Thursday, 16 September 2021 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded through the readings of the Sacred Scriptures to put our faith and trust in the Lord, seeking Him for His forgiveness and mercy. We must not be afraid or doubtful because we have to know that God has always looked kindly upon us and desiring for us to find our way back to Him, to be reconciled and reunited fully with Him in love.

And that is why we heard the passage from our Gospel reading today, detailing the moment when the Lord had an encounter during a meal hosted by the Pharisees for Him, as a sinful woman, widely known for her vices and sins, came to seek Him and brought an alabaster jar full of perfume before the Lord. She wept and cried on the Lord’s feet, before wiping those feet dry with her own hair, and then she used the perfume to anoint the Lord’s feet.

If we understand her context and background, then we can truly understand how significant this event was to all those who witnessed it. For that sinful woman was likely a prostitute, whom the Pharisees often looked down on and despised. The Pharisees must have been shocked that the Lord Jesus allowed such a sinner to approach Him and less still allowing her to touch Him, as at that time, even coming close to a sinner could be considered as a defilement, and hence people would distance themselves from those considered as sinners.

Yet, that sinful woman humbled herself such before the Lord and everyone present, throwing aside all pride and ego, and using her hair, the crown of her beauty, to wipe the feet of the Lord, using her precious treasure to wipe clean the part of the body considered as dirty. She came to the Lord with tears and sorrow, all because she knew how sinful she had been, and came seeking the Lord for forgiveness and healing. She gave it all to the Lord, anointing His feet with expensive perfume, honouring Him before all who saw it.

Yet, those Pharisees still failed to see the truth of God’s love, and still judged Him based on what they had seen and based on their own prejudices. They refused to see the sinners as their own fellow brethren, and preferred to remain in their arrogant and self-serving attitude, in being proud of their piety and privileged position within the community, looking down on all those who disagreed with them and who did not follow the Law and commandments of God in the manner that they had done.

God told them that He came into this world seeking for sinners, for their redemption and healing, so that they might be reconciled with Him and be forgiven from their sins, saved from the destruction that threatened them. He told the Pharisees the parable highlighting how those who had their debts forgiven more would have been more appreciative of the forgiveness, and that was a way for the Lord to tell them that they must not look down on the prostitutes, or tax collectors, the diseased, those possessed by evil spirits and others they deemed as sinners.

Everyone, after all, were sinners all the same, all equal before God and all deserving the same love from God. God wants us all to know this truth, and as we heard the Scripture passages today, we are again reminded of the grace that we have received from Him, the generous extension of His forgiveness and mercy, the love which He has lavished upon us all. And since we have been loved in such a manner, as God called us all to seek Him and be reconciled with Him, let us all remember what He told the sinful woman, that we ought to go forth in peace and sin no more. In our lives, we have to always be vigilant, resisting the temptations to sin that are always present all around us.

It does not matter how great the sins we have once committed. For as long as we are truly sincere in seeking the Lord, like that of the sinful woman, in being repentant and humble, in allowing God to come and heal us, then we shall be secure in the Lord and in the inheritance that He has promised to us. We should not be afraid to seek Him, as if we seek Him with a genuine heart full of remorse for our sins, and desiring to be reconciled and reunited with Him, God will surely hear us and grant us our longing for Him.

Let us all turn towards the Lord with renewed faith from now on, embracing Him in the manner of our holy predecessors, especially that of Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, whose feasts we are celebrating today. They were truly great and honourable servants of God who gave themselves wholeheartedly to the missions entrusted to them by the Lord. Pope St. Cornelius was the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Universal Church while St. Cyprian was the Bishop of Carthage during the difficult years of intense persecution of the Church and the Christian faithful by the Roman state. They were both eventually martyred and died defending their faith.

At that time, the Church was not only facing persecution from the pagan authorities but also in fact suffering from internal divisions, particularly by those who adamantly refused to allow the readmission and acceptance of those Christians who had lapsed from their faith, who disagreed with the stand of the Church fathers, on the forgiveness of sinners. Those were lead by a particular priest called Novatian, who led the Church into schism with his followers on one side, and Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian on the other.

Both Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian championed the rights of those who had lapsed from their faith, either by their choice or coercion, pressure or other reasons, having abandoned their faith in God only to return later on back to the Holy Mother Church. Both Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian supported the rights of those Christians to return, against the Novatianists who argued that once they apostatised, there could be no forgiveness or return for them. Those so-called purists were in fact reminiscent of the attitudes showed by the Pharisees in our Gospel passage today.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, those two holy men of God, Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian had done their all to show God’s love and mercy to repentant sinners. Therefore, we too should follow in their footsteps. First of all, are we willing to commit ourselves to the Lord, in turning away from the path of sin and wholeheartedly repenting from our past sins? And are we willing to help one another, our fellow brothers and sisters in seeking God?

Instead of looking down on others and thinking that we are in any way better, holier or more worthy than them, let us all reflect on our own sins and all that we have done in our past, all that we have failed to do in obeying the will of God, and in extending our love to one another, just as the Lord has called us all to do. Let us all reflect on this, and strive to become better Christians from now on. Let us all be exemplary in our way of life and show better care and concern for our fellow brothers and sisters in our every living moments.

May the Lord be with us all and may He guide us in our journey, so that each and every one of us will be more willing to be more committed to God, and strive to abandon our past sinfulness, embracing instead the path of God while inspiring others to turn away from their sins, by our own virtuous life examples, through which God may be glorified, and more may come to know of Him and His love for each and every one of us. Amen.

Thursday, 16 September 2021 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Luke 7 : 36-50

At that time, one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to share his meal, so He went to the Pharisee’s home, and as usual reclined at the table to eat. And it happened that, a woman of this town, who was known as a sinner, heard that He was in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and stood behind Him, at His feet, weeping. She wet His feet with tears; she dried them with her hair; she kissed His feet and poured the perfume on them.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus was watching, and thought, “If this Man were a Prophet, He would know what sort of person is touching Him; is this woman not a sinner?” Then Jesus spoke to the Pharisee and said, “Simon, I have something to ask you.” He answered, “Speak, Master.”

And Jesus said, “Two people were in debt to the same creditor. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. As they were unable to pay him back, he graciously cancelled the debts of both. Now, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, who was forgiven more.” And Jesus said, “You are right.” And turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? You gave Me no water for My feet when I entered your house; but she dried them with her hair. You did not welcome Me with a kiss; but she has not stopped kissing My feet since she came in. You provided no oil for My head; but she has poured perfume on My feet. This is why, I tell you, her sins, her many sins, are forgiven, because of her great love. But the one who is forgiven little, has little love.”

Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others reclining with Him at the table began to wonder, “Now this Man claims to forgive sins!” But Jesus again spoke to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace!”

Thursday, 16 September 2021 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 110 : 7-8, 9, 10

The works of His hands are faithful and just, trustworthy are all His precepts, ordained to last forever, bearers of truth and uprightness.

He has sent His people deliverance and made with them a Covenant forever. His Holy Name is to be revered!

The fear of YHVH is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are those who live by His precepts. To Him belongs everlasting praise.

Thursday, 16 September 2021 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Timothy 4 : 12-16

Let no one reproach you on account of your youth. Be a model to the believers, in the way you speak and act, in your love, your faith and purity of life. Devote yourself to reading, preaching and teaching, until I come.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift conferred on you with prophetic words, when the elders laid their hands upon you. Think about it, and practice it, so that your progress may be seen by all. Take heed of yourself, and attend to your teaching. Be steadfast in doing this, and you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Saturday, 14 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture all of us are called to come to the Lord with faith, and dedicate ourselves to Him to the best of our abilities, as we ought to put our trust and faith in Him, and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to His cause, as He has made it clear through the Scripture readings we have received this day. The Lord wants to remind us that He has always been with us and been committed to the Covenant He has made with each and every one of us, and we should therefore commit ourselves to Him in the same way too.

In our first reading today, we heard of the continuation of Joshua’s exhortation to all the Israelites and their representatives, for them to remain faithful to God and to commit themselves to His cause, as His chosen people and as a people whom God had blessed. Joshua was at the end of his life, and knowing this fact, he gathered all the Israelites to remind all of them, especially those who had not seen firsthand the great wonders that God had done in liberating them from the hands of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, and those who had not seen the love and compassion by which God cared for His people during their journey in the desert for forty years.

That is because those who have not seen the Lord and His deeds might not know Him and they might then be persuaded to abandon Him and reject Him for other idols and gods. Even their forefathers who had witnessed the Lord’s might and power firsthand had repeatedly disobeyed Him and abandoned Him, as they were tempted and swayed by their desires and their physical demands and needs. They were pulled away by their sins, and many fell into rebellion against God by that means.

Many among those descendants, including the same ones we have heard in our first reading today as those who swore and promised to be faithful to God, also fell into disobedience and sin against God. They promised that they would obey the Lord and follow Him, and still they fell. Why is that so? Again it was because of the temptations of worldly desires that are so difficult to overcome and which are the source of so many disobedience attitudes against God.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord speaking to His disciples as they were annoyed when there were many children who came seeking the Lord Jesus, as they were pushing those children away from Him. He told them to let the children to come to Him, and reminding them that those who welcome the children will also welcome Him into their midst. If they reject the children, then that means, they also reject Him.

Why is it important that we take note of the Lord’s love and welcome for the children to come to Him? That is because we have to take note that the faith and love that a child has for the Lord is truly genuine and strong, and not burdened by the trap of human desires and by the temptations of worldly glory, fame or any other things that usually kept us all apart from God. Their love and dedication are pure, as a child’s mind and heart are still pure and unburdened by emotions or worldly things, unlike that of us.

That is why we should also seek to be faithful to the Lord in the manner of the children, to love Him sincerely and wholeheartedly as we should, that we may indeed grow ever closer to Him as much as possible. This is what we should aspire to do, and what we are all called to be, as good and faithful Christians in all things, to love God above all else, and to be loving and selfless towards our fellow brothers and sisters, our neighbours and even strangers we encounter in life.

Today, we should therefore seek to follow the examples of the famous St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast we are celebrating this very day. He was a martyr of the faith and the upright and devout servant of God who passed on just less than a century ago, during the harsh times of the Second World War, and as part of the NAZI genocide and crime against humanity. He was a Polish priest, renowned for his missionary activities and steadfast faith, who went on mission for many years to the Far East, in Japan and other parts of the world.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was also remembered for establishing the publication and evangelisation movement, ‘Militia of the Immaculata’, which gained a large following and served to remind the people of God to turn towards God and to reach out to their fellow brethren, spreading the words of God by dedication through faith to God, in personal holiness and commitment in actions, and by devotion to the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, which St. Maximilian Kolbe had a strong devotion for.

And then, later on, as he returned to Poland, and the Second World War began, St. Maximilian Kolbe still did his best to minister to the people of God even through the many challenges and sufferings of war. As the Church and his publications were critical of the crimes and the terrors caused by the NAZI regime, St. Maximilian Kolbe was eventually arrested and put into prison, and eventually ended up in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp.

In the occasion that made him well remembered, St. Maximilian Kolbe offered himself in exchange of a man who was to be executed for having attempted to escape from Auschwitz and failed. He begged the camp commandant, and was allowed to take over the man’s position, when he saw how the man was deeply sorrowful and mentioned how he had a family, a wife and a son. St. Maximilian Kolbe voluntarily gave himself to be executed, and while waiting for the execution, he was remembered to have encouraged his fellow inmates even in the depressing situation in the concentration camp.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples set by St. Maximilian Kolbe should inspire all of us to be more genuine in our faith and commitment towards the Lord, and to dedicate our love and effort towards one another, especially the less fortunate and those who suffer. While we ourselves may be suffering, let us also remember that others may be suffering even more than us, and may not be as fortunate as us. That is why all of us should imitate the good examples of our holy predecessor and the many other good inspirations, that we too may be like them in our lives and actions.

May God be with us all, and may He strengthen each and every one of us with the resolve and conviction to live our lives as virtuous Christians, wholly committed in all things to serve Him and to be exemplary in our faith, to all men and to the whole world. May God bless us all in our endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 14 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 19 : 13-15

At that time, little children were brought to Jesus, that He might lay His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded those who brought them. Jesus then said, “Let the children be! Do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are humble, like these children.”

Jesus laid His hands on them and went away.

Saturday, 14 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 15 : 1-2a and 5, 7-8, 11

Keep me safe, o God, for in You I take refuge. I say to YHVH, “O YHVH, my inheritance and my cup, my chosen portion – hold secure my lot.”

I praise YHVH Who counsels me; even at night, my inmost self instructs me. I keep YHVH always before me; for with Him at my right hand, I will never be shaken.

You will show me the path of life, in Your presence, the fullness of joy, at Your right hand, happiness forever.

Saturday, 14 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Joshua 24 : 14-29

Joshua said to the people of Israel, “So fear YHVH, and be sincere and faithful in serving Him. Set aside those gods your ancestors worshipped in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Serve only YHVH. But if you do not want to serve YHVH, make known this very day whom you shall serve – whether they be the gods your ancestors served in Mesopotamia or the gods of the Amorites who formerly occupied the land in which you now live. As for me, I and my household will serve YHVH.”

The people answered, “May God not permit that we ever abandon YHVH to serve other gods! For it was He Who brought us and our ancestors out of Egypt, the house of slavery. It was He Who did those great wonders that we have seen; He protected us on the way and through all the land where we passed, driving away before us all the nations especially the Amorites who lived in this land. So we shall also serve YHVH : He is our God!”

Joshua asked the people : “Will you be able to serve YHVH? He is a holy God, a jealous God Who does not tolerate wickedness or faults. If you abandon YHVH to serve other gods, He will turn against you and just as He has done you so much good, so shall He punish you and destroy you.”

The people replied, “No, may it not be as you say. We will serve YHVH.” Joshua said, “You yourselves are witnesses that you have chosen YHVH to serve Him.” They answered, “We are witnesses.” Joshua then said, “Remove now from your midst any other gods and serve YHVH, the God of Israel, with all your heart.” The people answered : “We will serve YHVH, our God, and obey His commands.”

On that day at Shechem, Joshua made a Covenant with the people and fixed laws and ordinances. He also wrote down everything expressed in the book of the Law of God; he chose a great stone and put it under the oak tree in the sacred place of YHVH. Then Joshua said to the people : “This stone shall be a witness to all that YHVH said to us, for it heard all these words. It shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with YHVH.”

Joshua immediately sent the people away and everyone returned to his land. After all these deeds, Joshua, son of Nun and servant of YHVH, died at the age of a hundred and ten.

Friday, 13 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the need for us all to remain faithful and to be obedient to God in all things. He has called on all of us to be truly faithful in Him and not be easily swayed by worldly temptations and desires that will end up misleading us down the wrong path, as we should heed from past examples of our predecessors on how we should be vigilant and careful in living our lives.

In our first reading today, we heard about the story of how Joshua gathered all the Israelites not long before he was to pass away, and as their leader, he reminded all of them of all the wonderful things that God had done for them and their ancestors, as he spoke to them and exhorted them to remain faithful to God. He reminded them to keep their faith in Him and to obey the Law and the commandments which God had placed in their midst. Joshua detailed all the things that God had done for the people He loved so much, and therefore, they ought to love Him in the same way as well.

As we heard from that passage, the Lord had repeatedly again and again cared for His people, showed His love and concern for all of them. He never abandoned them in their hour of need. He has always blessed them and helped them in their journey, even when those same people had wandered off, disobeyed and abandoned Him. He brought the Israelites themselves out of the land of Egypt, and in the Exodus, took care of them for the entire forty years of their journey before giving them all the lands that they now possessed. Hence, Joshua wanted to remind all of the people not to forget the love and deeds of the Lord for them.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the Lord speaking to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law when some of them questioned Him regarding His teachings and also wanted to test Him with regards to the Law of God as revealed through Moses. They asked the Lord regarding the matter of divorce, which according to their practice and ways, was allowed as long as a writ of divorce was produced, and in reality, the practice was very common, as the people and the Temple authorities used ways and even monetary incentives to accommodate the allowance of divorce, among other rules that had been modified and broken.

What is significant about this is that as the Lord Himself mentioned is, how mankind had twisted and changed the meaning of the Law and the commandments of God, that in their practice and application, they had forgotten the fundamental purpose and idea behind those guidance and path which God had given and revealed to His people, so that through those laws and commandments, the people of God might find their way back to their loving God and Father. Instead, after centuries and more years of misunderstanding and mismanaging the Law, the people had ended up losing sight of the true intention of the Law, and made loopholes and excuses to try and suit the Law of God to their own needs.

That included the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who often made the Law of God as an excuse to impose their desires and thoughts on the other people, and to gain popularity, power and influence through them. That was why the Lord often criticised those people for their lack of true and genuine faith for the Lord and His Law, and why He revealed to the people the true meaning, intention and significance of God’s Law, so that they may come to understand and appreciate what God wants from each one of them.

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to reject these wayward paths and entrust ourselves to the Lord and His commandments. We ought to seek the Lord with new spirit of love and devotion, with renewed zeal and conviction, to love Him wholeheartedly and to commit ourselves thoroughly on His path. Let us all then, look upon the good examples of the two saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus. For those who were knowledgeable about the history of the Church, they would have known that these two saints had a long history between them, as they were rival candidates for the seat of the Bishop of Rome at that time.

St. Hippolytus opposed the efforts and views of the earlier Popes who had been more lenient in allowing pagan converts and others who had lapsed from the faith in returning to the Christian faith, belonging to the faction of those who saw themselves as embracing the purer aspect of Christianity. However, the Popes resisted the pressure from these segments, and kept the Church open towards those brethren who had repented their sins and wanting to return after having lapsed from the faith or away for a moment.

Pope St. Pontian was the succeeding Bishop of Rome, of whom St. Hippolytus went up against, as the story went that he was made an antipope against the authority of Pope St. Pontian by his efforts and the support of those who sided and agreed with him. Nonetheless, Pope St. Pontian acted in love and charity, and continued to do his best to bridge the divisions and overcome the misunderstandings within the Church. He led the faithful people of God during the difficult period of external persecution and internal divisions.

Eventually, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus would both be arrested by the authorities and sent into exile, to do hard labour and eventually perished as martyrs both in their exile. But before he died, St. Hippolytus was known to reject his past ideas and opposition against the Popes and the Church attitude, and was reconciled to Pope St. Pontian, dying as a true Christian and defender of the faith together with his former rival and enemy, Pope St. Pontian.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all heed the great examples set by these two saints, that we may emulate them in our own lives. We are all called to seek Him wholeheartedly and commit ourselves anew, to be the faithful, righteous and worthy bearers of His truth and love, His light and hope in our world today. Let us all remember God’s love for us, and learn to love Him and our fellow brothers and sisters ever more in our daily living, now and always. May God be with us all and bless us, forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 13 August 2021 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 19 : 3-12

At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus. They wanted to test Him and asked, “Is a man allowed to divorce his wife for any reason he wants?”

Jesus replied, “Have you not read that, in the beginning, the Creator made them male and female? And the Creator said : Therefore, a man shall leave father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body. So, they are no longer two, but one body. Let no one separate what God has joined.”

They asked him, “Then why did Moses command us to write a bill of dismissal in order to divorce?” Jesus replied, “Moses knew the hardness of your hearts, so he allowed you to divorce your wives; but it was not so in the beginning. Therefore, I say to you : whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said, “If that is the condition of a married man, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said to them, “Not everybody can accept what you have just said, but only those who have received this gift. There are eunuchs born so, from their mother’s womb. Some have been made that way by others. But there are some who have given up the possibility of marriage, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who can accept it, accept it.”