Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the first one in the season of Lent, all of us are gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist and having heard the word of God from the Scripture passages today, we are all called to remember what we all need to do during this time of Lent, the time of renewal and rejuvenation of our spiritual, mental and physical existence.

The season of Lent spans the forty days period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, marking a special season and time of preparation and contemplation, during which time we also practice fasting and abstinence, namely the practice of restraining our physical bodies by means of reducing our intake of food to just one full meal and two smaller meals, as well as not eating certain kind of food such as meat during Fridays in remembrance of Our Lord’s sacrifice on Good Friday.

This is a special time set aside by the Church for the good of all the faithful, because all of us indeed need to be fully prepared to celebrate the most important mysteries and tenets of our faith which culminates during the Holy Week and Easter, when we commemorate the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, Who died on the cross that all of us who believe in Him may live.

Why do we need to prepare ourselves to celebrate those important events of our faith? That is because we should not and indeed must not be giving lip service for our faith, and if we come to the celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter without preparing ourselves first, in body, mind, heart, spirit and soul, we are shortchanging ourselves and not helping ourselves in our journey to seek God’s salvation.

Each and every one of us must take it seriously upon ourselves, to prepare ourselves spiritually throughout this season of Lent. The time of Lent itself, spanning forty days has a very rich biblical background and roots, if we refer back to what we have heard in today’s readings and from our understanding of the Scriptures. The number forty has a very significant meaning, often found throughout the Scriptures representing a significant length of time linked with a time used for preparation before a certain holy occasion.

For example, Moses spent forty days atop the mount Sinai with God, as he listened to Him speaking His words and passing down His laws and commandments as part of the Covenant He made with them, and then the prophet Elijah also spent forty days and forty nights in journey through the desert as he travelled to meet God after he was terribly persecuted in the land of Israel. When Elijah met God, He made it clear to him what He wanted him to do for the sake of His people, to call them to conversion and repentance.

In our first reading today, we heard about the Great Flood which happened at the time of Noah, in the early years of mankind’s history. Much of the world were then filled with wickedness and sin, and Noah alone among all those people, the descendants of Adam and Eve, remained faithful to God and His ways. The Lord sent the flood through non-stop rain and the seas which lasted for forty days and forty nights before it stopped and the water starting to recede after that.

Again, in this case, we see the importance attached to the number forty as a period of time spent, as a major event in the history of our faith took place. Then, later on, in the Book of Exodus, we may also remember how the people of Israel spent forty years in the desert, as they waited for the opportunity to enter the Promised Land after their Exodus from Egypt. The journey should not have taken that long, but the people of Israel rebelled against God, and as they continued to be stubborn and refused to obey Him, God punished them to wander off in the desert for forty years.

In all these, we see the journey and the progression made during that period, be it forty days or be it forty years in the case of the Israelites. From a state of sin, disobedience, wickedness, unworthiness and from the clutches of darkness, those who were involved were transformed by their respective experiences, into a new state, a state of grace, of obedience, of righteousness, of joy and entering into a new Covenant with God.

In the first reading today, God made a Covenant with His servant Noah, after the end of the forty days and night of rain and after the Great Flood receded. He promised him and his descendants that He will never again send any flood to destroy the earth and its entire inhabitants as He had done at that time. He put the bow in the sky, the rainbow as the sign of His covenant and as a remembrance of His saving love, having spared Noah and his descendants, including all of us from total destruction, because of their faith.

And God renewed the Covenant He made with Israel after they had survived the forty years of journey in the desert and entered into the lands which He had promised to them and settled there. It was a time of renewal and a time of renewed grace, which was once lost because of the disobedience of their forefathers. Those who have disobeyed the Lord perished in the desert and were left behind, while those who were faithful were allowed to enter into the Promised Land and settle there.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how are all these readings and references I brought from the Scriptures relevant to us? They are indeed important for us, to be remembered and to be reflected upon, as we embark on our own forty days of preparation during this season of Lent. The first thing that we must ask ourselves is, ‘What have we done or what do we have in mind, in order to make our observation of Lenten practices more meaningful and fruitful?’

We do not need to look any further than the examples set by the Lord Jesus Himself, Whom in the Gospel today mentioned about His temptation by the devil in the desert as He fasted there for forty days. Again, in this yet another occasion, the number forty made its appearance. This time, it represents the time spent by the Lord right after His baptism by St. John the Baptist before He began His earthly ministry.

The devil tempted the Lord Who was hungry after going for forty days without food and sustenance, telling Him that He could just turn the stones into bread, and His hunger would have been easily satisfied. But the Lord rebuked Satan, saying that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Through those words, the Lord Jesus is indeed speaking to us and calling on us to be faithful to Him in this season of Lent.

And how do we do that? In this season of Lent, as mentioned, all of us fast and abstain on certain times and periods, with the purpose of resisting the temptation of greed, of human desires and wants. But do we realise that fasting and abstaining alone is not enough, if we do not fully comprehend its significance? If we just do those practices for our own benefit, then I fear that we may not be doing it right.

Instead, we should heed what the Lord said, ‘but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ as reminders that we should do our fasting, abstinence and other forms of piety and Lenten observances because ultimately we love the Lord, and we want to listen to Him and do His will, and obey Him in everything that He has commanded us to do. This is what all of us should be doing as Christians.

And then, we should also be always vigilant lest the devil tempt us in many other ways, as he had done to the Lord Himself. The devil tempted the Lord with power and pride, when he asked Him to leap down from the top of the Temple of Jerusalem, arguing that the Angels would not let His feet to hit the ground. Satan tempted the Lord with pride, knowing that it is pride that was the greatest of his own sin, having been proud with his own greatness, once the greatest and most brilliant among the Angels, Lucifer, fallen from grace because of his pride.

But the Lord would not fall into the temptation, and rebuked Satan for his attempt to test God with that act. Yet, Satan is not a being who would just easily give up. If he could not tempt the Lord, he would just continue to tempt us as he had always done, tempting us with pride, and also with power and worldly glory, as how he showed Jesus with all the kingdoms and the glories of the world, saying that he would give it to Him if only He would worship him. The Lord rebuked him and cast him away, saying that God alone is worthy of worship.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time of Lent, we are called to spend our time well, on a time of preparation, on a time of spiritual renewal and the rediscovery of our faith, by means of prayer, by being closer to God, and by resisting the temptations with which Satan and his allies are trying to subvert us and to snatch us away from God and His saving grace.

Are we able to stay strong in our faith and resist the temptations of our flesh, imitating the examples shown by Our Lord Himself? Are we able to move beyond worldly matters and concerns, and grow to love the Lord ever more strongly, as we deepen our prayerful and love-filled relationship with Him? Are we able to show the same love to our brethren as well? There are many out there who are in need of our help and our love.

When we fast and abstain in this season of Lent, instead of just omitting the meal and the food, let us all use the spare food, the blessings and graces we received to be more charitable for the need of those who have little or none on their own. While we restrain our human greed, ambition and desires, let us remember how our greed and our desires have caused many to suffer, from hunger, from lack of love, from destitution and more.

Let us pray, that all of us Christians throughout the world, within our families and among our friends, we may all benefit greatly from this season of Lent, drawing ever closer to God’s grace, and be worthy to receive His love, mercy and compassion. May we spend these forty days with full understanding of how by growing stronger in spirituality and in our relationship with God will enable us to be better disciples and followers of the Lord. Let us all be more charitable, generous with our giving and loving for our brethren, especially those who are in need.

May the Lord be with us throughout this forty days of prayer and contemplation, throughout this season of Lent, that we will be able to make best use of it, for the sake of the salvation of our souls, that we will be worthy in the end, to receive the fullness of God’s promise as He has made through His Covenant with us, made through the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, the reason why we fast and why we abstain, to prepare ourselves to commemorate the greatest event of our faith, Our Lord’s suffering, death and glorious resurrection. May God bless us all. Amen.

Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Mark 1 : 12-15

At that time, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. He stayed in the desert forty days and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, but Angels ministered to Him.

After John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways and believe the Good News.”

Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

1 Peter 3 : 18-22

Remember how Christ died, once, and for all, for our sins. He, the Just One, died for the unjust, in order to lead us to God. In the Body, He was put to death, in the Spirit, He was raised to life, and it was then, that He went to preach to the imprisoned spirits.

They were the generation who did not believe, when God, in His great patience, delayed punishing the world, while Noah was building the Ark, in which a small group of eight persons escaped, through water. That was a type of baptism that now saves you; this baptism is not a matter of physical cleansing, but of asking God to reconcile us, through the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

He has ascended to heaven, and is at the right hand of God, having subjected the Angels, Dominions and Powers.

Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 24 : 4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9

Teach me Your ways, o YHVH; make known to me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and instruct me, for You are my God, my Saviour.

Remember Your compassion, o YHVH, Your unfailing love from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, but in Your love remember me.

Good and upright, YHVH teaches sinners His way. He teaches the humble of heart and guides them in what is right.

Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Genesis 9 : 8-15

God spoke to Noah and his sons, “See I am making a Covenant with you and with your descendants after you; also with every living animal with you : birds, cattle, that is, with every living creature of the earth that came out of the Ark. I establish My Covenant with you. Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the Covenant I make between Me and you, and every animal living with you for all future generations. I set My bow in the clouds and it will be a sign of the Covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember the Covenant between Me and you and every kind of living creature, so that never again will floodwaters destroy all flesh.”

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word. If you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fall. Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses.

If you stop profaning the Sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the Sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Sunday, 11 February 2018 : Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Marian apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous in what is now famous as the pilgrimage site of Lourdes in southern part of France. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God appeared to the young St. Bernadette Soubirous, calling mankind to repentance and to be forgiven from their sins, by sincerely turning away from their past wickedness and embrace God’s mercy.

And during those apparitions, the Blessed Virgin showed St. Bernadette the place of a spring which gushed forth from the ground, and have ever since been gushing out water, which is holy and blessed, and have for the past one and a half century since the apparition, shown miraculous properties, and healed many of those who came to visit Lourdes on pilgrimage. Pope St. John Paul II himself went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes just a year before his passing, having long suffered from his illnesses.

That is why it is all the more fitting that today’s Scripture passages match so well with the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, celebrated every year on the eleventh day of February, the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes as mentioned earlier. In the first reading today we heard what God instructed to Moses and Aaron with regards to the disease most feared in those days, namely leprosy, while in the Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself healing a leper.

In the Old Testament, God gave to Moses the laws which He had established to be followed and obeyed by the people, which included many aspects of societal life, including what to be done when a person fell ill with diseases, in particular leprosy, which was likely a highly contagious version of the leprosy as we know it today, easily spreading from one person to another, unless certain measures were taken to prevent the outbreak of a pandemic.

Understanding the Law which God has passed on to Moses require us to look carefully into what had happened at that time, the historical and societal background of the Israelites at the time when the laws were given to them. At that time, Israel were travelling on the long journey from Egypt towards the Promised Land, travelling in a desert where staying together in a closely knitted community would be essential to survival.

Wandering off alone in the desert would bring about great risks to the people, who could end up getting lost or struck by predators without being able to get the necessary help. However, staying close together in camps and tents within the community of Israel at the time, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands if not more, exposed the whole community to great risk of disease outbreak.

That is the reason why God made the rule for the occasion such that, all those who contracted contagious disease such as leprosy were obliged to leave the camp and live outside the community until his disease and all of its symptoms have been healed. Otherwise many more people in the community would be infected by the contagious disease, and many more would have suffered.

Yet, this did not mean that those lepers who were obliged to live outside the community were forgotten. God did include the rule that should their condition improved and their disease were cured, they would be able to return to the community of the people of Israel, after having presented themselves to the priests who would then judge whether the person was to be allowed to return or not.

In the Gospel passage today, it is evident that whatever the practices were during the time of Jesus, it was no different from the practices at the time of Moses. The lepers were feared and shunned, just as it was in the past, forced to live away from the people and outside of the community until they were able to show that they have recovered from their leprosy. And it was on that occasion mentioned in the Gospel passage today that Jesus met one of those lepers who asked Him to heal him.

Indeed, He had mercy on the man and healed him from his leprosy. That is what God truly wanted with His people, for He loves each and every one of them without exception, equally and without prejudice. That was why He wanted them to be healed from their pains and sufferings, including the stigma and suffering caused by the leprosy the man and many others contracted.

This is what each of us should know, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are all afflicted and sick. We may be perfectly healthy in the physique and the body, and we may be surprised that truly, we are all sick at the moment. You may not believe what I have just said, but what I meant is that, we are sick because of our unworthiness, our wicked actions, our disobedience against God and therefore, our sins.

Sin is the culprit for all of our sufferings and sorrows, ever since mankind first fell into sin, beginning with our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, who failed to resist the temptations of Satan. Sin is therefore a disease that strike at our soul, at the very depths and innermost part of our beings. If we are not careful, sin will eventually swallow us up entirely, just as we can succumb to the diseases that strike at our flesh and body. And sin is much worse than any of our physical illnesses, as sin defiles everything and destroys everything.

Parallel to what we have discussed earlier about the treatment of those who fell ill with leprosy, forced to live outside of the community of the Israelites until they were healed, and certified as such by the priests, then it is not different at all with all of us mankind, who suffer from the disease of the soul, that is our sins. If we read the Book of Genesis, surely we would have remembered how Adam and Eve, our ancestors, were driven out of the gardens of Eden, from the presence of God, because they have sinned against God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect and ask ourselves this question, ‘What is it that we want from God?’ and ‘Do we want to be healed by God?’. These questions serve as reminders for us that in our sickened state, and as we suffer the consequences of our disobedience in this world, we are indeed in need of healing, and that we are not in a good condition at all.

Unfortunately, many of us are too proud to admit that we have been wrong, that we are in need of help and assistance. We refused to listen to God speaking to us in our hearts and through those who we encounter in life, and many of us stubbornly continued on in our way of life, filled with sin, with greed and desires of the world, with violence and jealousy for one another, and all sorts of things that kept us away from reconciliation with God.

Yet, we are fortunate to have God Who is ever and always kind and loving towards us, Who is always ever generous with His mercy and forgiveness. His arms are always open towards us, waiting for us to return to His embrace that we may be fully reconciled with Him. But to be able to be fully reconciled with God, we must be willing to listen to Him and follow His ways, the examples through which He showed us to guide us to Him.

Let us all look at the action of the man whom Jesus had healed from his leprosy. Jesus strictly told him not to tell anyone that it was He Who healed him from his illness, but the man went on regardless, telling everyone that it was Jesus Who healed him. As a result, the people shunned Jesus and the priests made it very difficult for Jesus and His disciples to work among the people, barring Him from their towns and cities.

This was because they must have heard how Jesus approached the leper and touched him in order to heal him, which was taboo according to the laws of Moses. In a sense, God made Himself ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the law in order to make the man clean, and it was to that extent that He was willing to do, in order to care for mankind, to love us and to embrace us sinners.

God knew best what was to be done, and that was why He told the man not to tell anyone about what He had done. But it was likely the man’s pride and hubris that made him to falter, as if he had told the priests he was healed naturally as Jesus told him to do, that would be entirely ordinary and usual. Instead, while it was not mentioned in the Gospel passage, but from our human experiences, it is likely that the man told everyone because being healed in such a miraculous way is something to be boasted and proud about.

And that is exactly how mankind fell into sin, when we start to put the ‘I’ or the ‘We’ ahead of everything else. Pride, ambition, hubris, jealousy, desire, and all these other obstacles to our good and loving relationship with God which will result in our downfall. It is therefore important for us all to realise that we are in need of God’s healing and mercy, because all of us are unworthy, sinners and delinquents.

Let us all learn to distance ourselves from all of those obstacles I have mentioned just earlier, the obstacle of pride, of greed, of human ambition and worldly greed and many more. Let us desire to be healed and to be reconciled fully with God, through genuine conversion and change of heart, abandoning our past sinful ways and embracing fully God’s generous and everlasting love for us all.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us all, pray for us who are physically sick, and also all of us who are sinners, sick of this disease of the soul, our sins, that we may seek your Son, to be healed and to be made whole once again through our faith in Him. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.