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.

Friday, 16 February 2018 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we focuses on the aspect of fasting and abstinence which we practice during this season of Lent. Now the Law of the Church prescribed that only on two occasions that we are required to fast, that is during Ash Wednesday as well as on Good Friday. Fasting refers to the practice of not eating more than the equivalent of two full meals in a day, which can be one full meal and two smaller meals, also known as collations.

Meanwhile abstinence refers to the practice of not eating meat and meat products, and instead, fishes and seafood are usually consumed. Both practices had their roots in the Scripture, with fasting as a common practice in the past for those who would like to purify themselves to be ready to meet up with God or to undertake important and holy tasks, in order to prepare themselves wholeheartedly. The Lord Jesus Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights before He began His ministry.

Then, abstinence is a practice linked to the moment when the Lord Jesus was crucified, sacrificing Himself and His Body and flesh for us on the cross, and as the word ‘flesh’ in Latin is the same as used for meat, thus, Christians practiced this abstinence from meat on Fridays, not just during Lent, but in fact throughout the whole year, as Friday marks the day when Good Friday happened, the day of Our Lord’s crucifixion and death on the cross.

It is important that we truly understand the reason why we fast and why we abstain from meat. In fact, abstinence itself is not restricted to the no consumption of meat alone, but can include any other things, pleasures and indulgences that we have, which we want to restrain in order to prepare ourselves better spiritually, mentally and physically, especially in this season of Lent, as we prepare for the coming of Holy Week and Easter.

Otherwise, we will end up being hypocrites in our faith, just as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done. The Lord rebuked them because they fasted in order to be seen by others as being pious and obedient to the Law, and they made a lot of fuss over many external observances of the laws of God, not just in the matter of fasting but also over prayer and other forms of piety, so that all those who saw them might praise them and honour them for what they had done.

Yet, their actions represent exactly what the prophet Isaiah had said in his preachings, which we heard in our first reading today. The prophet Isaiah condemned and rebuked all those who fasted and practiced their faith, and yet at the same time, committing things and actions which were contrary to the Law, such as lying, stealing and cheating on others, and even causing pain and sorrow to those whom they persecuted.

That was what the Pharisees had done, claiming to be pious through their actions and yet, they did their actions for the wrong reasons, seeking self-glorification and to satisfy personal ambitions and greed instead of for the greater glory of God as they should have done. It can be the same for us as well, when we do not practice our faith with the right actions and for the right reasons, even our fasting and abstaining during this season of Lent.

When we fast, do we do it because we truly love the Lord Our God so much, that we want to be rid of our sins and all of the wickedness inside each one of us by the practice of fasting, which restrains our desire and the temptations of our flesh, resulting in greater resilience and endurance in our faith? Or do we do it, because we want to be recognised by others as being pious and devout?

Do we abstain because we want to resist the temptations of our flesh or because we want to show off our piety for others? It is important that we think this thoroughly, as the actions we take without the right reasons will end up causing us to lose the true intention of what we are doing in this season of Lent. Are we doing our Lenten practices correctly so as to make our Lenten experience more meaningful?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, let us reflect on our respective lives, and think of how we can better commemorate this season of Lent, by living a life with a deeper commitment to prayer, spending more quality time with Our Lord, and through our closer relationship with Him, we may draw ever closer to God’s love and grace. And when we fast and abstain, let us, if we have not done so, do them with the right reason and intention.

Let us restrain our human emotions, all the greed, the jealousy, the pride, the ambition, the anger, the hatred and all the negativities present in our lives, through our pious actions and devotions, especially in this blessed season of Lent. May the Lord be with us in our journey of faith, committing ourselves ever more devoutly to the Lord, and that we may find eternal life, glory and joy with Him at the end of our journey. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 16 February 2018 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (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, 16 February 2018 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (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.