Wednesday, 29 August 2018 : 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, which marks the moment when St. John the Baptist suffered and endured death because of his righteousness and courage against the king Herod of Galilee. St. John the Baptist spoke up against the king on his adulterous behaviour with Herodias, his deceased brother’s wife, and as a result he was put in prison.

St. John the Baptist was the one whom God sent into this world to be the Herald of the Messiah, the one who would proclaim the coming of the Saviour of the world and the one who would prepare the way for the coming of Christ. He called many people to repent from their sins, and baptised them with water in the River Jordan. He spoke up against the sins and wickedness of the people, and called them to turn away from those sins.

He did not mince his words when he spoke up against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who came to him and questioned the origin of his teachings and baptism, calling those people as brood of vipers. He acted in the same way towards the king and his entourage, speaking out on the king’s adulterous behaviour and actions. This was what St. John the Baptist had done, even though surely he must have known that it would have landed him in prison.

In the first reading today, God spoke to His prophet Jeremiah, whom He sent to the people of Judah during the last years of existence of the kingdom of Judah just prior to the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. He promised and reassured the prophet that He would be with him, even when the whole world rose up against him, and despite all the challenges he had to endure.

And today, we are reminded that we can indeed learn from these experiences the servants of God had endured. First of all, we are reminded that God is always with us, and He is always on our side, even when things are not in our favour, or when seemingly everything goes against us in our lives. Many of us did not dare or were reluctant and hesitating in fulfilling God’s commandments, because we were afraid of the opposition against us.

It is natural for us to feel fear and insecurity from all these oppositions and challenges. No one, no matter how courageous or brave, will not be affected by fear in their hearts, as it is part of our human weaknesses and nature. But that is why, as Christians, all of us must remember that God is always by our side, no matter what happens. Sometimes it is just that we do not realise how He has done His works in our midst.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also important that we also take note how easily we can fall into temptations, and therefore, fall into sin. That was what happened to the people living at the time of the prophet Jeremiah, as well as to king Herod. The people living in Judah at that time lived wickedly, following the unlawful practices of their neighbours, enticed by worldly wealth and power.

And as we all just discussed, king Herod gave in to the temptation of his flesh, the temptation of worldly beauty and sexual pleasures in committing adultery with Herodias, his deceased brother’s wife, who already had a child. Herodias herself also likely gave in to the temptation of power and glory, by agreeing to enter into an inappropriate relationship with king Herod.

We heard how Herod fell to the temptation when the daughter of Herodias danced before Herod. He was so swayed and tempted that he made easy promises that he did not think about carefully beforehand. In the end, because of that action, he ended up committing the sin of murder, when Herodias asked her daughter to ask Herod to bring her the head of St. John the Baptist on a plate right there and then.

This is where we need to be vigilant, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we guard ourselves against the advances of the devil and his forces, who are always trying to strike at us at every available opportunity, to bring us down through temptations and the many traps they carefully laid down in our path towards God and His salvation. Let us all keep this in mind as we live our lives in this world.

May the Lord strengthen us in our faith, that we may follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist, his courageous servant, that we will not be easily tempted and swayed by the temptations of this world, and remain true to our faith despite the challenges and difficulties we may encounter for being faithful to the Lord. May He empower us all to become His good and faithful disciples, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 : 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.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 : 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.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 : 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.

Friday, 10 August 2018 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture telling us that we need to do good in our lives and be generous in our giving towards one another, especially to those who are less fortunate and less privileged. And He said this pointing out at His own examples, in how He has loved us all generously with constancy even when we mankind have not been consistent in our faith and love towards Him.

In the first reading today, that is the gist of what St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth. He reminded them of the Lord Who gives each and every one of us good blessings and graces, that all of us have enough for ourselves, and are able to fend for ourselves. Now, then, surely we will come to wonder, why is it that in this world there are still sufferings and people who had not enough to survive and live, while there are others who are enjoying in great excess of wealth and all?

It is not because the Lord is unfair in His treatment to us, or that He is biased in His love for each one of us. Each and every one of us, regardless of our origins, our background, our cultural, linguistic, national differences and our appearances, physical and mental talents and abilities, and even those with disabilities, all are equally beloved by the Lord without bias and prejudice. Suffering comes about because of the abuse of freedom by God’s people, who chose to act unjustly towards one another.

And in the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus used a parable to explain this matter to the people, by comparing it with the grain of wheat that falls on the ground and die, and by that action, creating many more new life that came about from that death. This is a parable that foreshadows the moment of the Lord’s own Passion, suffering, death and resurrection, when He died on the cross in order to save all of us mankind.

That is the method by which wheat germinates into new wheat plant, such that even a single wheat grain is able to grow into a large new wheat plant that can generate many more wheat grains in turn. This signifies Christ’s willingness to die, so that by the breaking and the sharing of His Body, all of us who share in His Body and Blood may receive a share in the eternity of glory and life with God.

Today, these Scripture readings also have an additional significance as today we celebrate the Feast of St. Lawrence, holy deacon and martyr of the Church. St. Lawrence was one of the pious and dedicated deacons of the Church of Rome, a position of honour and yet filled with great challenges and dangers during the time of great persecutions of the Church by the Roman Emperors, at that time the Emperor Valerian.

St. Lawrence ministered to the Church and to the faithful in the city of Rome and he had to endure harsh persecution and avoiding detection by the authorities while serving the needs of the faithful and the poor among them. Eventually, he was arrested along with several other leading members of the Church, tortured and condemned to death when he refused to recant his faith and abandon his God.

Through the blood of his martyrdom, St. Lawrence and his companions showed all of us great inspirations of faith, which inspired many other faithful to be courageous in their own faith. In fact, many more came to believe in the Lord, having been inspired by the great example of the holy martyrs. Thus the saying, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

Surely they would have also be tempted to give up their faith by the enticement of worldly guarantees and security of power, glory, wealth, possessions and material goods. Many of the martyrs were offered positions of power and worldly riches if only they would abandon their Lord and their faith, and worship the pagan gods of the Romans. Similar instances have also been recorded for many other occasions of martyrdom.

But they remained true to their faith and devoted themselves to God to the very end. God blessed them and kept them in His grace, and gave them the crown of glory promised to all those who have kept the faith and persevered to the very end. Now, all of us are called to follow their examples and strive to do our best to live our lives as good Christians, who obey the will of God and walk in the truth of God.

May the Lord continue to bless us and all of our endeavours, and may He strengthen us and empower us to live ever more faithfully, amidst the challenges and trials we may face, inspiring us to live by the examples of the holy saints and martyrs, particularly that of St. Lawrence, holy deacon and martyr. May the Lord be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 10 August 2018 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 12 : 24-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Those who love their life destroy it, and those who despise their life in this world save it even to everlasting life.”

“Whoever wants to serve Me, let him follow Me; and wherever I am, there shall My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.”

Friday, 10 August 2018 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 111 : 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9

Alleluia! Blessed is the one who fears YHVH, who greatly delights in His commands. His children will be powerful on earth; the upright’s offspring will be blessed.

It will be well with him who lends freely, who leads a life of justice and honesty. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered and loved forever.

He has no fear of evil news, for his heart is firm, trusting in YHVH. His heart is confident; he need not fear; he shall prevail over his foes at the end.

He gives generously to the poor; his merits will last forever; and his head will be raised in honour.