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.

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded to be sincere in faith, to be true to the Lord in all things, in following Him and dedicating ourselves and our efforts to serve Him, in whatever He has called us to, in whatever vocations He has shown us, the paths that He has laid out before us. We heard the Lord telling us through our Scripture passages today to be genuinely faithful and to be filled with real, living and true faith in us at all times.

In our first reading today, we heard from the First Book of Kings the story of the calling of the prophet Elisha, whom the Lord had appointed and chosen to be the successor for the prophet Elijah. The prophet Elijah found Elisha tending to the farm and the oxen, and he revealed to Elisha what God had planned with him, and almost immediately, Elisha told the prophet Elijah that he would follow him, and abandoned everything he had, saying his farewells to his family, and left, following Elijah to serve God.

Elisha had everything he needed, family, property, a sure guarantee of a good and settled life, with land and house of his own family, and yet, he chose to abandon everything and follow the Lord in whatever designs He had for him, and he obeyed the Lord entrusting his life to His care and providence. He embraced his calling fully and later on would become a great prophet much like his mentor, Elijah, performing many great works and miracles among the people of God.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord spoke to His disciples with regards to the matter of making oaths and vows. He told them all not to go around making vows and oaths, and base those oaths on either heaven or earth, or on their own body, even the smallest part of their body. And yet, we know that vows are an integral part of our Christian faith, with religious congregations and the order of priesthood making vows and oaths before the Lord, as with many other examples.

How do we then reconcile these facts? It is actually quite simple, and first of all, we need to understand that what the Lord truly wanted us to know is not to make vows and oaths that are merely gestures and empty in meaning, as when we make oaths and vows, and do not fulfil them, as what many of the people living during the time of the Lord had done, then what they did was actually very wicked, as they dishonoured and tarnished the name and identity of what they used to base their oaths on, including, the Holy Name of God.

What the Lord wants us to know is that, we need to mean what we say, and do as what we have said that we would do. That is why He said, ‘said yes when you mean yes, and said no when you mean no.’ Otherwise, we become hypocrites and liars. That is why, we have been reminded of the example of the prophet Elisha in our first reading today. When he responded to Elijah and the Lord that he would leave everything behind, and follow the Lord, he really meant what he said, and did everything as he said.

As Christians, all of us are thus called to mean and live through what we have promised to the Lord upon our baptism and entry as members of the Church. We have promised to reject Satan and all of his false promises, and we believe in the Lord and in His teachings and truth. And this is why, we need to truly live our faith actively, commit ourselves to the path that the Lord has shown us. Today, we can also then look upon the good examples of one of our holy predecessors to help and inspire us.

St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most famous saints within our Christian faith and Church. He was a renowned priest and Franciscan friar, who dedicated much of his life to the service of the people, especially those who were sick and abandoned. He spent much time to reach out to the people and called many to repentance. St. Anthony of Padua was also deeply honoured and remembered for his deep and extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, his eloquence and great ability in teaching and preaching the faith.

Through his many writings and his many works, St. Anthony of Padua dedicated his whole life to the service of God. Many were inspired by these and many believed in God because of his efforts and hard work, much like the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the old days. And through this, we are shown what it means for us to be genuine and sincere in our faith, that we live up to our faith as Christians, and truly mean what we say and what we believe in.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to do this in our own lives? Are we able and willing to commit ourselves to the cause of the Lord and to live ever more faithfully from now on, not just in words, but also in every actions and deeds, at all times? Are we willing to follow the good examples of St. Anthony of Padua, and of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, among many other inspiring examples we know of? To each and every one of us, God has given wonderful gifts, talents, abilities and opportunities, and it is up to us whether we want to use them for the greater glory of God, or whether we want to ignore them instead.

Let us all discern carefully our path in life from now on, keeping in mind that each and every one of us have been called to follow the Lord through the various avenues by which we can contribute. Those of us who are called to be holy through raising good and faithful Christian families, let us do our best, and to those who have been called to serve the people of God as priests and religious brothers and sisters, let us all also embrace God’s calling and do as what the Lord has told us to do.

May the Lord be with us in our respective journeys of faith, and may He strengthen each and every one of us that we may truly devote ourselves, our time, effort and attention as good and faithful Christians, living a meaningful and good Christian living from now on. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 5 : 33-37

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “You have also heard that people were told in the past : Do not break your oath; an oath sworn to the Lord must be kept. But I tell you this : do not take oaths. Do not swear by the heavens, for they are God’s throne; nor by the earth, because it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King.”

“Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white of black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything else you say comes from the evil one.”

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 15 : 1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10

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

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

My heart, therefore, exults, my soul rejoices; my body too will rest assured. For You will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor will You suffer Your Holy One to see decay in the land of the dead.

Saturday, 13 June 2020 : 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Kings 19 : 19-21

Elijah left. He found Elisha, son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah and said, “Let me say goodbye to my father and mother; then I will follow you.”

Elijah said to him, “Return if you want, do not worry about what I did.” However, Elisha turned back, took the yoke of oxen and slew them. He roasted their meat on the pieces of the yoke and gave it to his people who ate of it. After this, he followed Elijah and began ministering to him.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, we heard of the ‘farewells’ made by two different people, both following the will of God, in fulfilling their part in their calling and ministry, as both were going on to encounter great sufferings and persecutions, which eventually would lead to their respective deaths. Today we heard of the story of St. Paul who was in Ephesus just before he was to depart for Jerusalem to confront his final ministry, and we also heard about the prayer of the Lord Jesus for His disciples which He made during His last moments before He embarked on His Passion.

In our first reading today, St. Paul met with the elders and leaders of the community of the faithful in Ephesus, as he was on his way back from his extensive missionary journey towards Jerusalem, the early centre of Christendom and the capital of the Jewish people at the time. At that time, St. Paul already had received revelation from God that his journey to Jerusalem this time would be his very last one before he was to be tried for his alleged crimes and sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor, and he would not have the chance to see the elders and the community in Ephesus again.

For someone so dedicated to the cause of the faith, filled with so much enthusiasm in preaching the Good News like that, it must have been difficult for St. Paul to say farewell to all the people, some of whom must have been known to St. Paul for many years during his almost three decades of missionary works, in which he passed through Ephesus quite a number of times. We must not forget that St. Paul also wrote Epistles or letters to the Church in Ephesus, showing that the Church there must have been close to his heart.

But St. Paul was greatly encouraged knowing and believing that God would be with all of them and ensure the continued growth of the Church there even long after he had gone and departed from this world. St. Paul therefore also prayed over the elders and the community of the faithful, praying that God would continue to guide them and remain with them through their good and bad times. And St. Paul also uttered the words to the elders in Ephesus as what he also uttered in another occasion to St. Timothy, for which he is now famous, that, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.’

Our first reading today, as well as even our Gospel today can basically be summarised by that phrase. Both St. Paul and the Lord Jesus had done wonderful works among the people, making countless people to believe in God through them, performed miracles and wonders, and brought God’s truth and salvation closer to many. And that they were both coming to the end of their earthly journey and ministry, both of them thanked God for having been with them throughout, as St. Paul thanked and praised God for His constant guidance, and the Lord Jesus also thanked His heavenly Father for the same.

And most importantly, is that both of them accepted their roles in the works of salvation and what would happen to them as God has revealed to them. St. Paul accepted his eventual martyrdom for the sake of his faith, and willingly went on to Jerusalem to accept the punishment from the Jewish authorities, for which accusations he decided to claim the right for appeal to the Emperor which led him to go to Rome, to be martyred but also with the opportunity to preach and work among the community in Rome. In the same way, the Lord Jesus also accepted the role that He had to suffer and die on the Cross for the salvation of all.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, what do all these then show us? It is that as Christ’s followers and disciples, all of us must be ready to detach ourselves from worldly desires and concerns, from the attachments to worldly matters and all the things that prevent us from being able to fully give ourselves to the service and the greater glory of God. Too often we have allowed ourselves be swayed and tempted by all these worldly matters and concerns that we have ended up down the wrong path.

St. Paul could have evaded issues, troubles and sufferings by staying in Ephesus or at other places he was welcomed or having friends in, but he chose to face his challenges, departing for Jerusalem where he knew all his enemies were gathered to give witness to his faith and to proclaim the Lord to more people especially in Rome, to where God had sent him to evangelise. In the same way, the Lord Jesus could also easily have evaded His arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion, but He chose to obey the will of His Father, and devoted Himself to His Passion.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we also have to take note of, that we have to be ready to follow the Lord, to listen to Him and to trust in Him rather than to be distracted, tempted, and pulled down by various worldly desires and concerns. We have to keep our focus clear, to trust in the Lord and the path He has set before, and do our best through whatever He has given us to contribute to the greater good of the Church and for God’s greater glory.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Philip Neri, one of the very famous saints of the Church, famously known as the Second Apostle of Rome who was remembered for his extensive works in establishing important congregations and religious orders, especially the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity and Congregation of the Oratory. St. Philip Neri himself was born into a noble and wealthy family, but he chose to abandon everything after God had called him into a life dedicated to His service.

St. Philip Neri was remembered for his great labours among the poor and the sick in the city of Rome, ministering to even prostitutes and others normally shunned by the rest of the community. All of his hard work and efforts are what made him to be called the ‘Second Apostle of Rome’ as mentioned earlier, following in the footsteps of both St. Peter and St. Paul, who went to Rome, ministered there and were eventually martyred for their faith. St. Philip Neri dedicated himself to the congregations he founded, and was remembered for his intense personal piety.

All of these inspired many others to follow his good examples, and many joined his congregations which grew rapidly and played important roles in the rejuvenation of the faith among the faithful, especially those who have lapsed from their faith. The examples of St. Philip Neri should inspire us all to follow his examples, and to live our lives from now on, following what God has called us to do, and follow Him with zeal and commitment, and with the desire to love Him more and to serve Him faithfully.

Are we willing and able to entrust ourselves to the Lord, and be ever more devoted to Him as our holy predecessors had done? We do not have to abandon the world as what St. Philip Neri had done, or to follow St. Paul into his sufferings and persecutions. Rather, what we are called to do is for us to live our lives as good and devout Christians that in everything we do in our respective areas, in whatever calling and vocations we have been called to, in our families and in our communities, we will always focus our attention on God, and that we do everything for the sake of God and following whatever He has shown and taught us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all live an ever more genuine Christian living from now on, and let us dedicate more of our time, effort and attention to walk in the path of Christ, following the inspiring examples of our Lord Himself, of St. Paul the Apostle, St. Philip Neri and many other holy saints and martyrs of God. May God be with us always throughout this journey of faith in life, and may He strengthen us all that we may follow Him wholeheartedly. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 17 : 1-11a

At that time, after Jesus said all that He had said to His disciples, He lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come! Give glory to Your Son, that the Son may give glory to You. You have given Him power over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to all those You entrusted to Him. For this is eternal life : to know You, the only true God, and the One You sent, Jesus Christ.”

“I have glorified You on earth and finished the work that You gave Me to do. Now, Father, give Me, in Your presence, the same glory I had with You before the world began. I have made Your Name known to those You gave Me from the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they kept Your word. And now they know that whatever You entrusted to Me, is indeed from You.”

“I have given them the teaching I received from You, and they received it, and know in truth that I came from You; and they believe that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world, but for those who belong to You, and whom You have given to Me. Indeed all I have is Yours and all You have is Mine; and now they are My glory.”

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I come to You.”