Friday, 20 July 2018 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened first of all to the exchange between the prophet Isaiah and Hezekiah, the king of Judah. At that time, king Hezekiah fell very ill and was about to die, even during the peak of his years, still relatively young by the standard of that age and time. King Hezekiah was desperate and he turned to the Lord for help, through His prophet Isaiah.

King Hezekiah lamented that even though he has been faithful to God, and that he had led the people to return to the true worship of the Lord, abandoning their former pagan idols, but he was soon to die and perish due to his illness. He prayed to the Lord with tears and regret, asking Him to keep in mind whatever good things he had done in his life. And God heard his prayers, extending his life.

In this, and in what we have seen through the Gospel passage, in which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised the Lord Jesus severely because He allowed His disciples to perform what was supposedly forbidden during the day of the Sabbath, we can see what the Lord’s true intention is for each and every one of us as Christians. As mentioned, He wanted mercy and not sacrifice.

What does this mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that the Lord wants from us true and genuine love, dedication and commitment. He does not want faith that is just a formality or a faith which is just for show to others. For example, king Hezekiah of Judah has indeed steadfastly loved the Lord, casting aside the idols that had been worshipped throughout Judah until then, and restoring the worship of God back to the people.

This is the kind of love and commitment which the Lord wants from each and every one of us, and not the kind of superficial love which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law has often shown. Many of them wanted to be praised and seen in the fulfilment of the obligations of their faith, and hence, they ended up subverting the Law itself to suit their own misguided and wicked agenda.

The Lord Jesus is reminding us through these passages of the Scriptures, that ultimately, God made His laws and revealed them to His people for a singular purpose, and that is, to bring them all back to His loving embrace. The Law was meant to reconcile mankind to God, and not to push away man from His salvation. That is why, the Law was meant to turn mankind’s heart back to God, and God sought the love and faith in each and every one of us.

In the end, as long as we cling on to the Lord, and put our trust in Him, we shall not be disappointed, for He will be with us and will protect us. He will not withhold His grace from us, and we shall be truly satisfied. Of course, there will be trials, challenges and tribulations, but ultimately, in the end, what awaits all of us who remain faithful to God will be eternal glory and true joy with God.

And God remembers and knows all that we have done in life, whether it is good deeds or wicked deeds. He remembered the deeds of king Hezekiah, and blessed him and gave him new lease of life according to His will, as He was pleased with what Hezekiah had done. He did not forget those who have been faithful to Him, but remembering them to the time when He will grant them His inheritance.

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we celebrate the feast of St. Apollinaris of Sweden, one of the early Church fathers, bishop of Ravenna and martyr of the faith. He was a truly dedicated servant of God, dedicating his whole life for the good of the flock entrusted under his care. St. Apollinaris endured many persecutions and hardships throughout his life that ended up with his martyrdom.

Yet, St. Apollinaris remained firm in his faith and conviction to serve the Lord and His people. He went through all the troubles and trials with faith, entrusting everything to God, in Whom he had complete and total faith in. This is a role model of the faith which all of us the faithful should adhere to, in all of our ways. Are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. Apollinaris of Ravenna?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on our lives, and think of how our lives have been influenced by our faith. Have our faith been genuine and filled with true love for God, or have we rather allowed ourselves to be overcome by our attachments to the world and ended up sidelining God, and having a life that was not centred on God? Let us all think about this, and see what we can do in the time to come, to be ever more faithful and committed, to be ever more true in our faith.

May the Lord be with us and bless our efforts and works, that in everything we say and do, we will always do them for the love of God, and also for the love and concern of our fellow men, as St. Apollinaris of Ravenna had shown us. May God be our strength and be our Light, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 20 July 2018 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 12 : 1-8

At that time, it happened that, Jesus walking through the wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry; and they began to pick some heads of wheat, to crush and to eat the grain. When the Pharisees noticed this, they said to Jesus, “Look at Your disciples! They are doing what is prohibited on the Sabbath!”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did, when he and his men were hungry? He went into the House of God, and they ate the bread offered to God, though neither he nor his men had the right to eat it, but only the priests. And have you not read in the law, how, on the Sabbath, the priests in the Temple desecrate the Sabbath, yet they are not guilty?”

“I tell you, there is greater than the Temple here. If you really knew the meaning of the words : It is mercy I want, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. Besides, the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Friday, 20 July 2018 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Isaiah 38 : 10, 11, 12abcd, 16

Once I said : In the noontime of my life I go; I am sent to the land of the dead, for the rest of my years.

I said : Never again shall I see YHVH in the land of the living; never again shall I see the inhabitants of the earth.

Like a shepherd’s tent, my dwelling has been pulled down and thrown away; like a weaver, You rolled up my life and cut it from the loom.

O Lord, give me back my health and give me back my life!

Friday, 20 July 2018 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Isaiah 38 : 1-6, 21-22, 7-8

In those days Hezekiah fell mortally ill and the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, went to him with a message from YHVH, “Put your house in order for you shall die; you shall not live.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to YHVH, “Ah YHVH! Remember how I have walked before You in truth and wholeheartedly, and done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of YHVH came to Isaiah, “Go and tell Hezekiah what YHVH, the God of his father David, says : I have heard your prayer and I have seen your tears. See! I am adding fifteen years to your life and I will save you and this city from the power of the king of Assyria. I will defend it for My sake and for the sake of David My servant.”

Isaiah then said, “Bring a fig cake to rub on the ulcer and let Hezekiah be cured!” Hezekiah asked, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the House of YHVH?” Isaiah answered, “This shall be for you a sign from YHVH, that He will do what He has promised. See! I shall make the shadow descending on the stairway of Ahaz go back ten steps.”

So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had covered on the stairway.

Thursday, 28 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of the beginning of the final downfall of the kingdom of Judah from the Book of Kings, when the king of Judah, Jehoiachin, was taken away into Babylon by its king Nebuchadnezzar and his forces, during the invasion of the Babylonians towards Judah and Jerusalem. The forces of Judah were no match for the Babylonians and they surrendered to the Babylonians.

At that time, the geopolitical situation of the region was volatile, and the kingdom of Judah was caught in between the major powers of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. The kingdom of Judah and its people depended on the Egyptians for protection against the Babylonians instead of depending on God, and they committed sins and wickedness against God. After king Josiah of Judah, there was no more kings of Judah who were faithful to God.

They depended on worldly power and strength to sustain themselves, and they did not repent despite the messengers and prophets sent into their midst calling them to repent from their sins and to turn themselves to God’s mercy and forgiveness. The prophet Jeremiah in particular was active during those days, up to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon.

But the people and their king refused to listen to God or to obey His will. They would rather listen to false prophets who arose, claiming that they spoke in the authority of God, bearing false witnesses and falsehoods that blinded the people of Judah from the upcoming retribution and judgment for their sins. They are indeed acting in the manner that the Lord mentioned in the Gospel today, as those who built their houses on the foundation of sand.

In today’s Gospel passage, we heard of the Lord Jesus teaching the people with a parable, comparing houses built on two different kinds of foundations. One house was built on the foundation of sand, while the other house was built on the solid foundation of rock. And the Lord mentioned how the house built on the firm foundation of rock was able to withstand the forces of wind and waves that batter it, and remained standing, while the house built on the weak foundation of sand collapsed.

What the Lord mentioned to the people with this parable was in fact comparing those who put their trust in the Lord, which is referring to the house built on the solid rock foundation, with those who place their trust in worldly power, strength and abilities, that is those who built their houses on the shaky and weak foundation of sand. For it is in the Lord alone, that we have a certain and sure future, and not in all worldly things that are merely temporary and uncertain.

Yet, it is often that we mankind put our trust too much in worldly things, shown in how we value money, material possessions, fame, glory and honour. We spent a lot of time trying to gain more of those things for ourselves, in pursuit of a successful career, gaining material benefits and fulfilling whatever standards of success and happiness, in accordance to the ways of the world.

And in doing so, we often end up forgetting the main purpose of our lives, that is, to glorify God, by our actions and deeds in life. Instead, our pride and our ego become the centre focus of our lives. We live not for God and for glorifying Him, but instead, for satisfying our own selfish desires, greed and to entertain our own pride, ambition and ego. That was why the people of Judah and their king had fallen into sin, just as we have fallen.

Now, perhaps each and every one of us should look upon the example of one particular saint, whose feast we celebrate today. St. Irenaeus, a renowned bishop and holy martyr of the Church, was exemplary in his actions in life and in his faith, that he ought to be an inspiration for each and every one of us as Christians. St. Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lugdunum in the Roman province of Gaul, in what is now modern day France.

He was especially remembered for his masterpiece, ‘Against Heresies’ written against the dangerous heresies at the time, particularly Gnosticism which were rampant at his time. The Gnostic heresy was a syncretic and false faith, created by the distortion of the truth of the Gospels and the teachings of the Apostles, which gained a lot of influence and sway in many members of the Church.

In particular, Gnosticism espoused exactly all the things that we have just mentioned earlier, the glorification of the earthly and worldly things, the embrace of the pleasures and corruption of the flesh, against the truth of the Lord, which liberated us from all of these temptations and false happiness. St. Irenaeus devoted himself to combatting these heresies and ensured that his flock remained true to the faith in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. Irenaeus, in how he courageously defended his faith and the truth of Christ against the opposition of the world itself, from the pagans who were persecuting the Church and from the heretics who sought to distort and turn the teachings of the Church upside down? Let us all follow in his footsteps and renew our faith in the Lord.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He continue to watch over us, day after day, that we will grow ever more devoted and more committed to Him, in every actions and deeds we do, so that in all of them, we will always glorify God every day and every moment that we live. Amen.

Thursday, 28 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 7 : 21-29

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not speak in Your Name? Did we not cast out devils and perform many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will tell them openly, ‘I have never known you; away from Me, you evil people!’”

“Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

When Jesus had finished this discourse, the crowds were struck by the way He taught, because He taught with authority, unlike their teachers of the Law.

Thursday, 28 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 78 : 1-2, 3-5, 8, 9

O God, the pagans have invaded Your inheritance; they have defiled Your holy Temple and reduced Jerusalem to rubble. They have given Your servants’ corpses to the birds, and the flesh of Your saints, to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out the blood of Your faithful, like water around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. Mocked and reviled by those around us, we are scorned by our neighbours. How long will this last, o YHVH? Will You be angry forever? Will Your wrath always burn to avenge Your rights?

Do not remember against us the sins of our fathers. Let Your compassion hurry to us, for we have been brought very low.

Help us, God, our Saviour, for the glory of Your Name; forgive us, for the sake of Your Name.