Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the first reading today, we listened about the humiliation of Israel, because of their sins and disobedience, they have been rejected by God, as they have rejected God first. The people of Israel had been uprooted from the land given to their ancestors, and had to endure humiliation in exile, because they were not faithful to the Covenant which God had made with them.

And they therefore had to endure the punishment due for their rebelliousness, and endure the bitter consequences that arise because of their own stubbornness and refusal to repent, despite the many reminders and the constant promptings from the Lord through His messengers and prophets. Instead, they hardened their hearts and persecuted those whom the Lord had sent to call them to return to Him.

Yet, the Lord in His most tender love and gracious mercy, was always ever willing to extend His generous offer of mercy and forgiveness to all of us. Through sin we have been sundered and cut off from His love and cast away from His grace, but through sincere and genuine repentance, all of us have been given the way out of our predicament, that is none other than, following the path that the Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, has shown us.

And in today’s Gospel passage, we heard about how the Lord encountered a faithful army centurion or captain, who came to Him asking for a favour of healing to his very sick servant, who was dear to him. In this passage, we heard the amazing and unusual action of the centurion, who, when the Lord was about to go into his house in order to heal the sick servant, uttered the words that we now utter at every celebrations of the Holy Mass.

‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.’ These were the words of the centurion, who later then added, ‘Just say the word, and my servant shall be healed.’ In these two sentences alone, were summed up the great profession of faith and sincere prayer made by the centurion to the Lord. Such a great faith amazed the Lord, Who immediately granted all that the centurion had asked for, and the servant was healed.

First of all, we must understand how, as an army centurion, it was likely that the centurion did not belong to the race of the Jewish people, or followed the Jewish traditions and faith. It was likely that he was both a Gentile or non-Jew, and a pagan. According to the customs and practices at that time, it was taboo for a Jew to enter into the house of a pagan and Gentile, as it would, according to the Jewish customs, defile the person.

That was why, the centurion, who was likely aware of this custom, would not want the Lord to be defiled by his non-Jewish and pagan background. And yet, through the words he said, in fact, as the Lord Himself pointed out, the centurion showed a pure and genuine faith, that was not found even among the Jews themselves. First of all, he admitted openly his sinfulness and unworthiness to receive the Lord into his humble abode. This is a trait that many of us did not have with us.

Then, he was filled with such a great faith and trust in the Lord, knowing that even if the Lord did not directly perform miraculous deeds or touch his servant to heal him, just through a word of the Lord, his servant would be immediately healed. The centurion trusted in the Lord so greatly, that he was totally unlike the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who had seen so many of the miracles and deeds performed by the Lord Jesus, but still refused to believe.

How many of us are able to be as humble and as faithful as the centurion? Do we truly love the Lord our God, with all of our heart, and give Him the very best of our attention and focus? Have we been true Christians in all of our actions and dealings? We are all called to follow in the footsteps of the faithful centurion, and truly mean it, every time we say at the Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under My roof.”

Now, today, we also celebrate the feast of the first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church. On this day, we celebrate those courageous members of the faithful who suffered the first great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire under the reign of the Emperor Nero. This feast is celebrated a day after the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, as it was likely that the two holy Apostles were martyred in Rome as part of this great persecution.

At that time, the Christian faith was flourishing in every parts of the Empire, despite the challenges they encountered from various origins. Many of the faithful also lived in the city of Rome, the capital of the Empire. And more and more of the faithful were added to the Church with every passing moment, as the fruits of the dedication and hard work shown by the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord.

Then, in the year 64 AD, a great fire engulfed most of the city of Rome, one which, according to historians, was started by the eccentric Emperor Nero himself, who quickly laid the blame of the fire on the growing Christian community. Hence, the first great persecution of the faithful began, and many were forced to choose between abandoning their faith and losing their lives.

Yet, many of the faithful, including St. Peter and St. Paul remained true to their faith, and refused to bend to the demands of those who persecuted them. They remained true to their faith in God, and devoted themselves wholeheartedly, and committed themselves, to the very end, courageously declaring their faith to the One Who has saved them from eternal damnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the examples set by the faithful centurion and the first holy martyrs of the Roman Church, shall we all be inspired by those examples that they have set? Shall we follow in their footsteps, and learn to commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to the Lord, in all the things that we say and do? This is our calling as Christians, and we are all challenged to be ever better Christians, day after day.

May the Lord bless us all, and may He strengthen each and every one of us in our faith. May He continue to watch over us and may He remain with us, on our side, through the challenges and trials of life, that we may remain wholly faithful to Him, at every moments of our life. First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, pray for us all, sinners still living in this world. Amen.

Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Matthew 8 : 5-17

At that time, when Jesus entered Capernaum, an army captain approached Him, to ask His help, “Sir, my servant lies sick at home. He is paralysed and suffers terribly.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

The captain answered, “I am not worthy to have You under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed. For I myself, a junior officer, give orders to my soldiers. And if I say to one, ‘Go!’ he goes; and if I say to another, ‘Come!’ he comes; and if I say to my servant, ‘Do this!’ he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, He was astonished; and said to those who were following Him, “I tell you, I have not found such faith in Israel. I say to you, many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; but the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown out into extreme darkness; there, they will wail and grind their teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the captain, “Go home now. As you believed, so let it be.” At that moment, his servant was healed. Jesus went to Peter’s house and found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with fever. He took her by the hand and the fever left her; she got up and began to wait on Him.

Toward evening, they brought to Jesus many people possessed by evil spirits; and with a word, He drove out the spirits. He also healed all who were sick. In this way, what was said by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled : He bore our infirmities and took on Himself our diseases.

Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 73 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7, 20-21

O God, have You rejected us forever? Why vent Your anger on the sheep of Your own fold? Remember the people You have formed of old, the tribe You have redeemed as Your inheritance. Remember Mount Zion, where You once lived.

Climb, and visit these hopeless ruins, the enemy has ravaged everything in the Sanctuary. Your foes have roared triumphantly in the holy place, and set up their banner of victory.

Like lumbermen felling trees, they smashed the carved panelling with hatchets, hammers and axes. They defiled Your Sanctuary and set aflame the dwelling place of Your Name.

See how they keep Your Covenant, in the dark caves of the land. Do not let the oppressed be put to shame; may the poor and needy praise Your Name.

Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Lamentations 2 : 2, 10-14, 18-19

Without pity YHVH has shattered in Jacob every dwelling. He has torn down in His anger the ramparts of Judah’s daughter. He has thrown her rulers and her king to the ground, dishonoured.

The elders of the daughter of Zion sit in silence upon the ground, their heads sprinkled with dust, their bodies wrapped in sackcloth, while Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads to the ground. With weeping, my eyes are spent; my soul is in torment because of the downfall of the daughter of my people, because children and infants faint in the open spaces of the town.

To their mothers they say, “Where is the bread and wine?” as they faint like wounded men in the streets and public squares, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms. To what can I compare you, o daughter of Jerusalem? Who can save or comfort you, o virgin daughter of Zion? Deep as the sea is your affliction, and who can possibly heal you?

Your prophets’ visions were worthless and false. Had they warned of your sins, your fate might have been averted. But what they gave you, instead, were false, misleading signs. Cry out to the Lord, o wall of the daughter of Zion! Oh, let your tears flow day and night, like a river. Give yourself no relief; grant your eyes no respite.

Get up, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him, for the lives of your children, who faint with hunger at the corner of every street.

Friday, 30 June 2017 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us celebrate the feast of the first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, remembering all those martyrs of the faith, who perished during the great persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero, in conjunction with what we celebrated yesterday in the great Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, both Apostles who also died in martyrdom during the same period of persecution.

At that time, the Church which the two Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul founded in the city of Rome, the capital and heart of the Roman Empire was truly flourishing with many converts from the Jewish and Gentiles communities alike. Many more people turned from their pagan gods to follow the Lord, Who have shown His glory through His Apostles and disciples, as we have heard in our Scripture passages today.

He healed them of their sickness and diseases, and caused evil spirits to go away from the people afflicted by them. He brought joy to the people much as Abraham in our first reading, faithful to the Covenant which God established with him, received his share of joy in the child whom God promised him, Isaac, his own son with his wife Sarah. And thus, the faithful God showed His love to His people, and many more people came to believe in Him.

But there were great oppositions from those who were not happy to see all these people becoming Christians, as those who believe in God. First of all, there were those who were opposed to the teachings of Christ, including those who were holding fast to the way of the Pharisees among the Jews, as well as those who were pagan in nature, the pagan philosophers and teachers who saw the Christian faith as a threat to them.

Then, the Imperial administration, the government, the Emperor and all the state officials viewed the Christian faith with suspect, particularly and primarily because, having adhered themselves completely and truly to the teachings of the Lord, refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman pagan gods and idols as well as to the Emperor, which was mandated from all the Roman citizens and subjects.

Therefore, the state carried out a great persecution of Christians, particularly in the city of Rome, when the perfect opportunity to scapegoat and blame them appeared as the Emperor Nero allegedly instigated the Great Fire of Rome, when most of the capital came down in a great fire that engulfed most of it. Christians were blamed for the fire, and many were put to death because of their faith as a result.

Many of the faithful were put to the gladitorial games in the Roman arenas, where they were thrown to the lions and wild beasts to be torn apart. Many were also put to death by beheading and by crucifixion. Yet, most if not all of these faithful people of God never feared, and they faced their death with faith, knowing that the Lord was with them, to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these should bring us to the reality of our faith, that as Christians, there will always be obstacles and challenges in our path, not least from this world and all those who belong to the world, all those who are opposed to the Lord, to His ways, His truth and His salvation. Remember, brethren, that the devil and his angels are always prowling about, waiting for us to fall into the trap of his sin, temptation and persuasion that we end up as their prey.

Therefore, let us all be inspired by the examples of the first martyrs of the Church of Rome, whose memory we celebrate on this day. Let us be inspired by their steadfast faith, and their refusal to let go of their principles and their faith, even if certainly they must have been persuaded to do so. Let us all thus stand firm in our faith, and be really obedient to the will of God, by our actions and deeds in this life.

May the Lord be with us always in our journey of life, and may He empower us all to become His faithful disciples so that in all of our actions in life, we will always bring glory to Him, and will be worthy to share in that inheritance He has granted to all of His saints and martyrs, not least those martyrs whose memory even now, we remember before Him. May God bless us all, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, 30 June 2017 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Matthew 8 : 1-4

At that time, when Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. Then a leper came forward. He knelt before Him and said, “Sir, if You want to, You can make me clean.”

Jesus stretched out His hand, touched him, and said, “I want to, be clean again.” At that very moment, the man was cleansed from his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you do not tell anyone; but go to the priest, have yourself declared clean, and offer the gift that Moses commanded as evidence for them.”

Friday, 30 June 2017 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Psalm 127 : 1-2, 3, 4-5

Blessed are you who fear YHVH and walk in His ways. You will eat the fruit of your toil; you will be blessed and favoured.

Your wife, like a vine, will bear fruits in your home; your children, like olive shoots, will stand around your table.

Such are the blessings bestowed upon the man who fears YHVH. May YHVH praise you from Zion. May you see Jerusalem prosperous all the days of your life.