Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, remembering the courageous stand that this faithful servant of God showed in the last moments and days of his life, in staying true to his faith and in completing his mission of calling all the people to God. And he did this, even when he knew that he would be persecuted and suffer for all of his dedication.

St. John the Baptist spent several years ministering to the people and calling them to repentance, as those people flocked to him by the River Jordan and were baptised by him in the waters of the river. Many thousands came up to him and sought to repent from their sins, and through this, the servant of God fulfilled his mission as the one who prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah, calling the people to turn away from sin and open their hearts and minds to welcome the Lord’s truth that would come soon.

St. John the Baptist had to face against the opposition first of all from the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, many of whom were skeptical of him, because of his teachings and his proclamations, and because of his way of dressing, very simple and like a wild man living in the wilderness, and most importantly, because he was not part of their group, and St. John the Baptist also had scathing remarks against them, as they professed to be the guardians of the faith of the people, and yet, they misled the people and did not practice the Law in the way they should have done.

St. John the Baptist spoke out courageously against them, calling them the brood of vipers, as their actions turned many people away from God, and thus away from His grace and salvation. In this saint, we see a figure filled with zeal and love both for God and for God’s people, his fellow brethren, who had been entrusted to his care as part of the preparation of the coming of the salvation of God.

And he dared to speak up against king Herod and Herodias, his unlawful wife. Herodias was the legal and rightful wife of Philip, the brother of Herod, who at that time was likely still living. In contravention of the Law of God, which stated that a man may only take his brother’s wife should the marriage be childless, the presence of a daughter of Herodias in the Scripture likely highlighted that this daughter was the daughter of Herodias and Philip, as clearly had the daughter been of Herod, she would not have been named as the daughter of Herodias.

Therefore, Herod had committed adultery with his own brother’s wife, and as a king and leader of the people, such a terrible and immoral deed should not have been done at all. It was unbecoming and wrong for the king to commit such an act, and St. John the Baptist courageously pointed this out to the king and his unlawful wife, Herodias. Herod had St. John arrested, although he still respected the servant of God and did not allow any harm to come to the man of God.

But Herodias held deep grudge against St. John the Baptist and plotted to have him killed. She used her own daughter as a tool to coerce her husband to achieve that aim, and she had her chance when she had her daughter dance at a party held by king Herod for his guests and officials. Using the daughter’s beauty to her advantage and Herod’s weakness in tending to succumb to his flesh’s desires, and also likely compounded by being intoxicated with wine drunk at the celebration, Herodias made Herod to commit the wicked deed of executing St. John the Baptist in prison.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we recall the memory of the commitment and the perseverance of St. John the Baptist, we are called to follow in his good examples, in his faith and dedication, that we will always keep alive our faith and dedicate ourselves to God to the best of our abilities. We should be righteous and be brave in standing up for our faith before others, to be genuine witnesses of our Christian faith.

And we are also reminded to be careful and be vigilant against the temptations of pride and greed, as it was the same pride which prevented the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law to acknowledge God’s truth and that they had been wrong. It was also greed that had led king Herod to commit adultery with her husband’s wife, and how he succumbed to temptation and caused the murder of St. John the Baptist because of his lust for Herodias’ own daughter.

Let us all therefore strive to be ever better Christians through our every words and actions, spending and dedicating our every moments and efforts to serve the Lord and His people with ever greater devotion. May the Lord strengthen us and give us the same courage and faith as St. John the Baptist had shown us all. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 17-29

At that time, this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested; and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her; and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him; but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him; although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion, the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.” The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards, with orders to bring John’s head.

He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 70 : 1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

In You, o YHVH, I seek refuge; let me not be disgraced. In Your justice help me and deliver me; turn Your ear to me and save me!

Be my Rock of refuge; a Stronghold, to give me safety; for You are my Rock and my Fortress. Rescue me, o my God, from the hand of the wicked.

For You, o YHVH, have been my hope; my trust, o God, from my youth. I have relied on You from birth : from my mother’s womb You brought me forth.

My lips will proclaim Your intervention and tell of Your salvation all day. You have taught me from my youth and, until now, I proclaim Your marvels.

Saturday, 29 August 2020 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Jeremiah 1 : 17-19

But you, get ready for action; stand up and say to them all that I command you. Be not scared of them or I will scare you in their presence! See, I will make you a fortified city, a pillar of iron with walls of bronze, against all the nations, against the kings and princes of Judah, against the priests and the people of the land.

They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you – it is YHVH Who speaks.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are first confronted with the great wickedness of the people of Israel who refused to believe in God and committed all sorts of sin, despite everything that God had done for their sake. He has protected them many times, brought them out of their troubles, as the Exodus from Egypt was mentioned, the time when God liberated the Israelites and freed them from their slavery and gave them their own land to live in.

In all those years God had patiently cared for His people, sending them help and protection, provision and guidance when they encountered troubles. When the Israelites faced troubles and persecution from their neighbours and when their enemies rose up against them and subjugated them, God raised up Judges one after another to lead the people and free them from their oppressors. And still yet, they did not remain faithful and instead, worshipped idols, disobeyed His Law and commandments.

He has sent prophets after prophets, messengers after messengers to lead His people down the right path, and even after all these, they still refused to believe, and many among them openly disregarded His messages and reminders, persecuting and even killing His prophets. It was with these background and history that we then heard the words of the Lord through His prophet Hosea, sent to the Israelites in the northern kingdom during its final days.

For the past more than one week during the weekdays we have been listening to the words of the prophet Hosea, as we heard the words of God’s anger and dissatisfaction with the constant disobedience showed by the people, and the upcoming judgment, reckoning and consequences they had to suffer for their sins. And all those things were about to happen, as not long after the prophet Hosea spoke of those words, the northern kingdom was destroyed in the conquest by the Assyrian Empire, and many of its people brought into exile in far-off lands.

But we have also then heard, strangely, in between the anger and the premonitions of destruction that were to come, the words of soothing love, compassion and mercy. And all these underlie the true intention of the Lord, and why He has always been so patient with His people despite their constant rebellion and disobedience. That is because He was always filled with love for all of us, His own beloved children. He has created us all for a good reason, and that is His ever-present love for us.

In God, we truly have a loving Father and Master, as One Who has always been concerned about us, and that was why, despite our constant waywardness and disobedience, we are still indeed beloved by God, and God patiently sent His messengers and servants to help guide us out of the wrong path, as He ultimately did through sending us the finest gift of all, His own begotten Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Through Christ, all of us receive the assurance and guarantee of God’s most wonderful love and providence, and all these He has freely given and revealed to us, sending out His Apostles and disciples two by two to go and proclaim the words of God’s truth, His wonderful love to many more people among us. But for all these, many among us His people refused to follow and stubbornly opposed Him, as their ancestors had done in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is just how unfortunate the state of world truly is, with people refusing to believe in God even though He has always ever been so patient and loving, caring and forgiving. And for all these, many of the Lord’s servants, His Apostles and disciples, His prophets and messengers had suffered from the rejection and persecution that they had to endure for many occasions and through their many years of good service.

Today, all of us commend to our memory the great faith and dedication showed by the holy saints and martyrs who suffered in the great land of China, all the missionaries and the laypeople who have believed in God and received the faith, and were persecuted for that same faith and for their dedication to serve the people. St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions are truly great inspirations and examples for us, as to how we should live our lives as faithful Christians.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong was among one of the first Chinese to be ordained as priests, and he was sent out to serve the communities of the faithful, a truly difficult task not only for him but also for many other missionaries, as the Christian faith at that time was just barely tolerated at the very most, and in most circumstances, to be a Christian was frowned upon by the society as well as by the government. Many people had to practice their faith in secret, and many of the missionaries also had to spread the Word of God carefully.

At that time, the conflict between the Chinese court and the Christian faith had been a culmination of centuries of exchanges, in which misunderstandings and conflicting interests among various religious orders and missionaries sent to the mission in China led to the official persecution of the Church and Christians in China, as the instructions from the Church, misled by these misunderstandings led to great conflict with the authorities for many years.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong and many other Church missionaries and priests were persecuted, arrested and tortured, and eventually put to death for their constant dedication to the Lord, refusal to betray the Lord and abandon their faith. All of these persecutions were made worse in particular because they were complicated by the arrival of the foreign powers that quickly led to diplomatic and political conflicts. And as the Western powers continued to gain prestige, territories and privileges at the expense of the Chinese, the Christian missionaries, priests and the faithful were often caught in the crossfire and conflicts.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all those faithful people of God, both missionaries, priests and laypeople alike, all were faithful and committed to God despite the challenges that they had to endure. Many of them had to endure prison, unimaginable torture and painful sufferings, and yet, they remained firm in their conviction. This is something that each and every one of us should also be inspired with, even as we carry on living our own lives as Christians, as those whom God had called to be His followers.

As we can see, there is still much darkness in this world, and there is likely to be even more darkness, as mankind continue to walk down the path of sin and disobedience against God. Therefore, now as Christians all of us are challenged to be true and genuine witnesses of the Lord’s truth, His love for each and every one of us, and His willingness to forgive us our trespasses and sins as long as we are willing to repent from those many sins and mistakes we have committed.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, the Holy Martyrs of China, St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions. Let us all be shining beacons of light and hope in the darkness, especially amidst all the trials, challenges and difficulties we are all enduring throughout this year. May the Lord be our help and guide, and may He strengthen our resolve to be ever good and righteous in all our actions and to be able to devote ourselves more with each and every passing moments of our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 10 : 7-15

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Go, and proclaim this message : The kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. Freely have you received, freely give. Do not carry any gold or silver or money in your purses. Do not take a travelling bag, or an extra shirt, or sandals, or a walking stick : workers deserve to be compensated.”

“When you come to a town or a village, look for a worthy person, and stay there until you leave. When you enter the house, wish it peace. If the people are worthy people, your peace will rest on them; if they are not worthy people, your blessing will come back to you.”

“And if you are not welcomed, and your words are not listened to, leave that house or that town, and shake the dust off your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment, than it will for the people of that town.”

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3bc, 15-16

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Hosea 11 : 1-4, 8c-9

I loved Israel when he was a child; out of Egypt I called My Son. But the more I have called, the further have they gone from Me – sacrificing to the Baals, burning incense to the idols. Yet, it was I Who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; yet, little did they realise that it was I Who cared for them.

I led them with cords of human kindness, with leading strings of love, and I became for them as One Who eases the yoke upon their neck and stoops down to feed them. My heart is troubled within Me and I am moved with compassion. I will not give vent to My great anger; I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God and not human. I am the Holy One in your midst; and I do not want to come to you in anger.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 8 : 1b-8

This was the beginning of a great persecution against the Church in Jerusalem. All, except the Apostles, were scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church. He entered house after house and dragged off men and women, and had them put in jail.

At the same time, those who were scattered went about, preaching the word. Philip went down to a town of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. All the people paid close attention to what Philip said as they listened to him, and saw the miraculous signs that he did. For, in cases of possession, the unclean spirits came out shrieking loudly. Many people who were paralysed or crippled, were healed. So there was great joy in the town.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr, and St. Louis M. Grignion de Montfort, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Acts 7 : 51 – Acts 8 : 1a

Stephen said to the Council, “But you are a stubborn people, you hardened your hearts and closed your ears. You have always resisted the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did. Was there a prophet whom your ancestors did not persecute? They killed those who announced the coming of the Just One Whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the Law through the Angels but did not fulfil it.”

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Then he knelt down and said in a loud voice : “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he died. Saul was there, approving his murder. This was the beginning of a great persecution against the Church in Jerusalem.