Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 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, in today’s Scripture readings the Lord spoke to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading, giving him a scroll containing His words to the people, and asking him to eat the scroll, tasting sweet as honey and then commanding him to go forth and tell His words, as well as His will to the people of Israel. Thus, Ezekiel went on and preached God’s words to His people in exile in Babylon.

And this is related to what we heard in today’s Gospel reading, taken from Gospel according to St. Matthew. The Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples when they were likely bickering among themselves about who would be greater than the other, and who was the greatest in the eyes of the Lord. This was not mentioned specifically in today’s Gospel, but a similar, likely to be the same event, was mentioned in greater detail in another Gospel account.

The Lord rebuked them all by bringing a child to Himself and saying to them, that unless they had faith like that of a child, they would have no part in Him and would not be worthy of Him. What He meant was that, as a child who came to Him and believed in Him, the faith that the child has was purer and greater than that of the disciples, who bickered and fought among themselves for influence and worldly power.

All of us who have seen a child before and observed how they behaved can witness how their innocence is pure and how they are still very impressionable and mouldable. If they come to believe in something at that age, they believe wholeheartedly and without reservation, unlike those who are of the older ages. Once we reach a certain age, our minds and thinking begin to be influenced by many factors and considerations in life, ever present in this world.

And therefore, what is the significance of today’s Scripture readings, brothers and sisters in Christ? First of all, as Christians, all of us must be pure in our faith and in our desire to love God. We must follow what the Lord had said, that each one of those who follow Him must have faith like that of a child, and that means, our faith must be truly something that is genuine and sincere, coming from our heart, desiring to be with God and to love Him at all times.

We should not have a kind of conditional love towards God, loving Him just because we want power, convenience, prestige, and all the things many of us often desire in life. All of these are in fact obstacles for us in our journey of faith towards God, and are hindrances that prevent us from truly being able to follow God’s will in our daily lives. We must be sincere and true in our commitment to God, at all times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, then, secondly, today’s Scripture readings also pointed out our obligations as Christians, to be good guides to one another in the matter of faith. In the first reading, God told the prophet Ezekiel to go to the exiled people of Israel in Babylon, to speak to them all that He would speak to them through him, and he obeyed despite the challenges he had to encounter.

And in the Gospel passage, the Lord Jesus warned the disciples sternly that they should not misguide the young ones in faith, and this shows that all of us have the responsibility to keep one another in good faith in the Lord, and to live our lives with good adherence to our faith, so that in everything we say and do, we will not create any scandal or things that lead others to lose their faith and belief in God.

Instead, we must do what we can, to be exemplary in faith and in life, and to devote ourselves in all that we do, that we may keep one another in good faith, and bring even more souls to God’s love and saving grace. This is our responsibility and duty as Christians towards our fellow brethren. And perhaps we should follow the examples shown by the renowned saint, St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast day we celebrate today.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar, priest and missionary, who spent years in mission in Japan and other places, preaching the faith and being actively involved in evangelising works through the Militia Immaculatae organisation, before returning to Poland during the time just before the Second World War due to his poor health.

Despite his partial German ancestry and ability to claim privilege as a German during the time of the occupation of Poland by NAZI Germany, St. Maximilian Kolbe refused to do so, and continued doing his evangelising works until he was arrested and his printing and publishing house in the monastery was forced to close down together with the monastery itself. St. Maximilian Kolbe was imprisoned and eventually brought to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp.

In Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe continued to minister to the people who were suffering grievously, lifting up their spirits by his inspirational sermons and by his continued celebration of the Holy Mass. And when some people ran away from the camp and the prison guards selected some men to be killed as a punishment, St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one of the men who exclaimed with fear as he had wife and children.

Thus, St. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life in exchange for another, and the man was spared from death. St. Maximilian Kolbe willingly embraced death, knowing that by doing so he had given a new hope to the man who was so concerned that he would never see his loved ones again. St. Maximilian Kolbe was thus a holy martyr of the faith and the Church, died defending his faith to the very end against the wicked and unjust ways of the world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Maximilian Kolbe has indeed acted with such great love, that he has imitated the love which Christ has for us so well, sparing nothing for the sake of the loved ones, even with the price of one’s own life. Now, are we able to follow in the footsteps of these holy martyrs and followers of God? Let us all therefore be good guides of faith for one another, by imitating the love that Christ has for us, and which St. Maximilian Kolbe has shown, that we may be ever more committed to live our lives with faith and devotion to God.

Let us all show good examples for our fellow brethren in faith, and help each other to find our way to the Lord, having faith pure as children’s faith, and placing the Lord as the very centre and heart of our daily lives and activities. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 18 : 1-5, 10, 12-14

At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child, set the child in the midst of the disciples, and said, “I assure you, that, unless you change, and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble, like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives such a child, in My Name, receives Me.”

“See that you do not despise any of these little ones; for I tell you, their Angels in heaven continually see the face of My heavenly Father. What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”

“It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to perish.”

Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 118 : 14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131

I delight in following Your laws, more so than in all riches.

Your laws are my delight, my counsellors who uphold me.

Your law is more precious to me than heaps of silver and gold.

How sweet are Your promises to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Your statutes are my heritage forever, they are the joy of my heart.

I gasp in ardent yearning for Your commandments that I love.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Ezekiel 2 : 8 – Ezekiel 3 : 4

God said to Ezekiel, “Listen then, son of man, to what I say, and do not be a rebel among rebels. Open your mouth and take in what I am about to say.”

I looked and saw a hand stretched out in front of me holding a scroll. He unrolled it before me; on both sides were written lamentations, groaning and woes. He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is given to you. Eat this scroll and then go; speak to the people of Israel.”

I opened my mouth and He made me eat the scroll; and then He said to me, “Eat and fill yourself with this scroll that I am giving you.” I ate it; and it tasted as sweet as honey. He said, “Son of man, go to the Israelites; speak to them with My words.”

Monday, 13 August 2018 : 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, on this day we listened to the Scripture passages relating to us about firstly the vision of the prophet Ezekiel as he saw the vision of the glory of God on His heavenly throne. He saw the Lord enthroned gloriously upon the Thrones and Cherubim, with a great multitude of Angels, surrounded by Seraphim and all the great servants of God.

In that vision, the Lord called Ezekiel, one of the exiles of Israel and Judah in the land of Babylon after they were brought there by king Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel was called to be God’s mouthpiece and prophet, to declare to the people in exile of His will and what would happen to the people and the kingdom of Judah, to be destroyed and brought into exile for their sins and constant disobedience against God.

Through what God has shown Ezekiel, He wanted him to know who his master truly was, that is none other than God Himself. Ezekiel obeyed the Lord and followed His commands, even though he had to encounter many opposition and challenges, even threats to his own life. He did what he could in order to perform whatever tasks He had entrusted to him, in order to bring Israel and its people to repent from their sins and reconcile with Him.

God was calling on His people through Ezekiel in order to gather them once again, that they may call Him their God, and He may call them His people. And this is related to what we heard through today’s Gospel passage, where St. Peter asked the Lord if they should all pay taxes to Temple as they were told to. And the Lord’s answer was truly wise and is something that all of us should take heed of as we carry on living our lives in this world.

At that time, the Romans ruled over most of the land around the Mediterranean Sea, including the area of Judea, where the ancient land of Israel was. They stationed garrison troops and installed governors to maintain local order, and they also imposed taxes on all the subject nations and peoples. The taxes paid to the government was used to fund all state expenses, and was also an important sign and proof of submission to the Roman state.

And on top of that, the Temple tax mentioned earlier was an additional tax levied on the Jewish people in order to maintain the running of the Temple of Jerusalem, which was the heart and centre of the Jewish faith, where sacrifices were regularly conducted. There were also many priests and ceremonies in that city, which required maintenance. Hence, again, the Temple tax was a sign of support and also obedience to the Jewish authorities, just as the Roman tax was a sign of obedience to the Romans.

The Lord Jesus said to St. Peter, asking him of his opinion, on who was supposed to pay the taxes to the kings, whether those who belong to the royalty or aliens, that is strangers and the common people. The Apostle answered that the strangers and aliens were the ones who were supposed to pay the taxes and not those who belong to the family of the kings.

Through this, the Lord wanted to state that, as the first reading passage today has shown us, He is the One and only True King of the whole Creation and the entire Universe. There is no other authority or power greater than that of God, and He alone is the source of all power and authority. And then, each and every one of us are beloved by God, that we are made to be none other than God’s own adopted sons and daughters.

Through Christ, Who became Man and as One Who is like us in His humanity, each one of us have been given the chance to call God our Father, just as Jesus called God the Father as His Father. Christ is both the Son of God and Son of Man alike, and through this, we are made to be God’s own children. Therefore, linking this fact with what the Lord had said in today’s Gospel passage, all of us ought to only obey God and His commandments alone.

But, this does not mean that we should disobey earthly and worldly authorities, as being Christians mean that we must be God-centric and we must place Him at the very centre of our lives, but not at the expense of our certain worldly obligations and relationships. We have to realise, that governments and worldly states are actually delegated part of the authority which God alone has.

That means, if we disobey the world and the order of things in this world, just because we want to obey only the Lord and no others, but at the detriment of ourselves and many others around us, we are actually not being responsible and good Christians. There are indeed occasions when the state and the government may act in contrary to the teachings of the Lord as preserved in His Church, when we are called to stand up for our faith, but as long as the state functions within the just boundaries of Christian truth and morality, we should obey the laws of the state and be good citizens of this world, just as we are first and foremost, God’s people.

Today, we celebrate the feast of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, whose life and works were intertwined together at the time when the Church was in its early days, during the time of the harsh persecutions of Christians by the Roman authorities. There were rivalry and bitterness between the two saints, as they were rival candidates to succeed to the throne of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

Nonetheless, even though they eventually became rival Pope and Antipope, with portions of the faithful and the clergy on each side, but they continued to serve the faithful in their respective capacities, and as Roman citizens, surely they also obeyed the Roman state in the matter of paying taxes and also other civil duties, with the exception of the obligation to worship the pagan gods and the Emperor.

To them, their one and only true Master, is the Lord, and not the Roman Emperor or that of any other authorities of the world. That was why, they stood their ground in faith, when the community of the faithful were persecuted by the Roman authorities. And it was told that they were exiled together and endured many persecutions and sufferings, until they were martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to follow in the footsteps of those holy martyrs, who have given their all to the Lord and obeyed Him to the very end. Yet, at the same time, we are also called to continue to obey the authorities of this world, to which power and authority had been delegated from God, as long as the laws and rules do not contravene the centre tenets of our Christian faith.

May God be with us always, and may He continue to inspire us all to live with faith and with greater love, each and every day, for His laws and commandments. May He bless us all, in all of our works and endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 13 August 2018 : 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 17 : 22-27

At that time, when Jesus was in Galilee with the Twelve, He said to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. But He will rise on the third day.” The Twelve were deeply grieved.

When they returned to Capernaum, the temple tax collectors came to Peter and asked him, “Does your Master pay the temple tax?” He answered, “Yes.” Peter then entered the house; and immediately, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? Who pay taxes or tribute to the kings of the earth : their sons or strangers and aliens?”

Peter replied, “Strangers and aliens.” And Jesus told him, “The sons, then, are tax-free. But, so as not to offend these people, go to the sea, throw in a hook, and open the mouth of the first fish you catch. You will find a coin in it. Take the coin and give it to them for you and for Me.”

Monday, 13 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 148 : 1-2, 11-12, 13, 14

Alleluia! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the heavenly heights. Praise Him, all His Angels; praise Him, all His heavenly hosts.

Kings of the earth and nations, princes and all rulers of the world, young men and maidens, old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the Lord. For His Name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.

He has given His people glory; He has a praise to His faithful, to Israel, the people close to Him. Alleluia.