Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we mark the beginning of the forty days of the season of Lent. On this Ash Wednesday, as we celebrate it every year, blessed ashes are imposed on the foreheads or heads of the faithful, reminding them of the penitential nature of this season. The time of Lent is a time of preparation for us to prepare ourselves in our hearts, minds and our whole being for the upcoming celebration of the mysteries of the Holy Week and Easter.

Ash Wednesday mark the beginning of this wonderful season and time, a time to turn inwards into ourselves and reflect about our lives, our actions and deeds thus far, whether everything has been going on well and whether we are in good standing with God, or whether we have lapsed and fallen along the way, due to the temptations we face in life, and due to our inability to resist the allures of the devil who is constantly trying to undermine us and drag us into sin.

On this day, the ashes are imposed on our heads with the words uttered by the priest, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ These words remind each and every one of us that we are mortals and mere creation, and that we were created from dust and had the breath of life given to us by God, as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Without God we are nothing, and without His love and grace, our existence is empty and meaningless.

Yet, many of us have forgotten about God and His love for us, and instead, we were busy with our many concerns and pursuits in this world. We spent most of our time trying to earn ourselves more money, more prestige, more worldly goods, praise from others, more pleasure and other things that led to our further slide deeper and deeper into sin.

Many of us are also too proud to admit that we have been wrong and mistaken, sinful and unworthy. We think that nothing can go wrong in our own lives, and that we are in control of everything we do. We think that we are the masters of our own lives and everything have to go in accordance to what we desire it to be, and when things do not go according to our desire, we end up becoming angry, jealous and negative.

In the world we live in today, we are inundated and often overwhelmed from every possible sources with the subliminal and often hidden messages, which are the ways that the devil tempt us with, of the materialistic and hedonistic way of life many of us are familiar with. We are presented with a way of life centred on our very selves, on the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ at the main focus, and we are conditioned to be selfish, to put our needs and desires ahead of others.

But let us ask ourselves, what does gaining more power, more wealth, more glory in this world, more prestige and status and all the other things we often desire in our lives can do to us? Can all these things last forever? Can all of them withstand the test of time, fire and all other things that often cause us sorrow because they can destroy all these things we deem to be precious to us?

Can any of those things I mentioned extend our life in this world for even a single second, or even a small fraction of a second? No! None of these will come to any use when the time appointed by the Lord for each and every one of us come upon us, the time of our death. That is the fact and reality which all of us must understand and be aware of, that all man must die. Death is the only certainty in life, and nothing else is less certain than the time of death.

That is why beginning from this Ash Wednesday and throughout the season of Lent, we are all invited to take a break from our daily schedules, business and all the things that have preoccupied us all these while. Year after year, the season of Lent represent a time for us to prepare ourselves, in mind, heart and body, to be able to celebrate the most important mysteries and aspects of our faith with proper disposition and understanding.

We must realise that we are mere mortals, and we will one day die, and we have to face this fact. Many of us are in fact obsessed and desiring to find ways to prevent death, or at least postpone the onset of death. We spent many hours and much money trying to find ways to keep ourselves healthy and looking young, some even resorting to medicines and physical surgeries and modifications, in order to make ourselves look younger and healthier, but how do all these things benefit us?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as I have mentioned earlier, our existence and life has no meaning without God, for it is God Who gave us our life, the breath of life He has given to each one of us. And just as He has freely given this life to each one of us, He is also free to take back the life at the time of His choosing, and it is not for us to decide when we are to die. Today, we all receive the ashes on our foreheads as reminders for our mortality and our sins.

For sin has corrupted us all, as the disease that is slowly consuming us from within. Sin is caused by our disobedience and refusal to follow the Lord’s will, and instead, following our own desires and wants, we rebelled against God and sin entered into our hearts. And unless if we do something about our sinful and corrupted state, we will not be allowed to enter into the new life and the eternal glory which God has prepared for us, His people.

We must be purified and cleansed before we are considered worthy of the Lord, and in order to achieve this, we must be willing to repent and turn away from all the sins and wicked things we do in life. Some of us are afraid to do so, because we are afraid that God is angry with us and therefore we hide from Him, and pretend as if everything is going fine. But if we do so, we are only lying to ourselves, and just as He knew about the sins committed by Adam and Eve, who pretended at first not to know anything about what they had done, God Who knows everything also knows every single sins we have committed, from the smallest to the greatest.

God knows that we have sinned, and He is disgusted and angry at all the sins we have committed. But His great love for us is far greater than His anger and disgust at us, and instead of being angry, He is rather more worried about us, on what will happen to us should we continue to walk in our path of sin. He is always ready to give us another chance, to show us the way back to His embrace and to love us once again fully with all of His most loving heart. However, it is us mankind who have always been stubborn and rejected His attempts to reconcile us with Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, as we enter into this sacred and contemplative season of Lent, and as we receive the blessed ashes on our forehead, let us first and foremost recognise that we are sinners and we are in need of help. And there is no one else we can turn to besides the Lord Himself. He is ever ready to welcome us back and to love us back fully as He had done before, but are we willing to open ourselves to accept His free offering of love and forgiveness?

During this season of Lent, we practice fasting and abstinence, as ways for us to restrain our human desires and to open ourselves to contemplation and direct our thoughts towards the Lord. However, when we fast and abstain from certain pleasures in life, we must also keep in mind that we must do them with the right reason in mind, or else, as mentioned in the Gospel today, we will end up falling back into sin. Do not fast or abstain for the sake of being praised by others, but rather because we want to return to God’s loving embrace.

Let us all then renew our faith in God, and commit ourselves to a new life, turning away from all the past sins we have committed, discarding from ourselves, the anger, the jealousy, the greed, the worldly desires and all that have thus far been obstacles in our journey back towards the Lord. May this time of Lent be a turning point in our lives, that we may reorientate ourselves towards God, to He Who loves us and reconcile ourselves with Him. May God be with us always, throughout this journey of faith. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 6 : 1-6, 16-18

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be seen in the synagogues and in the streets, in order to be praised by the people. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.”

“If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father, Who sees what is kept secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.”

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father Who is with you in secret; and your Father Who sees what is kept secret will reward you. When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so that people can see they are fasting. I tell you this : they have already been paid in full.”

“When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearances or for people, but for your Father Who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, Who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.”

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Corinthians 5 : 20 – 2 Corinthians 6 : 2

So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the Name of Christ, as if God Himself makes an appeal to you through us. Let God reconcile you; this we ask you in the Name of Christ. He had no sin, but God made Him bear our sin, so that in Him we might share the holiness of God.

Being God’s helpers we beg you : let it not be in vain that you received this grace of God. Scripture says : At the favourable time I listened to you, on the day of salvation I helped you. This is the favourable time, this is the day of salvation.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 12-13, 14 and 17

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; what is evil in Your sight I have done.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. O Lord, open my lips, and I will declare Your praise.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Joel 2 : 12-18

YHVH says, “Yet even now, return to Me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning. Rend your heart, not your garment. Return to YHVH, your God – gracious and compassionate.” YHVH is slow to anger, full of kindness, and He repents of having punished.

Who knows? Probably He will relent once more and spare some part of the harvest from which we may bring sacred offerings to YHVH, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, proclaim a sacred fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the community, bring together the elders, even the children and infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his bed, and the bride her room.

Between the vestibule and the altar, let the priests, YHVH’s ministers, weep and say : Spare Your people, YHVH? Do not humble them or make them an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples : Where is their God?

YHVH has become jealous for His land; He has had pity on His people.

Saturday, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard about the healing which God is offering to all of us His people, which He had made by offer through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into this world in order to become the salvation for all the people, and become healing for all those who have fallen into the sickness of sin, the disease of our souls.

The message which the Lord our God had announced to all in today’s readings is that all of us ought to change our lives, and reorientate them towards the Lord, so that if we have once committed sins and wicked acts, we must stop them immediately, no longer disobeying the Lord and His laws, and instead, beginning to follow Him and obey His ways, in all the things we do in this life.

God is merciful and loving, and He wants each and every one of us to be saved and freed from the torment of our sufferings because of our sins. He wants all of us to receive grace, peace and blessings because we have found our way to Him, and no longer are lost in the darkness of this world. That is why He had given His mercy and love so freely through Christ, through Whom He gathered all of us to Himself.

However, many of us do not realise that it is we ourselves who have been stubborn and resistant to God’s mercy and love. We have not been willing to welcome God’s mercy in our hearts, and all of these is because of first of all, our human pride and ego, refusing to believe that we have erred or committed a mistake in our lives. We are not willing to allow God to come in and transform our lives, just because we have too much ego and cannot bear others to see that we have humbled ourselves.

That was exactly what happened to the Pharisees and the elders, the teachers of the Law and the chief priests. Many of them criticised Jesus for having embraced and walked among the tax collectors and prostitutes, and even calling some of His disciples from among them, one of whom was Levi, whose calling was part of the Gospel we heard today. Jesus called Levi from his tax collector post, and he willingly left behind everything in order to follow Him.

Those tax collectors had been hated and resented by the population as a whole, because especially upon the instigation of the Pharisees, they had been seen as traitors of the nations and the people, having worked with their Roman conquerors and helping them in administrative works such as the collection of taxes, resented by the people as a whole.

But many of them were aware of their status and their sins, and when God called them through Jesus His Son, they responded in kind and turned away from their sinful ways, as Levi had done, and followed Him wholeheartedly. They followed Him and were saved because of their sins, and because they humbled themselves before God, fully knowing of their sins and unworthiness, unlike that of those who have accused them.

The same mercy and love have been offered by God to all, but while those who accepted God’s mercy were forgiven, those who refused to acknowledge their sins had not received His mercy. They have haughtily thought that they were worthy of God but they have overlooked their own sins. They thought that they were without blame, but they failed to recognise their own shortcomings and sins. In this manner, those tax collectors and sinners they had ridiculed came before them in attaining God’s salvation and grace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we need to understand from today’s Scripture readings is that, no one is truly beyond God’s forgiveness and ability to forgive, unless they themselves reject being loved and being forgiven by God. God extended His love and grace to all, without any exceptions, and therefore all of us need to respond in kind, doing what we can in order to love Him back, and devote ourselves to Him.

This season of Lent is a very good opportunity for us to reevaluate ourselves and our lives, whether we are ready to continue moving forward in our path towards God’s grace and salvation, or whether we need time to reevaluate and rethink the direction of our lives. It is a good time for us to heed the examples of the holy saints and the holy people of God in the ages past, who had lived a righteous and worthy lives, as examples for us to emulate and follow.

St. Casimir of Poland for example, the holy saint whose feast we celebrate today, is an exceptional role model for our faith. He was a royal prince of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, and eventually became its crown prince after the death of his elder brother. However, despite his noble and high position in life, St. Casimir was renowned to be a person filled with humility and compassion, known for his charity and love for the poor, and for his pious works and devotions to God.

He led a life wholly committed and dedicated to the Lord, and showed others by example on how they ought to be faithful to their Lord and God. He inspired many others in following his footsteps and after his early death at the age of twenty-five, many people continued to venerate him and follow on his examples in their lives, imitating the holy saint for his exemplary life and piety.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on our own lives today and henceforth, and remembering what St. Casimir had done, let us all open our hearts to the Lord, allowing Him to enter into them and thus transforming us from dirty and unclean vessels into worthy and glorious vessels of His Presence. Remember that God Himself has chosen to reside in us, and therefore, all of us need to turn away from our sins and embrace God’s mercy and love. Sin no more and follow the Lord in all that we say and do.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He strengthen us and our resolve to be ever more faithful to Him. Let us all throw far away our pride and arrogance, our human resistance and weaknesses, that we will not end up like the Pharisees who rejected God’s love and mercy, but instead be like Levi and the tax collectors, who humbly repented their sins, and were gloriously transformed by God’s love. May God bless us all always. Amen.

Saturday, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, Jesus went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax-office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners to a change of heart.”