Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings we heard two stories, one from the Book of Genesis, and the other from the Gospel of St. Matthew, both which remind us of the need for us to trust in God and to be faithful to Him, so that our lives may truly be blessed and be firm in His hands, and not being swayed by the uncertainties of this world we are living in today.

In the first reading today, we heard about the story of Abraham and Sarah, then known as Abram and Sarai respectively, who have not yet had a child on their own, even though they have been married for a long time and by then they were already quite old and Sarai was already past the child-bearing age. Without an heir of his own, Abram had planned that his wealth and possessions would be inherited by one of his own trusted servants, but God made it clear that it was not how things would be.

Instead, God revealed that Abraham would have an heir and son as He has promised to him in the Covenant He made with him, that the descendants of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars and would be blessed by God forevermore. Abraham trusted in God’s will and plan, but his wife, Sarai, had a different idea in mind. Instead of waiting patiently for God’s plan to come to fruition, Sarai instead chose to take a shortcut.

According to the ancient customs of the time, Sarai took his own slave, Hagar, to bear a child with Abram, as a child of a slave at that time was recognised as the child of the legal wife of the person, the one who owned the slave. As such, when Ishmael, the son of Abram and Hagar was born, technically he was recognised as the son of Abram and Sarai. But this was not what God had meant for his servant Abram.

Nonetheless, God still blessed Ishmael as one of the descendants of Abraham and reassured him that Ishmael and his descendants would still be blessed by Him. Yet, at the same time, God reiterated that His will was for Abram to have a child with Sarai, and fulfil the promise of the Covenant which He had made with Abram. And indeed, God is ever faithful and eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a child, named Isaac, the one whom God had promised.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples using a parable which many of us are surely familiar with, speaking of two houses built upon different foundations, one on a foundation of sand, while the other one was built on a firm foundation of rock. When the winds and the waves battered the house built on the foundation of sand, the house is destroyed and toppled, while the one built on the firm, rocky foundation remained strong.

In this parable we see the comparison with the case of Abraham and his wife and slave as we heard in our Gospel passage today. What do I mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? The actions of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, in taking a shortcut with her own slave to provide a child for herself and Abraham was an example of the lack of faith and trust in God, akin to building a house on the foundation of sand.

And true enough, when Ishmael grew older, conflict grew between Ishmael and Isaac, and also between Hagar and Sarah, as rivalry grew between them and pride got in between them all. It ended with Hagar and Ishmael being exiled and cast out so that Isaac could have his full inheritance. We see how Sarah’s plan did not go well in the end, causing just sorrow and sadness to all who were involved.

That will likely the same outcome for us, if we choose to trust in ourselves alone and in our own human judgments in how we choose to live our lives, and not putting our trust and faith in God. Putting our trust and faith in God is like building a house on a firm foundation of rock, as no matter what happens, and no matter what challenges we may encounter, God is always ever faithful, and while man may fail us and be unfaithful, God cannot deny His own love and faithfulness.

This does not mean that our lives will be free of difficulties and challenges if we choose to trust in God. Rather, if we remain faithful, in the end, if we look back through what we have gone through, we will indeed realise just how much God had blessed us with, and how much He has strengthened and provided for us. He is our firm foundation upon which our faith strengthens us and keeps us steady amidst the dangers and challenges of the world.

Today, all of us celebrate the feast day of one of the holy and devoted servants of God, whose life was anchored to the Lord so deeply, that he can be a great inspiration to all of us in how we should be living our own lives with faith. He is St. Cyril of Alexandria, the very influential Patriarch of Alexandria and therefore one of the great leaders of the Church during his time, leading his flock for thirty-two years.

St. Cyril of Alexandria was remembered for his great piety and dedication to God, his courageous faith and orthodoxy, defending the true faith against the false teachings and heresies that were espoused and held by priests, bishops and leaders of the Church at the time, chief of all being the heretic Nestorius, who espoused the Nestorian heresy, which at that time had the support of the Emperor and many among the influential members of the Church and the society.

The Nestorian heresy claimed that Jesus the Man and the Son of God or the Logos, the Divine Word of God were separate and distinct from each other, an argument that the orthodox and true Apostolic faith firmly rejected, defended by St. Cyril of Alexandria and others who stood by the truth that in the person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, His nature as the Son of Man, and His nature as the Son of God, His humanity and divinity, were united and inseparable from each other, two natures in one person, equally and fully God and Man.

St. Cyril of Alexandria had to defend the faith against all these false teachings and this brought him into quite a few conflict both within the Church and also with the secular authorities. St. Cyril stood his ground strongly and devoted himself to the Lord fully, that he persevered through all the challenges and oppositions, all the struggles he had to go through throughout his ministry of the people of God.

Through the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria and several other prominent leaders of the Church, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convoked in the year 431, to resolve the dispute between the orthodox party and the Nestorian supporters. In the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, the heresy of Nestorianism was officially condemned, but St. Cyril of Alexandria had to suffer, as the Emperor supported the Nestorians who convened a rival Council of their own.

St. Cyril had to endure arrest and imprisonment for a while, and yet he continued to struggle for the true faith, and eventually, with the backing of the people and the support of many others who defended the true faith, the heretic Nestorius was deposed and sent into exile, and St. Cyril was freed and continued to shepherd his flock to the end of his life. Truly, we have seen in the life of this holy saint, a great inspiration for us all to follow in how we live our virtuous Christian lives.

Let us all be inspired by the virtuous examples of St. Cyril of Alexandria as well as the faith of Abraham, our father in faith, in trusting the Lord completely and putting our faith in Him, He Who is the firm foundation of our lives, that despite the challenges and difficulties we may encounter, we do not take shortcuts and means that put our faith more in our own human and worldly power as Sarah had once done.

Let us all build our Christian lives upon the firm foundation in God, and devote ourselves with ever greater zeal and fervour from now on. May the Lord continue to guide us throughout our lives, and may He bless us all in our journey through life, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

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, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 105 : 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, for His love endures forever. Who can count YHVH’s mighty deeds, or declare all His praises?

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o YHVH, when You show favour to Your people.

Rescue me when You deliver them; let me see the triumph of Your faithful; let me share the joy of Your nation; and join Your people in praising You.

Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Genesis 16 : 1-12, 15-16

Sarai, Abram’s wife had not borne him a child, but she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar, and she said to Abram, “Now, since YHVH has kept me from having children, go to my servant; perhaps I shall have a child by her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

Abram had been in the land of Canaan ten years when Sarai, his wife, took Hagar, her Egyptian maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as wife. He went in to Hagar and she became pregnant. When she was aware of this, she began to despise her mistress. Sarai said to Abram, “May this injury done to me be yours. I put my servant in your arms and now that she knows she is pregnant, I count for nothing in her eyes. Let YHVH judge between me and you.”

Abram said to Sarai, “Your servant is in your power; do with her as you please.” Then Sarai treated her so badly that she ran away. The Angel of YHVH found her near a spring in the wilderness and said to her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.”

The Angel of YHVH said to her, “Go back to your mistress and humbly submit yourself to her.” The Angel of YHVH said to her, “I will so increase your descendants, that they will be too numerous to be counted.” Then the Angel of YHVH said to her, “Now you are with child and you will have a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for YHVH has heard your distress. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, defiant towards all his brothers.”

Hagar gave birth to a son and Abram called the child Hagar bore him, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Genesis 16 : 6b-12, 15-16

Then Sarai treated Hagar so badly that she ran away. The Angel of YHVH found her near a spring in the wilderness and said to her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.”

The Angel of YHVH said to her, “Go back to your mistress and humbly submit yourself to her.” The Angel of YHVH said to her, “I will so increase your descendants, that they will be too numerous to be counted.” Then the Angel of YHVH said to her, “Now you are with child and you will have a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for YHVH has heard your distress. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, defiant towards all his brothers.”

Hagar gave birth to a son and Abram called the child Hagar bore him, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.

Saturday, 22 June 2019 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paulinus of Nola, Bishop, St. John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Thomas More, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops) or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us all about the need for us to trust not in our own human power, abilities, greatness or achievements, but rather, in the power and providence of God. Many of us have not trusted enough in God and prefer rather to take matter into our own hands, being concerned and worried about our daily living and focusing on all the wrong things.

In our first reading today we listened to the Epistle that St. Paul wrote to the Church and to the faithful in Corinth, that if one were to boast, it would be best for that person not to boast of his own greatness or power, but rather, of the greatness and glory of God. St. Paul himself gave an example, through his own tireless ministry and hard work among the people he did not glorify himself or his own achievements, in the many miracles he performed and in the many things he accomplished, but he continued to glorify and praise God.

Of course, St. Paul also mentioned the temptations and difficulties he faced, the temptations of pride and greed in his heart. After all, he was still just a human being, prone to being tempted by all these wicked and negative feelings, emotions and desires just as we are. But he did not let those things to become obstacles in the way of his faith. On the contrary, he remained firmly convinced and strongly dedicated in his faith in God.

He trusted the Lord rather than his own power, for in the end, none of the means of this world, be it power, money, prestige, fame, glory or whatever it is that we mankind often seek and desire in this world, could have gained him anything that is true and lasting. In our Gospel passage today, this was exactly what the Lord mentioned to His disciples, when He revealed the folly of those who worry and are concerned about their daily needs and wants, be it for things to eat or for things to wear.

And today we celebrate the feast of a few saints, whose lives have been exemplary and filled with great examples of dedication and commitment to God. They are St. Paulinus of Nola, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. All of them put their trust in God and believed firmly in the providence and the power of God rather than in their own human power and capabilities. St. Paulinus of Nola was a bishop and one of the influential leaders of the Church in the final days of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, while St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More are the two saints and martyrs of the English Reformation and persecution.

St. Paulinus of Nola was remembered for his dedication to the Lord and for his renunciation of wealth and worldly glory for asceticism and simple living, having been born as a senatorial class member and a privileged noble. He was once an influential governor of the province in Northern Italy and a trusted confidant of the Roman Emperor, before an occasion when after he has been baptised as a Christian and losing his child, he chose to withdraw from the world.

Eventually he became a bishop and served the faithful in the region of Nola, dedicating himself for over twenty years to the flock he had been entrusted with, spending his money, time, energy and effort for the good of the faithful and the Church there. St. Paulinus of Nola truly showed us all what it means to be a faithful Christian, trusting completely in God and doing everything to glorify God and not himself.

And today we also then celebrate the feast of two martyr saints of the English Reformation, the famous St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. St. Thomas More was the Chancellor and right-hand man to King Henry VIII, the one who unilaterally initiated the English Reformation due to his insistence to remarry another woman despite still being legally and lawfully married to his Queen, and thus separating the English Church from the Universal Church.

St. John Fisher meanwhile was one of the influential leaders of the Church in the Kingdom of England, as the Bishop of Rochester and a close confidant of King Henry VIII’s father. He was also the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and tutor to King Henry VIII. It was widely told that King Henry VIII’s highly acclaimed treatise ‘Assertio Septem Sacramentorum’ or the ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’ against the heresies of Protestantism was actually written by St. John Fisher.

Both St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were strong opponents of the King’s efforts to remarry another woman according to his desires, and worked very hard to resolve the issue and preventing the rupture in Christendom due to the king’s continued insistence to follow his will. And when the King decided to break away the relationship and Communion with the Universal Church of Rome, the two men remained steadfast in their dedication to the true Church.

Despite the challenges, the persuasions, the coercions and pressures for them to abandon their steadfastness to their faith and to obey instead the demands of the King, amidst the promises that they would continue to enjoy the favour of the King and all sorts of good things and worldly goodness they had thus enjoyed then and more, should they abandon their opposition to the King. But they remained firm in their faith, and as such, died as holy martyrs of the faith.

Through all the examples shown by these great saints, surely all of us should be inspired to live as better Christians, more and more devoted to the Lord, and putting Him above all else in our lives. Let us all not worry about worldly things and concerns, things that are not permanent and things that cannot bring real happiness to us in the first place. Let us turn to God from now on, inspired by the good examples of His holy servants, our holy predecessors from now on. Amen.

Saturday, 22 June 2019 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paulinus of Nola, Bishop, St. John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Thomas More, Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops) or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 6 : 24-34

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “No one can serve two masters, for he will either hate one and love the other; or he will be loyal to the first and look down on the second. You cannot, at the same time, serve God and money.”

Therefore, I tell you, not to be worried about food and drink for yourself, or about clothes for your body. Is not life more important than food; and is not the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow, they do not harvest, and do not store food in barns; and yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more worthy than they are?”

“Can any of you add a day to your life by worrying about it? Why are you so worried about your clothes? Look at how the flowers in the fields grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, that not even Solomon, in all his glory, was clothed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass in the field, which blooms today and is to be burnt in an oven tomorrow, how much more will He clothe you? What little faith you have!”

“Do not worry, and say : What are we going to eat? What are we going to drink? or : What shall we wear? The pagans busy themselves with such things; but your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Set your heart, first, on the kingdom and righteousness of God; and all these things will also be given to you. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Saturday, 22 June 2019 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paulinus of Nola, Bishop, St. John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Thomas More, Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops) or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 33 : 8-9, 10-11, 12-13

YHVH’s Angel encamps and patrols, to keep safe those who fear Him. Oh, see and taste the goodness of YHVH! Blessed is the one who finds shelter in Him!

Revere YHVH, all you, His saints, for those who fear Him do not live in want. The mighty may be hungry and in need; but those who seek YHVH lack nothing.

Come, listen to Me, My children; I will show you how to fear YHVH. If you desire long life; if you want to enjoy prosperity.