Monday, 17 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, all of us are called to reflect on the need for us to have a new attitude in life when we follow Christ, and not to continue living our lives the way that the world always expects us to live our lives. As Christians we are called to be different in that we follow the path that the Lord has shown us and to embark on this journey of faith in life, with God as our Guide and as our focus. This is our calling as Christians that we should embrace wholeheartedly.

In our first reading today we heard from the Book of the prophet Samuel regarding the time when King Saul of Israel disobeyed the Lord and His will, following the whims of his own judgment and desires instead of obeying the Lord completely and trusting in Him. King Saul did not listen to the Lord’s words telling him to completely destroy the Amalekites, a group of people that had always harassed and attacked the Israelites all the way from the time of their Exodus. Instead, King Saul spared their property and wealth, their herd and even their king and women, contrary to the Lord’s words.

As such, because of this disobedience, King Saul led the people of Israel into sin as to him had been granted the leadership and the guidance of the people as the King of Israel. If the leader falls into sin, then so will the people and all those entrusted under him may fall into sin as well. That is why those entrusted with leadership has to be upright, just and committed to the path that they have been called to follow, to be obedient and faithful servant of God in the way that Samuel himself had done, but which King Saul had failed to do.

Saul failed because he allowed worldly ways, customs and habits, all the worldly desires and temptations, the temptations of power, wealth and glory to distract and mislead him down the wrong path. Saul allowed himself to be swayed by those things, and tried to make an excuse of wanting to offer some of those that he spared as offerings to God, but in truth, he did all that he had done because he wanted to increase his own wealth, his own prestige and his own standing, perhaps by negotiating with the Amalekites, and for various other reasons. But this is plain disobedience and refusal to follow God’s path.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus and His words speaking to His disciples and the people, using a parable to make His intent clear to them. The Lord spoke about the parable of the new cloth and old cloth, new wine and wineskin and old wine and wineskin. Through this parable, the Lord wanted to make it clear to all of us that following the Lord often requires us to change our way of life, not to adhere to the past norms of the world and all the things that we usually are accustomed to. This is why, linking to the previous part, the disobedience of King Saul, all of us are called to reflect on this as well.

The Lord used this parable because at that time, the people would have been aware of the way wineskins were used to store wine and how clothes were made and repaired. He used such simple examples as means to deliver His message to the people, to make them aware of what they were supposed to do in order to be His genuine followers. They have to change their ways to suit the path that the Lord has shown them, that is the path of righteousness and justice, of faith and commitment to His truth. They should not remain in their old ways or continue to walk down the path of sin.

As the Lord mentioned in our Scripture passages today, what He wanted from us is not merely just lip service or mere appearances only, as King Saul had intended to do. He wanted to offer sacrifices to the Lord from the ones he spared in the battle against the Amalekites as an excuse for the greed in his heart for power, wealth and majesty. What the Lord needed from us is our love and commitment for Him, for us to live according to what we have been taught to do, through the Church and the Scriptures. And we also have many good role models to follow in that endeavour.

One of them, whose feast day we celebrate today, is none other than St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as St. Anthony the Great. He was one of the earliest Christian monks and one of the pioneers of monasticism in Christendom, dedicating his life to the service of God by withdrawing to the wilderness of Egypt. He left everything he had and dedicated himself to God wholeheartedly. St. Anthony spent many years in this state of spiritual journey and purification, while it was told that the devil often sent other demons and fallen angels to strike at him. He endured it all with faith and grace.

His works then came to fruition with the advent of monasticism in Christianity, as more and more people who considered themselves as his disciples came to follow his examples and began to lead a life of purity and fidelity to God. They strove to seek the Lord and commit themselves to Him, not swayed by the temptations of the world, and changed themselves for the better, much in the same way as the Lord’s exhortations in our Gospel today had been made clear to us, that we ought to change our ways to adapt to that of the Lord’s ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having been inspired by St. Anthony, let us all therefore commit ourselves to the Lord anew with a renewed spirit and zeal. Let us all be ever more genuine Christians not just in appearances only, but even more importantly, in spirit and in all things. May God be with us always and may He empower us that we may walk with Him faithfully, and that we may find it in us to glorify His Name by our every words, actions and deeds. Amen.

Monday, 17 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 2 : 18-22

At that time, when the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting, some people asked Jesus, “Why is it, that both the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast, but Yours do not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the wedding guests fast while the Bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the day will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”

“No one sews a piece of new cloth on an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear away from the old cloth, making a worse tear. And no one puts new wine into old wine skins, for the wine would burst the skins, and then both the wine and the skins would be lost. But new wine, new skins!”

Monday, 17 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 49 : 8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23

Not for your sacrifices do I reprove you, for your burnt offerings are ever before Me. I need no bull from your stalls, nor he-goat from your pens.

What right have you to mouth My laws, or to talk about My Covenant? You hate My commands and cast My words behind you.

Because I was silent while you did these things, you thought I was like you. But now I rebuke you and make this charge against you. Those who give with thanks, offerings, honour Me; but the one who walks blamelessly. I will show him the salvation of God.

Monday, 17 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Samuel 15 : 16-23

Samuel then told Saul, “Enough! Let me tell you what YHVH said to me last night.” Saul replied, “Please tell me.” So Samuel went on and said, “Though you had no confidence in yourself, you became chief of the tribes of Israel, for YHVH wanted to anoint you king over Israel. Then He sent you with this command, ‘Go. Completely crush the Amalekite offenders, engaging them in battle until they are destroyed.’”

“Why then did you not obey the voice of YHVH but instead swooped down on the spoil, doing what was evil in His sight?” To this, Saul replied, “I have obeyed the voice of YHVH and have carried out the mission for which He sent me. I have captured Agag, king of Amalek and completely destroyed the Amalekites. If my men spared the best sheep and oxen from among these to be destroyed, it was in order to sacrifice them to YHVH, your God, in Gilgal.”

Samuel then said, “Does YHVH take as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to His command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission better than the fat of rams. Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and stubbornness like holding onto idols. Since you have rejected the word of YHVH, He too has rejected you as king.”

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded of the need for each and every one of us as Christians to follow the Lord and His commandments wholeheartedly, filled with genuine love both for God and for our fellow men. This is the essence of our Scripture passages today, as we heard both the account from the Book of Ruth in our first reading, and the account from the Gospel regarding the Lord speaking about the most important commandment in the Law.

In our first reading today, we heard of the reading from the Book of Ruth in which we heard about this Moabite woman who was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, an Israelite woman who had been bereft of her husband and her two sons, one of whom was Ruth’s first husband. Therefore at that time, both widows decided to come back to the land of Israel from their sojourn in Moab, Israel’s southern neighbour. Naomi told Orpah, her other daughter-in-law and Ruth both to leave her and return to their homeland, which Orpah did, but Ruth insisted that she would follow Naomi wherever she went, and Naomi’s God would be hers too.

We may notice that the Book of Ruth is unique in that it was named after a Moabite woman, hailing from a pagan people that was often in clashes against the Israelites. But what is truly extraordinary as we heard the story of how Ruth followed her mother-in-law to the land of Israel is that, her love for her mother-in-law and her readiness to be part of the people of Israel, and to embrace God was extraordinary, especially when considering that many among the Israelites themselves had not been faithful to God.

And even more significantly is the fact that Ruth was none other than the great-grandmother of the famous and important King David of Israel, as she would later on marry Boaz, one of Naomi’s relatives, and became the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, who then in turn was David’s father. Ruth was therefore that unique woman, a non-Israelite who came voluntarily to be part of God’s people, and who sincerely sought to care for her relatives, particularly that of her mother-in-law, a virtue which led Boaz to marry her.

This was a woman and servant of God who truly loved God and obeyed Him with all her heart, a fulfilment of the commandments that He has given to the people, which ironically many of those people had themselves disobeyed the same Law and commandments. And it was a foreigner, and a woman especially who proved to them that even others could become a disciple and follower of the Lord, if one came to love the Lord and embrace His path fully with faith, as Ruth had done.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of how the Lord told a teacher of the Law who asked Him which one among all the commandments of the Law was the greatest of all, and He responded that first and foremost everyone ought to love God beyond everything else, and to show that love by our actions and by our concrete devotion towards God. And we should also show this same love to our fellow brothers and sisters, to all those whom we encounter in this life that we may indeed be true Christians in all things, following the examples of God’s love itself.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we should look upon the examples set by our holy predecessors, in helping us to be truly faithful to the Lord, much like as what Ruth had done, a holy, God-fearing and righteous woman, through whom many generations afterwards were brought closer to God. It was probably not a surprise why David and his family were righteous and obedient to God given that they descended from this faithful and dedicated woman, whose story we are being reminded of today.

Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a renowned Abbot and servant of God, who was remembered for his great faith in the Lord, his holiness and piety, and his devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother of God, as well as everything that he had done for the sake of the Church, especially in its reforms and the modernisation of the religious orders and monasteries, by his establishment of the Cistercians in development from the Benedictine Order. St. Bernard of Clairvaux inspired many people and through his many works, he became very influential in the many aspects of the Church.

St. Bernard devoted many years in his numerous works throughout the Church, travelling from places to places and in being involved in the governance and management of the Church thanks to his close relationships with the Popes and the other leaders of the Church. He gave himself and entrusted everything to the Lord, and courageously as well as patiently enduring many challenges and trials as he did his best to serve the Lord and to be exemplary in his own lives and actions.

Let us all also be inspired by the examples which St. Bernard has shown, and let us commit ourselves to the Lord. May the Lord, our most loving God, have mercy on us and give us the strength to persevere in faith, now and always, evermore. Amen.

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 22 : 34-40

At that time, when the Pharisees heard how Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. One of them, a lawyer, questioned Him to test Him, “Teacher, which commandment of the Law is the greatest?”

Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the most important of the commandments. The second is like it : You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole Law and prophets are founded on these two commandments.”

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 145 : 5-6ab, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10

Blessed are they whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHVH their God, Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and all they contain.

The Lord is forever faithful; He gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord straightens the bent. The Lord loves the virtuous, but He brings to ruin the way of the wicked. The Lord protects the stranger.

He sustains the widow and the orphan. The Lord will reign forever, your God, o Zion, from generation to generation. Alleluia!

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ruth 1 : 1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22

There was a famine in the land during the time of the Judges, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah departed with his wife and two sons, to sojourn in the country of Moab. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died. She was left with her two sons, who married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.

After living in Moab for about ten years, Mahlon and Chilion also died; and Naomi was left bereft of husband and two sons. Having heard that YHVH had come to help His people by giving them food, Naomi prepared to return home.

But Ruth clung to her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law returns to her people and her gods. You too, must return. Go after her.” Ruth replied, “Do not ask me to leave you. For I will go where you go and stay where you stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.”

Thus it was that Naomi returned from Moab with her Moabite daughter-in-law and arrived in Bethlehem as the barley harvest began.

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.”