divided by civil war is on the road to ruin, and will fall. If Satan also is divided, his empire is coming to an end. How can you say that I drive out demons by calling upon Beelzebul? If I drive them out by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive out demons? They will be your judges, then.”

“But if I drive out demons by the finger of God; would not this mean that the kingdom of God, has come upon you? As long as a man, strong and well armed, guards his house, his goods are safe. But when a stronger man attacks and overcomes him, the challenger takes away all the weapons he relied on, and disposes of his spoils.”

“Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me, scatters.”