Monday, 22 May 2023 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, each one of us are called to continue to live our lives faithfully as Christians and continue to carry out what the Lord had commanded us to do, to live our lives in the manner that He has taught us all to do, so that in everything we say and do, we will always be the worthy bearers of His light and truth, and that we may be inspiration and good role models for others around us, proclaiming the Good News and truth of God through our own lives and works, through our every words and interactions. All of us should do what we can to spread God’s message and ways to others whom we encounter in our lives. This is our calling and vocation as Christians, regardless whichever specific vocation that we have been called to.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles about the works of St. Paul the Apostle among the faithful in the region of Ephesus in Asia Minor. Ephesus was one of the early centres of Christianity, and the faithful there grew rapidly in numbers as both Jews and Gentiles alike embraced the new faith in God. The Lord has called on all of them to be His followers, and He spread to them His Good News and truth through His disciples and missionaries like St. Paul, who went to their region to proclaim the Good News and the truth of God. St. Paul was speaking to some of those disciples who were likely to have belonged to the Jewish diaspora there, who believed in the teachings of St. John the Baptist, the Herald of the Messiah. As was evident from the accounts from the Acts of the Apostles and the other parts of the New Testament, St. John the Baptist and his teachings were quite widespread around the region.

However, those disciples like the ones in Ephesus have not yet received the fullness of truth as what the early Christians have received, and hence, the Lord called on His Apostles and disciples to evangelise and spread the Good News to all of those people who have not yet heard of this truth and Good News. St. Paul taught them about the teachings and truth of the Lord, proclaiming to them the Good News and the Gospel of salvation. Those disciples believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and received Him as their Saviour and Master, and were baptised by St. Paul. The Holy Spirit came down upon them and many great miracles happened, as St. Paul continued to minister to all the faithful there and carrying out the good works that God had planted among them. That was how the Church kept on expanding and growing at that time in Ephesus and elsewhere.

Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord speaking to His disciples when they told Him that He was finally telling them the truth and no longer was using parables, hidden meanings and other forms of story-telling through which those who listened to the Lord had not been able to discern fully what He wanted to tell them. But this was because the Lord did not want them all to know everything at once, and wanted them to journey with Him, and to discover their faith in God gradually through their experiences and by listening to the word of God speaking in their hearts and through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit stirring in them, prodding them to follow the path that the Lord has shown them, and for them to find out about the truth which He has presented and brought before all of them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, essentially through what we have received in our Scripture readings today, all of us are reminded that each and every one of us who have received the same truth and revelation of the Good News of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, all of us have the obligation and calling, the mission and vocation to proclaim the truth of God to more and more of the people whom we encounter daily, at each and every moments. In our every works, our words and actions, in our every deeds and interactions with one another, all of us should do our part in living our lives worthily so that we may indeed bear our Christian faith and truth to others who interact with us and witness our work and actions. All of us bear within us this calling and mission, with whatever it is that the Lord has blessed and entrusted us with, in our various areas and competencies.

Today, all of us should be inspired by the examples of St. Rita of Cascia whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Rita of Cascia was an Italian saint and Augustinian nun, a holy and devout religious sister who had dedicated her life to the service and the glory of God. She was married at a very young age by her family and despite her desires to enter a convent even from an early age, she remained as a good and faithful wife to her husband, who was quick-tempered and immoral in nature. She was remembered for her efforts in trying to change her husband’s ways, in the marriage that lasted for eighteen years until her husband and sons passed away. It was known that her husband’s family was involved in the then bitter interfamilial struggles and conflicts, and when her husband was murdered, St. Rita of Cascia tried to dissuade her sons from seeking revenge for their father’s death. She also forgave her husband’s murderers and enemies.

And when the sons of St. Rita of Cascia were in danger of committing sins in the pursuit of vengeance, she voluntarily asked the Lord to take them away so that they would not fall into the path of sin and damnation. Miraculously, God listened to her prayers, and her sons were taken away from her, as they passed away from dysentery, before they could commit murder and mortal sins that could harm and endanger their eternal souls. Afterwards, St. Rita of Cascia entered the monastery of St. Mary Magdalene in Cascia, in which she devoted the rest of her life to a work of prayer and piety, and managed to bring the two feuding families together in fulfilling the conditions that were imposed to her before she was to join the monastery community, devoting her life henceforth only to the glorification of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all hence be inspired by the examples and the role models showed to us by St. Rita of Cascia and many others of our holy predecessors. Let us all turn towards the Lord once again and commit ourselves to His path, doing whatever we can to do His will and to love Him at all times. May the Risen Lord, Our Saviour Jesus Christ continue to be with us and guide us all, and bless us all in our every good works, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 22 May 2023 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 16 : 29-33

At that time, the disciples said to Jesus, “Now You are speaking plainly and not in veiled language! Now we see that You know all things, even before we question You. Because of this we believe that You came from God.”

Jesus answered them, “You say that you believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me. I have told you all this, so that in Me you may have peace. You will have trouble in the world; but courage! I have overcome the world.”

Monday, 22 May 2023 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 67 : 2-3, 4-5ac, 6-7ab

Arise, o God, scatter Your enemies; let Your foes flee before You. As smoke is blown by the wind, so blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish before You.

But let the righteous be glad and exult before God; let them sing to God and shout for joy. Sing to God, sing praises to His Name; the Lord is His Name. Rejoice in His presence.

Father of orphans and Protector of widows – such is our God is His holy dwelling. He gives shelter to the homeless, sets the prisoners free.

Monday, 22 May 2023 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 19 : 1-8

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul travelled through the interior of the country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples whom he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered, “We have not even heard that anyone may receive the Holy Spirit.” Paul then asked, “What kind of baptism have you received?” And they answered, “The baptism of John.”

Paul then explained, “John’s baptism was for conversion, but he himself said they should believe in the One Who was to come, and that One is Jesus.” Upon hearing this, they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came down upon them; and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. There were about twelve of them in all.

Paul went into the synagogue and for three months he preached and discussed there boldly, trying to convince them about the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

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 to do what is right and just before the Lord and man alike, and to shun the path of wickedness and evil. All of us as Christians are expected to do what is right and just, worthy and good as our Lord has taught and shown us to do. This season of Lent in particular we are reminded of our weakness and vulnerabilities to sin, our wickedness and evils, all of our failures to do what God wanted us to do, and everything that had kept us away from the fullness of God’s grace and love. If we continue to walk down the path of disobedience and evil, then we ought to know that it will lead us to damnation and ruin, and eternity of regret, when the time comes for us. On the other hand, those who keep their faith in God will not be disappointed, as God is always ever faithful to the Covenant that He had made with us.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah in which God spoke His words to His people through Jeremiah, to the people and the kingdom of Judah that Jeremiah had been sent to minister in, during the final days of the existence of that kingdom. Jeremiah was sent to a people who had lived in sin and often disobeyed God, leaving and abandoning Him for the pagan idols and gods, persecuting the prophets and messengers that God had sent them patiently and constantly in order to remind them and to call them kindly to repent and turn away from their sinful ways. Jeremiah himself was persecuted, hated and often ridiculed, and even treated and considered as a traitor for his words and actions that were considered as treasonous, as he spoke of the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, that would happen because of the people’s continued sins against God.

The Lord spoke the truth to them, as He presented the fact of how those who continued to disobey Him and depended on worldly and human strength, would fail and falter, as the people and kingdom of Judah would regret later on, because they chose to depend on the powers of the world, on their idols and politics rather than to depend on God. The then king of Judah, Zedekiah, who would be the last king of Judah, chose to depend on the power of Egypt and its Pharaoh, and rebelled against the Babylonians, who ruled over the land, resulting directly in a punitive expedition that led to the destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple and the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, beginning a painful many decades long period of exile for many of the people living in Judah, cast out and exiled from their ancestral lands.

That was indeed the fate of those who were wicked and those who refused to put their faith in God. Jeremiah and many other prophets had repeatedly reminded them, only to be faced with hard hearted rejection and stubborn attitudes, persecution and even martyrdom. But the Lord still loved His people and continued to send them help and reminder, and when they repented and turned away from their sinful ways, having been humiliated and suffered during their exile, God brought them back to their own land, and moved the heart of the King of Persia, Cyrus the Great, to allow His people to return to their homeland, and even to reestablish their cities and the Temple of God in Jerusalem. All of those were eventually restored, and that was yet again another proof of how God would provide for all those who are faithful in Him and placed their trust in Him.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the story that the Lord Jesus told His disciples regarding a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man, both of whom had a very different kind of life, with Lazarus suffering all throughout his life with great poverty and physical suffering, while the rich man enjoyed all the bounties and good things that this world could provide. Lazarus, the poor man, sat by the door of the rich man’s house, and no one lifted a hand to help this poor man, even when he had nothing to eat at all. As we heard in the story, Lazarus hoped to eat even the crumbs and leftovers from the rich man’s table, but even that was denied from him. Eventually we heard how both Lazarus and the rich man died, and how they ended up in truly very different fate, as Lazarus ended up in Heaven with Abraham and the saints, while the rich man fell and damned into hell, to suffer for eternity.

The essence of that story is a reminder for all of us that each and every one of us as Christians are constantly being reminded to be faithful to God and to do what the Lord had told us to do, and this includes not forgetting those around us who are in need. We are all called to do what is good, and when we commit things that are evil, those are considered as sin for us. Yet, if we fail to do what we should have done, that is also sin too. That is what we know as the sin of omission, the failure to do what God had called us to do, just as the rich man could have been moved to help Lazarus, even in the smallest things he could. But he chose to look away and to ignore Lazarus, leaving him to suffer all alone and endure a most painful life in this world while he enjoyed his life amidst all the joy and celebrations.

Linking to what we have spoken and discussed about in our first reading today, regarding the prophet Jeremiah and what God had told His people, all of us are reminded in particular during this season of Lent of the dangers of worldly attachments and temptations. If we allow those things to mislead us, just in the way how the people of Judah, God’s own people had turned away from God and sought to satisfy their own selfish desires, then we may likely end up in the same fate as well, like that of the rich man, who might have been so distracted and tempted by worldly riches and glory that he failed to recognise what the Lord has called him to do with his life, his calling and all the responsibilities he had given the blessings and graces that he had been blessed with. God is not against the rich or us being wealthy, but we must discern how to make good use of our blessings and riches in life, not only for our own good but for everyone.

Today perhaps we should look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, St. Frances of Rome, a holy woman and servant of God, who had dedicated her life to follow and serve the Lord. St. Frances of Rome was a wife and mother who was known in her role of caring for the poor and the sick in her community. St. Frances spent a lot of time and effort in reaching out to the less fortunate all around her, and when she became a widow, she even made part of her own family’s country estate into a hospital for the poor and the sick. She experienced a lot of hardships, challenges and difficulties throughout her life and ministry, but all those things did not discourage her from continuing to carry out her work and mission, and inspiring many others to follow her examples and doing what they could to care for the good of the people of God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore discern carefully our path in life through this season of Lent, so that we may truly find our way forward, living our lives with faith and commit our time and effort to love God more and to love one another as well, distancing ourselves from sin and turning back once more towards God. Let us all be more generous in giving, in giving our love for others around us, those who need our help, like what St. Frances of Rome had done, and many others. Let us not forget that as Christians, it is our calling and in fact, obligation to do what the Lord had always called on us to do, in serving Him and in loving our fellow men and women. May God bless us always, and may He guide us in our journey, and help us through this blessed season and time of Lent. Amen.

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 16 : 19-31

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Once there was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted every day. At his gate lay Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who longed to eat just the scraps falling from the rich man’s table. Even dogs used to come and lick his sores.”

“It happened that the poor man died, and Angels carried him to take his place with Abraham. The rich man also died, and was buried. From hell where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham afar off, and with him Lazarus at rest. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus, with the tip of his finger dipped in water, to cool my tongue, for I suffer so much in this fire.'”

“Abraham replied, ‘My son, remember that in your lifetime you were well-off, while the lot of Lazarus was misfortune. Now he is in comfort, and you are in agony. But that is not all. Between your place and ours a great chasm has been fixed, so that no one can cross over from here to you, or from your side to us.'”

“The rich man implored once more, ‘Then I beg you, Father Abraham, to send Lazarus to my father’s house, where my five brothers live, let him warn them, so that they may not end up in this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'”

“But the rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham; but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the one who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the law of the Lord and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.

Thursday, 9 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jeremiah 17 : 5-10

This is what YHVH says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings and depends on a mortal for his life, while his heart is drawn away from YHVH! He is like a bunch of thistles in dry land, in parched desert places, in a salt land where no one lives and who never finds happiness.”

“Blessed is the man who puts his trust in YHVH and whose confidence is in Him! He is like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots towards the stream. He has no fear when the heat comes, his leaves are always green; the year of drought is no problem and he can always bear fruit.”

“Most deceitful is the heart. What is there within man, who can understand him? I, YHVH, search the heart and penetrate the mind. I reward each one according to his ways and the fruit of his deeds.”

Wednesday, 8 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord, we are all presented with the reality of what it truly means for us to be Christians, to be followers and disciples of the Lord. To be Christians means that our lives have to be centred on Christ and His truth, and we have to resist the temptations of worldly glory and attachments, which may lead us down the wrong path. To be Christians we also have to be prepared to face disagreements and even sufferings because of the incompatibility of some of our beliefs with that commonly accepted by the world. It is whether we are able to remain rooted in faith and strong in our willingness to follow the Lord, that we can remain firm in the path that God has shown us and led us through, to reach His grace and salvation.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah in which the hardships and challenges faced by Jeremiah during his ministry, as he faced opposition from many of those that disagreed with him and refused to believe in his words, and resisted the attempts by Jeremiah to call them all to repentance. Jeremiah has been sent by God to minister among the kingdom and the people of Judah, who had fallen into evil ways, turning away from God and His path. The Lord has always been patient with His beloved people, reaching out to them and showing them His love, and yet, they stubbornly refused to believe in Him and persecuted the ones whom God had sent to them including that of Jeremiah. Many of the false prophets and the leaders of the people plotted against Jeremiah, and they almost managed to kill Him if not for God’s kind providence.

God showed Jeremiah His help and kindness as He moved the heart of the king of Judah and also the few remaining allies that he still had among the people of Judah, who rescued Jeremiah from his predicament and kept him hidden and safe until the time of the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Everything turned out to be exactly just as how the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied it to be, and God’s warnings that went unheeded caused the people of God to be scattered and humiliated for their disobedience against Him, losing not just the Temple and House of the Lord that has been the centre and focal point of the people of God, but also the city of Jerusalem itself and the institution of the kingdom of God’s people. Through this, God showed that those who have kept their faith in Him will triumph in the end, and will be remembered by Him, while those who have refused to walk in His path, would suffer the right consequences for their sins.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the words of the Lord to His disciples especially regarding what it truly means to be His disciples and followers, and what it is that they were all called to do in their lives, as the servants of God’s truth and love. We heard of how the brothers, St. James and St. John, the sons of Zebedee and two of the closest among the Lord’s own disciples came up to Him with their own mother, asking for special privileges and favours over that of the other disciples. This led to the ire and jealousy of the other disciples who became angry at the two of them. The Lord rebuked all of them, and told them all that following Him is not about what they might imagine, as it was likely that they were all trying to seek favours from the Lord, to gain position, privileges and rewards that were better than that received by the others.

They were all looking at things from a rather worldly perspective, seeking for things of this world like fame, glory, renown, wealth, greatness among other things. As such, this was why they were unable to realise that the Lord’s coming into this world was not to give them all those worldly satisfactions and pleasures, achievements and glories. Instead, He came into this world to reach out to us all and to be reconciled with us, and also to teach us what it truly means for us to be the followers and disciples of the Lord, to be His faithful and committed people. He told St. James and St. John, that following Him would result in a lot of hardships and challenges, which He metaphorically mentioned as drinking the cup that He Himself was to drink. This was a reference to His upcoming Passion, suffering and death, all of which He endured out of love for us.

Essentially, if the world itself has persecuted the Lord and rejected Him, as what would happen to the Lord Jesus, rejected, betrayed even by one of His own closest disciples, humiliated and made to bear the punishments for sins and mistakes that were not His, then all of us, who are His disciples and followers, will likely face a similar rejection, condemnation, scrutiny, hardships and trials as well. This was what the prophet Jeremiah and many other prophets and servants of the Lord had experienced, as they were persecuted and made to suffer for their devotion and faith in the Lord, for having stood up for their faith, and for tirelessly doing everything that God had commanded them to do. That is why, today, as we continue to journey through this season of Lent, all of us are called to examine our way of life and our direction going forward.

Are we going to continue to walk down the path of sinfulness and evil, and continue to be swayed by the many temptations all around us? Or are we going to commit ourselves to the path of God’s righteousness and holiness? The Lord has given us all the freedom to choose our own path in life, whether we want to follow Him or to walk away from Him. And ideally of course, we should do whatever we can to follow Him, and to do His will. That is why today, all of us ought to remember the holy life and works of one of our great predecessors, as we celebrate his feast day today. St. John of God was a great man and servant of God who was a soldier that turned into a healthcare worker, living about five centuries earlier than our time. He was kidnapped from his family at an early age and was raised to be a soldier, but he became disillusioned with his way of life and turned towards the Lord.

St. John of God spent years on the road seeking for the meaning of life and faced many struggles during those years of hardships and changes. Yet, eventually he encountered the Lord and went through a great conversion of heart, as he heard the sermon of another great saint, that was St. John of Avila. This led him to begin many works of charity and outreach to the poor and the suffering all around him. He ministered to them and became a great and renowned healthcare worker, who inspired many others to follow in his footsteps. This eventually became the foundation of what was to be known as the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God after their patron and founder. Until his passing from this world, he continued to labour for the good of the people of God and for the care of the sick and those who suffer.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples and life of St. John of God showed us that becoming a true disciple and follower of our Lord is not something that is easy for us. We may encounter many hardships and trials in our journey, but God will always be there by our side, strengthening and supporting us throughout the way. This is what we should be inspired to do as well, in doing what God has commanded us all to do, to love Him and our fellow brothers and sisters more and more with each and every passing moments. Let us all therefore make good use of this season of Lent to redirect our efforts and attention in life, away from worldly excesses and sin, and instead focus our attention more on God and His Law and precepts, and do whatever we can to walk faithfully in His path, shunning worldly glory and ambition, now and always. May God be with us all and bless our every good efforts and endeavours. Amen.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 20 : 17-28

At that time, when Jesus was going to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples and said to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem. There the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, who will condemn Him to death. They will hand Him over to the foreigners, who will mock Him, scourge Him and crucify Him. But He will be raised to life on the third day.”

Then the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down, to ask a favour. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?” And she answered, “Here You have my two sons. Grant that they may sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, when You are in Your kingdom.”

Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink My cup, but to sit at My right or at My left is not for Me to grant. That will be for those, for whom My Father has prepared it.”

The other ten heard all this, and were angry with the two brothers. Then Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations act as tyrants over them, and the powerful oppress them. It shall not be so among you : whoever wants to be more important in your community shall make himself your servant.”

“And if you want to be the first of all, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man Who has come, not to be served but to serve, and to give His life to redeem many.”