Saturday, 27 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are reminded of the importance of obeying the Law and commandments of the Lord in our lives, to be obedient to God and to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to His cause. The Lord has called us all to follow Him and this is what we should be doing with our lives, to walk in His path faithfully and to do what He has asked us to do.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy the account of the moment when Moses spoke to the people of Israel with regards to the Law and the Commandments that God has revealed to them through him. God has given His people those laws and commandments in order to help and guide the people in their path and journey that they may remain firm and faithful to the path that He has shown them and not fall instead to the false ways and the temptations of the world.

Moses reminded the people to obey the ways of the Lord and to keep faithfully His precepts within their hearts, to understand and appreciate what it means to be God’s beloved and chosen people, that is to be those whom God had favoured and blessed. God has established His Covenant with Abraham, their forefathers and their other ancestors, and thus, as part of the Covenant that God had made and subsequently renewed with them, the people of Israel had to keep the Law and the commandments faithfully.

However, as history showed it through the accounts of the Scripture and others, the people of Israel did not always remain faithful. They fell again and again into sinful ways, abandoning God for the comforts of life and the allures of pagan idols and gods, and they forsake the Law and the commandments which they and their ancestors had sworn to keep as part of the Covenant between God and them.

Yet, as we can see throughout the Scriptures in the Old Testament, the Lord did not give up on His people as He kept on sending messengers and prophets, one after another to remind the people and to help them in finding their path back towards Him. The Lord then sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, to our midst to be the fulfilment of all the prophecies and the promises He has made, in saving those whom He loved, the sons and daughters of mankind.

And in our Gospel passage today we heard how the Lord told His disciples to show love to one another generously, especially towards those who have despised and been angry towards them, those who had persecuted them and made their lives difficult. The Lord wanted them all to show true love and generous charity, care and compassion towards one another, in the same way that He has loved them, for indeed, that is the true essence, meaning and purpose of the Law which He has imparted to all of them through Moses and the prophets.

Through the Lord and His revelation of truth, the waywardness of the people and all those who professed to follow the Law like many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been exposed. Instead of just merely focusing on the superficial and the minute details of the Law and its many rules and regulations, but not understanding the true meaning and purpose of the Law, the Lord wanted all of us to be able to truly understand what His Law is all about, and ultimately how we can bring ourselves closer to Him through our true and wonderful obedience to His Law and commandments.

Many of our predecessors had not been faithful because they failed to understand that in order to have true and genuine faith in the Lord, we need to practice what we believe in within our own lives, to show the love we ought to have for God and to love Him just as He has loved us all these while. And the same love we should also show to our fellow brethren, to all those whom we encounter, and even, as the Lord Himself said, to show love to those who have not loved us and despised us. This is our calling as Christians, to be holy in life and to be exemplary in how we act towards one another.

And today we can also imitate the good examples set by St. Gregory of Narek, an Armenian saint and Abbot just recently elevated to the position of a Doctor of the Church by Pope Francis and inserted in the General Roman Calendar for celebration in the Universal Church. St. Gregory of Narek was renowned for his piety and great contributions to the faith in Armenia where he was a priest and abbot, especially for his works on the literature work of the Book of Lamentations, a great compilation of poetry and other literary expressions of the love for God.

St. Gregory of Narek also worked on other literary pieces of work, and he was renowned for his piety as well, which inspired so many people throughout history. He showed his love for God through his own unique way, and we too can follow in his dedication and desire to love God in our own way of life. Are we willing and able to commit ourselves to that, brothers and sisters in Christ? Let us all consider this carefully throughout this season of Lent so that we may make best use of this time to glorify the Lord anew through our lives.

May God bless us all and may He strengthen each and every one of us so that we may always persevere in faith despite all the challenges and the many temptations that we face daily in life. May God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 27 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 43-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You have heard that it was said : Love your neighbour and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you : love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.”

“If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect.”

Saturday, 27 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 118 : 1-2, 4-5, 7-8

Blessed are they whose ways are upright, who follow the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they who treasure His word and seek Him with all their heart.

You have laid down precepts to be obeyed. O, that my ways were steadfast in observing Your statutes!

I will praise You with an upright spirit when I learn Your just precepts by heart. I mean to observe Your commandments. O, never abandon me.

Saturday, 27 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 26 : 16-19

On this day, YHVH, your God, commands you to fulfil these norms and these commandments. Obey them now and put them into practice with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today YHVH has declared to you that He will be your God, and so you shall follow His ways, observing His norms, His commandments and His laws, and listening to His voice. Today YHVH has declared that you will be His very own people even as He had promised you, and you must obey all His commandments.

He, for His part, will give you honour, renown and glory, and set you high above all the nations He has made, and you will become a nation consecrated to YHVH, your God, as He has declared.

Friday, 26 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are called to reflect on what it means for us to be Christians, that is to be followers of Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. To be Christians mean that we are all called to action, to be truly righteous, good and just in our every actions and dealings, in our words and interactions with one another. Otherwise, we are no better than hypocrites that have no real faith in God.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel a very important and clear explanation of what it means for us to be a follower of the Lord and how our actions and choices in life can either be good or terrible for us, and all that we say and do, are all ultimately accountable to the Lord in the end. We shall be judged for all the good things we have done, just as we shall be judged for all the bad and the failures in our lives. All these will determine whether we will end up being with God for eternity or whether we will end up in eternal damnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the prophet Ezekiel spoke firmly of how the righteous, if they committed sins and wicked deeds, they shall be held accountable by those things, and they would even face damnation were those deeds be great enough to merit damnation and punishment. On the other hand, even the wicked would be saved and blessed by God should they commit their lives to the Lord and turned a new leaf, in embracing the Lord’s ways and rejecting their sinful past.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? And how is this significant and important for us? It means that there is always a way out for us from sin, and that is through God’s grace and forgiveness. If we are sincere in our desire to repent and in our regrets for our many sins, and if we want to be forgiven by God for those sins, then we shall be forgiven. Otherwise, if we do not make the effort to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, how can we then expect to be forgiven?

The Lord told His disciples in our Gospel passage today that they all had to be more faithful and more genuine in their faith and lives than the Pharisees, or else they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This comment and words were made with the context that the Pharisees at that time were mostly self-righteous in the way that they saw and perceived themselves, thinking that their piety and actions gave them the privileged status among the community.

Those Pharisees and teachers of the Law professed to be faithful and exemplary in the way they lived their lives and faith, however, they did not have a genuine love and dedication to the Lord. They loved themselves and were more concerned about their own standing and appearances, status and privileges rather than truly being faithful. They were more concerned with their own privileges and benefits rather than with the responsibility placed on their shoulders as the guide of the people.

That was why they showed little to no concern of the wellbeing of the people, especially those whom they should be on the lookout for. Instead, by burdening the people with harsh and strict laws and rules of the Law, they made it difficult for others to seek the Lord, and they also purposefully closed the doors to salvation to the people like tax collectors, the prostitutes and all those considered as the lowest and the worst of all. This was why the Lord was looking for all these people instead, to help and lead them on down the path towards eternal life.

That is why the Lord mentioned how the faithful need to be more faithful and dedicated than those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, or else they would not be able to enter the kingdom of God. Linking this with the first reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we are reminded how even those who were considered and considering themselves as righteous could be dragged down by their own pride and vanity, their own greed and desire as what happened to the Pharisees, while those who were great sinners could be redeemed should they sincerely desire to repent and be forgiven, as what happened to many tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners touched by the Lord Jesus.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we are reminded that each and every one of us must be truly faithful to God and must be filled with genuine and sincere love for Him, with the sincere and true desire to follow the Lord with all of our hearts. And we should not be proud with ourselves or looking down on others just because we think that we are better than them. On the contrary, we should inspire one another to be ever stronger in faith and to persevere through the challenges we may encounter in life.

May the Lord be our guide, and may He strengthen us all in our journey of faith so that as we progress through this blessed season and time of Lent, we may rediscover the love we have for God and we may grow ever more devoted to Him with each and every passing moments. Amen.

Friday, 26 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 20-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you then, if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to our people in the past : Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you : whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial.”

“Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or a sister, ‘Fool!’ deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell. So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”

“Do not forget this : be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.”

Friday, 26 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8

Out of the depths I cry to You, o Lord, o Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness.

For that You are revered. I waited for the Lord, my soul waits, and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects the Lord more than watchmen the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with Him is unfailing love and with Him full deliverance. He will deliver Israel from all its sins.

Friday, 26 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Ezekiel 18 : 21-28

If the sinner turns from his sin, observes My decrees and practices what is right and just, he will live, he will not die. None of the sins he committed will be charged against him, he will live as a consequence of his righteous deeds. Do I want the death of the sinner? – word of YHVH. Do I not rather want him to turn from his ways and live?

But if the righteous man turns away from what is good and commits sins as the wicked do, will he live? His righteous deeds will no longer be credited to him, but he will die because of his infidelity and his sins. But you say : YHVH’s way is not just! Why, Israel! Is My position wrong? Is it not rather that yours is wrong?”

“If the righteous man dies after turning from his righteous deeds and sinning, he dies because of his sins. And if the wicked man does what is good and right, after turning from the sins he committed, he will save his life. He will live and not die, because he has opened his eyes and turned from the sins he had committed.”

Thursday, 25 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded of the power of God’s love and providence, and how fortunate we all truly are for having the Lord by our side, constantly loving us and providing for us, as He has also showed to all those who have been faithful to Him. And we only have to ask Him and seek Him for help, to put our trust in God and to have faith in Him and His providence.

In our first reading today, we heard of the prayer of Queen Esther of Persia asking for the Lord’s help and intervention for the sake of her people. Queen Esther herself was a Jew, and by the grace of God she was chosen out of many to be the Queen of Persia, then the mightiest power in the world. At that time, many of the descendants of the Israelites, the Jewish people, were scattered all across the lands of the Persian Empire, and some among them were living in the lands of the Persians, including Queen Esther and her relative, Mordechai.

Queen Esther sought God’s help because the enemies of the Jewish people, led by Haman the Agagite and his family plotted the downfall of the Jewish people, making use of Haman’s powerful position and connections, as well as the animosity and ill-feeling that many had against the Jewish people, as previous generations of Jews had been favoured by the rulers of Media and Persia, and therefore earned the ire and animosity of others. The prophet Daniel for example, had been challenged and encountered opposition from his enemies during his lifetime.

At that time, Haman and his plots managed to result in the king declaring solemnly in the irrevocable formal law of the land, for the destruction of the entire nation and people of the Israelite descent, for the Jewish people to be eradicated completely. And thus, the existence of the entire people of God was under dire threat at the time, and they had no one else to turn to but God. Mordechai, Queen Esther’s relative came to her asking for her help in the matter, and Esther therefore prepared herself to meet the king for the showdown.

Esther’s position was especially precarious because in doing so she would be disobeying her husband, the King. Her predecessor, Queen Vashti was deposed and exiled for precisely the same reason, for her refusal to obey the King and for acting contrary to the orders of the King. As she was not allowed to come to the King uninvited, to do so would be tantamount to her walking the same path as Queen Vashti, therefore risking her position, life and everything she had.

But Esther was ready to do it all for the Lord and for her people, and she asked for the courage, for strength and guidance to walk the path that she was about to take. And God did guide her and help her, with wisdom and strength, and the love that the King had for Esther prevailed, as together Esther and him managed to defeat and overturn Haman’s plots against the Jewish people, allowing the latter to fight back against all those who sought to destroy them.

As we can see here, and as reiterated clearly in our Gospel passage today, God truly is our loving Father Who cares for us and Who desires nothing else other than our own good. If only that we ask Him, seek Him and entrust ourselves to Him, then He shall give us what we need, He shall guide us and strengthen us with wisdom and proper guidance. Alas, many of us were often too impatient, or think that God does not listen to us simply because we thought that He did not grant us what we want and what we desire. But God gives what we truly need, and not what we wanted.

The question is, are we willing to trust the Lord and to entrust ourselves to Him? Are we willing to seek the Lord and to make the effort to find Him and to follow Him wherever He leads us to? Do we have the courage and the love of God, as well as the faith and dedication like that of Queen Esther? Esther has shown us all that if we trust the Lord and ask Him, He will surely provide for us, and we have nothing to fear at all. We may encounter challenges, trials and indeed, suffer a lot, but in the end, we shall be triumphant together with God.

Therefore, these days, as we navigate through the many challenges of life and the various trials we encounter in life, let us all renew our devotion to God, our faith and trust in Him. Let us all not be afraid to seek the Lord and ask Him for protection and guidance. And let us also trust Him when He leads us forth into the journey He has shown us. Let us all follow the Lord from now on and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to His path, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 25 February 2021 : 1st Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 7 : 7-12

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; and the door will be opened to him who knocks.”

“Would any of you give a stone to your son, when he asks for bread? Or give him a snake, when he asks for a fish? As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

“So, do to others whatever you would that others do to you : there you have the Law and the Prophets.”