Saturday, 4 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we are about to enter into the time of the Holy Week beginning tomorrow on Palm Sunday, we heard of the promises of God’s salvation as He spoke to them through the prophet Ezekiel, as well as the conspiracies and efforts that were being raised up against the Lord in our Gospel passage, preparing ourselves for what we are going to celebrate during the Holy Week.

The prophet Ezekiel spoke of God’s assurance that He would save His people and deliver them from all of their troubles then, as at that time they were all troubled after having been humiliated by the destruction of their kingdom and homeland, both the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed and most of the people carried off into exile in far-off lands.

God promised His people that He would restore them and bring them back to the lands of their ancestors, and He fulfilled this promise later on when the descendants of Israel were allowed to return to their homeland by the king of Persia, Cyrus. God restored their honour as a nation and showed them once again that He has loved them all the while despite the disobedience and sins they have committed. Nonetheless, He still wanted them to change and to repent from their sinful ways.

Then in the Gospel today, we heard of the discussions and plans among the members of the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish High Council to arrest Jesus and hand Him over to the Romans. And as many of the members of the Sanhedrin belonged to the Pharisees, most of whom were opposed to Jesus, the voices of those who called for the arrest and punishment for Jesus easily overcome those who wanted to listen to Him more carefully and those who supported Him.

This reading is setting us up for the coming of the Holy Week in which the final moments of the Lord’s most important mission was about to be celebrated, beginning with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and later on, how the plans of the Sanhedrin came to fruition with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, His arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin, and eventually how He was handed over to the Romans, sentenced to death by crucifixion and died on the Cross which we celebrate on Good Friday. And finally He rose from the dead in glory, and we celebrate this gloriously in Easter.

This is how the Lord showed us His salvation and fulfilled all the promises He had made to us earlier on, that by enduring the immense suffering of the Cross and by dying for us, He restored us all into a new life, no longer bound by the tyranny of sin, but through Him we become eligible of the wonderful inheritance of God’s grace. This is the fulfilment of God’s love and promise to all of us which He has made to us and reminded us again and again through time.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we have heard in these readings today, we have seen how fortunate we are to have such a wonderful and loving God by our side. God has been so patient with us and so caring and loving, willing to forgive us our trespasses and sins although they may be so plenty. But we need to be willing to receive God’s forgiveness too, for unless we are open to God’s mercy working in our lives, we will not enjoy the fullness of God’s forgiveness and redemption.

Are we able to prepare ourselves well to celebrate the upcoming mysteries of the Holy Week? Are we willing to make this Holy Week a meaningful one by living through it with openness to God’s mercy and through our renewed faith and obedience to God’s will? Let us all spend some time to reflect on how we can better live through our upcoming few days, as we enter into the most sacred time of the year, so that we may truly grow in our spiritual beings, and draw ever closer to God in all things.

Today, we also should look at the examples set by one of our holy predecessors, St. Isidore of Seville, who was the Bishop of Seville in what is now southern part of Spain, renowned for his great piety and dedication to God. St. Isidore championed the efforts to propagate the faith through education and purification of the faith. He convened several Church councils to overcome the falsehoods of heresies, particularly Arianism, and he did his best to help the spiritual growth of his flock. We can definitely learn from his dedication and commitment to God.

May God bless us all and may He strengthen us in faith, and may He guide us in our journey, now and forevermore. May all of us be strong in our faith like that of St. Isidore of Seville, holy servant of God and defender of the faith. Amen.

Saturday, 4 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 11 : 45-56

At that time, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw what He did; but some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called together the Council.

They said, “What are we to do? For this Man keeps on giving miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, all the people will believe in Him and, as a result of this, the Romans will come and destroy our Holy Place and our nation.”

Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all, nor do you see clearly what you need. It is better to have one Man die for the people than to let the whole nation be destroyed.” In saying this Caiaphas did not speak for himself, but being High Priest that year, he foretold like a prophet that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also would die to gather into one the scattered children of God. So, from that day on, they were determined to kill Him.

Because of this, Jesus no longer moved about freely among the Jews. He withdrew instead to the country near the wilderness, and stayed with His disciples in a town called Ephraim. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and people from everywhere were coming to Jerusalem to purify themselves before the Passover. They looked for Jesus and, as they stood in the Temple, they talked with one another, “What do you think? Will He come to the festival?”

Saturday, 4 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 31 : 10, 11-12ab, 13

Hear the word of YHVH, o nations, proclaim it on distant coastlands : He Who scattered Israel will gather them and guard them as a shepherd guard his flock.

For YHVH has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of his conqueror. They shall come shouting for joy, while ascending Zion; they will come streaming to YHVH’s blessings.

Maidens will make merry and dance, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness, I will give them comfort and joy for sorrow.

Saturday, 4 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Ezekiel 37 : 21-28

You will then say to them : Thus says YHVH : I am about to withdraw the Israelites from where they were among the nations. I shall gather them from all around and bring them back to their land. I shall make them into one people on the mountains of Israel and one king is to be the king of them all.

They will no longer form two nations or be two separate kingdoms, nor will they defile themselves again with their idols, their detestable practices and their sins. I shall free them from the guilt of their treachery; I shall cleanse them and they will be for Me a people and I shall be God for them.

My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all. They will live according to My laws and follow and practice My decrees. They will settle in the land I gave to My servant Jacob where their ancestors lived. There they will live forever, their children and their children’s children. David My servant will be their prince forever.

I shall establish a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I shall settle them and they will increase and I shall put My sanctuary in their midst forever. I shall make My home at their side; I shall be their God and they will be My people. Then the nations will know that I am YHVH Who makes Israel holy, having My sanctuary among them forever.

Friday, 3 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord showing us even more of the frictions and tensions that existed before the Lord Jesus was to go through His Passion in Jerusalem, suffering and eventually death, as we are really near now to the commencement of the Holy Week, which begins this coming Sunday on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. This brings into our attention what we have been spending time in this season of Lent for, that is to prepare ourselves to celebrate the glorious and solemn mysteries of the Holy Week and Easter.

In our first reading today, we heard of the lamentations and words of the prophet Jeremiah for all those who have persecuted and plotted against him. For at that time, there were many people who despised Jeremiah for all the ominous words and prophecies that he brought to the people, especially the false prophets who tried to persuade the king of Judah and the people otherwise, that they were all doing fine in their state of sin and disobedience against God.

Jeremiah was persecuted terribly and he suffered much during all those years. Had it not been for some help among the few allies he still had, he would have been killed by his enemies. But he trusted in God and remained committed to the mission which the Lord had entrusted him, that he braved the challenges and difficulties in order to carry out the works of evangelisation among the people of God.

Jeremiah’s faith and trust was indeed truly evident, as he remained confident in God’s guidance and help as shown in the first reading today, that God, as a mighty Warrior who is ever faithful will be with His people, and He has devoted Himself to them and would not abandon them in their time of distress. It was this faith which allowed Jeremiah to remain strong in his ministry despite all the trials and difficulties that he had encountered in Judah and beyond.

Then, in our Gospel passage today we heard of the immense difficulties and challenges that were mounting against Jesus, as the Jews in Judea, particularly the Pharisees and the members of the Jewish High Council or the Sanhedrin as these took issues with the Lord’s ministry and teachings, and they had done a lot in trying to oppose Him and challenge Him publicly in many opportunities. And in today’s Gospel passage, we heard how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, with many of the Jews opposed the Lord and took great issue with His claim being the Son of God.

The Lord had told them the truth and revealed everything to them plainly, but they refused to believe in Him and they did not have faith in Him, and that was why they hardened their hearts against Him and wanted to have Him arrested and killed, as they considered Him as blaspheming against God. Since they were also already deeply biased and prejudiced against Jesus, it was difficult for any words of truth or reason to change their minds, and hence, they persecuted the Lord just as their ancestors had persecuted Jeremiah and the other prophets.

Today, as we approach the beginning of the Holy Week and as we continue to proceed through this season of Lent, we are called to reflect on all that we have heard in today’s Scripture passages. We are all just like those who have persecuted the prophets and also refused to listen to the truth of the Lord. Through our disobedience and sins we have committed, we have acted just like those who rejected the Lord and His prophets and persecuted them.

Yet, God is always merciful and He is always ever willing to forgive us our sins, if we are willing to turn back to Him and embrace once again the fullness of His grace and love. He wants us to get rid of our hardened and stone-like hearts, and exchange it for a new heart of love, filled with renewed faith and desire to love God as well as our fellow brothers and sisters, that we may indeed be more like our Lord in how He has loved us and in being so patient with us despite our constant rejections and refusal to listen to Him.

Let us all proceed into the blessed moments of the Holy Week with this new heart of faith, and open our minds and our whole beings to God to welcome Him into our hearts and minds that we may truly experience a most wonderful and life-changing time in this upcoming Holy Week and also the glorious Easter season. And let us also not forget to continue to pray for the world, especially for all those who are now sick and suffering. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 3 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 10 : 31-42

At that time, the Jews then picked up stones to throw at Jesus; so He said, “I have openly done many good works among you, which the Father gave Me to do. For which of these do you stone Me?”

The Jews answered, “We are not stoning You for doing a good work, but for insulting God; You are only a Man, and You make Yourself God.” Then Jesus replied, “Is this not written in your law : I said, you are gods? So those who received this word of God were called gods, and the Scripture is always true.”

“What then should be said of the One anointed, and sent into the world, by the Father? Am I insulting God when I say, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If I am not doing the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if I do them, even if you have no faith in Me, believe because of the works I do; and know that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

Again they tried to arrest Him, but Jesus escaped from their hands. He went away again to the other side of the Jordan, to the place where John had baptised, and there He stayed. Many people came to Jesus, and said, “John worked no miracles, but he spoke about You, and everything he said was true.” And many became believers in that place.

Friday, 3 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 17 : 2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7

I love You, o Lord, my Strength, the Lord is my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer and my God.

He is the Rock in Whom I take refuge. He is my Shield, my powerful Saviour, my Stronghold. I call on the Lord, Who is worthy of praise : He saves me from my enemies!

A deadly flood surrounded me, devillish torrents rushed at me; caught by the cords of the grave, I was brought to the snares of death.

But I called upon the Lord in my distress, I cried to my God for help; and from His Temple He heard my voice, my cry of grief reached His ears.

Friday, 3 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 20 : 10-13

I hear many people whispering, “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Yes, denounce him!” All my friends watch me to see if I will slip : “Perhaps he can be deceived,” they say; “then we can get the better of him and have our revenge.”

But YHVH, a mighty Warrior, is with me. My persecutors will stumble and not prevail; that failure will be their shame and their disgrace will never be forgotten. YHVH, God of hosts, You test the just and probe the heart and mind.

Let me see Your revenge on them, for to You I have entrusted my cause. Sing to YHVH! Praise YHVH and say : He has rescued the poor from the clutches of the wicked!

Thursday, 2 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Francis of Paola, Hermit (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of how God established His Covenant with Abram, a man whom He called from the land of Mesopotamia to follow Him into the land of Canaan, which He promised that the land would be the inheritance of Abram and his descendants forever. And even more significantly for Abram, who until then was still childless in his marriage with Sarai his wife, God promised that he would become the father of many nations.

God made a Covenant with Abram, whom was known afterwards as Abraham, and He kept the promises that He had made with him, that through Isaac, the son that Abraham and Sarah had, as well as through Ishmael, another son of Abraham, many nations were born from the descendants of Abraham, principally the Israelites who are Abraham’s direct descendants and chosen race, as well as many other nations related to Abraham through descent.

It is this blood ties and descent that the Jews in our Gospel passage alluded to when they stood by their ground against the rebukes made against them by the Lord, Who showed them the errors of their ways and called them to turn away from their sinful path and disobedience. They proudly asserted themselves to be the children of Abraham, and they took offence at Jesus just because He spoke the truth of God which may indeed be unsettling for some.

They in fact behaved contrary to what Abraham had done in the past. God chose Abraham among all other people of the nations in his time because he had great faith in God, and he followed when the Lord called him, not hesitating or minding even when he had to leave all the comforts of his old life behind as he journeyed far away from his ancestral homeland, to travel to the unknown land of Canaan led only by the faith which he had in the Lord, entrusting his whole life entirely in the hands of God.

Abraham was faithful, even when he was tested by God, at the time when he was asked to offer his own son Isaac as an offering and sacrifice to God. Abraham did not even hesitate, as sorrowful and affected as he might have been, and still devoted himself wholeheartedly in the Lord, and he was indeed richly and doubly blessed by God because of his steadfastness and faith. On the contrary, the people of Judah at the time of Jesus, the descendants of the same Abraham, had not been faithful.

In fact, they doubted when the Lord Himself performed miracles and deeds that had been prophesied by the many prophets sent to the land of Israel, and even after they saw how the Lord performed those miraculous deeds before their own eyes, hearing all the testimonies and words from all those who had been healed, many of them still refused to believe in Him and doubted Him. Some even accused Him of colluding with demonic forces, such as Beelzebul the prince of demons.

We can see here how the people lacked genuine faith in God, and they were stubborn in refusing to listen to reason and God’s wisdom, preferring instead to trust in their own often flawed human judgment and ideals. They had great pride in having such intellect, abilities and power that they have so that they refused to accept that they could be wrong or mistaken, and they refused to listen when they were criticised and provided with feedback on how they ought to improve themselves.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all these we are reminded to be more like Abraham, our father in faith, and not to follow the examples of those people who had little faith in God. This is also why we are urged to be more humble and be more willing to listen, not to be quick to judge and to temper our pride and desire. We should be careful of our ambitions and hubris, and we should not allow all these to tempt us and bring us to our downfall.

Today, we celebrate the feast of a saint whose life and examples can inspire us to be more faithful to God, namely St. Francis of Paola, a renowned holy man and hermit, a member and founder of the Franciscans inspired Order of Minims. St. Francis of Paola dedicated his life to God in a life of prayer and service to God, caring for the spiritual needs of many people through prayerful life away from the distractions of the world.

Since his youth, St. Francis of Paola had always been attracted to the solitary life in prayer, often seeking secluded places to contemplate and live a life of prayer. He inspired like-minded people to form the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, named after the saint who is St. Francis of Paola’s namesake, and inspired by the humble and obedient charism of the Franciscan order. They all lived in simplicity and practiced rigorous chastisement of the physical body through strict abstinence.

St. Francis of Paola showed us all that it is indeed possible for us to live entrusting ourselves completely to God’s providence and love. We do not need to live our lives in the manner that St. Francis of Paola had done in being a recluse and hermit, although some did follow in his footsteps inspired by that way of life in serving God. Rather, we need to take note how St. Francis of Paola entrusted his life to God in the same way that Abraham had entrusted his life in Him.

Are we able to dedicate ourselves to God in the same way? We are given this perfect opportunity during this season of Lent to turn towards God once again with all of our hearts and devote our whole lives once again to Him. May the Lord be our guide and be our constant source of strength at all times, that we may live ever more faithfully in God’s loving presence, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 2 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Francis of Paola, Hermit (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 8 : 51-59

At that time, Jesus said to the Jews, “Truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never experience death.” The Jews replied, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died and the prophets as well, but You say, ‘Whoever keeps My word will never experience death.’ Who do You claim to be? Do You claim to be greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets also died.”

Then Jesus said, “If I were to praise Myself, it would count for nothing. But He Who gives glory to Me is the Father, the very One you claim as your God, although you do not know Him. I know Him, and if I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you. But I know Him and I keep His word. As for Abraham, your ancestor, he looked forward to the day when I would come; and he rejoiced when he saw it.”

The Jews then said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old and You have seen Abraham?” And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” They then picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and left the Temple.