Saturday, 5 September 2020 : 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa of Kolkata, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are reminded today through our Scripture passages of our Christian calling, that is to be filled with love and charity, as well as to be humble and not to boast of our own glory and might, but instead, focus our attention on God and do what He has commanded each and every one of us to do, in understanding His will and obeying His Law with genuine faith.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Apostle St. Paul an exhortation he made in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, for all of them not to look down on others or to be judgmental and comparative, to feel superior to others and to be biased. And by using the examples of himself and the other Apostles, by showing and reminding everyone how they had humbled themselves and laboured so hard for the sake of the people, despite being the leaders of the community, the intention of St. Paul was to remind all of us to be humble and to focus ourselves on God.

It is very easy for us to be tempted by the temptation of ego and pride, to think of ourselves as better and superior, and that others are not as good as ourselves. And this is very common temptation that we often face whenever we do our work as part of the Church, in our communities and Church ministries, and even in our interactions and activities in the general community.

By our nature, we are easily tempted to think that we cannot go wrong, and that it must have been because of another’s fault that we end up in trouble. And we also tend to point out another’s mistake first rather than recognising, less still pointing out our own mistake. And all of these were caused by the pride and ego in us, and they are among the biggest obstacles in the path of our journey of faith.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard from the account of how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticising the Lord’s disciples and followers before Him just because they picked on the grains of wheat in the field and eating them as they were hungry. All these happened on the day of the Sabbath, on the day which was supposed to be holy and dedicated to God, and of which there were rules and regulations related to this holy day.

The Sabbath is the holiest day in the week, and the Law of God stipulated that the day ought to be kept free from busy things in life and the usual activities, all for the intention of helping God’s people to refocus their attention on Him and spend quality time with Him, which is why the Sabbath day is also known as the Day of the Lord. It is what we also keep today in our observance of Sundays as the Days of the Lord, celebrating His resurrection and glory.

But over time, the Law was interpreted by the elders and the priests, passed down as increasingly strict sets of rules and regulations that severely restricted the activities of the people, and in time, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law embodied it, the obsession over the petty details of the Law of the Sabbath made many to forget the very reason, purpose and essence of Sabbath itself. The Law was enforced very strictly on the people, and those who did not obey fully, were looked down upon and despised like what the Pharisees did to the Lord and His disciples.

It was exactly what we have just discussed earlier, on the matter of pride and ego which misled the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Lord rebuked these people as misguided leaders and shepherds, who have indulged so much in their own sense of superiority that they had forgotten to lead the people on the right path, showing them guidance and compassion. Instead, they indulged in praise and fame they received from the people, and became haughty and arrogant.

That was why the Lord immediately reminded the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who criticised and attacked His disciples, that even the well-respected and adored king David in his time, gave his followers bread to eat when they were on the run from the authorities and were very hungry. And those bread in fact, were not just any bread, but bread reserved only for the priests to eat, and not for any one else.

The Lord wants to remind us through these, that we must not be distracted and tempted by pride, and we must not look at the Law of God, His commandments and laws at merely face value only. If we only appreciate these at face value only, then what we are doing is essentially just skimming the surface of God’s truth and will on the surface, without deep foundation and genuine understanding on what it means for us to be Christians.

If we act in ways that show prejudice on others, being judgmental and biased, being superficial in faith, then all of us need to realise that this is not what our Christian faith is about. And if we think that we are all good, righteous and more worthy than others, then we need to change our mindset and perspective. Today, we have a great role model whom we can look upon as an inspiration and example to follow in how we ought to live up a genuine Christian faith.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, also better known during her lifetime and after as the Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was a religious remembered well for her zeal and courage in reaching out to care for those who were sick and suffering, especially in the worst of conditions, as it was in Calcutta in India where many if not most of the people lived in abject poverty in slums and terrible conditions not fit for human habitation and life.

An Albanian Catholic girl, who chose to join religious life in her youth, and then thereafter came to India as part of her mission, St. Teresa of Kolkata came to know of these immense suffering endured by many of the poor in Calcutta outside her convent walls. As she came to experience more and more of these sad realities of life, she began to hear the calling to make a difference in the lives of those whom she had seen suffering so much.

That was how St. Teresa of Kolkata chose to embark on a new journey, venturing out from the convent and embracing instead the poor, the sick and those dying in the slums and in the streets, giving love, care and comfort to those who had no one to love them, those who had been treated as less than human beings, and showed them the face of God’s love. It was certainly not easy for her especially at the start of her new mission, and she faced plenty of obstacles and opposition, but her conviction, zeal and love for the poor and the dying helped her to overcome all those obstacles.

Many had been touched by St. Teresa of Kolkata and her tireless efforts for many decades, as she established the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation dedicated to follow in her drive and passion to help the least and the poorest, those who are suffering all around the world. To those who are not suffering in the way those poorest in Calcutta, the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity also reached out to those who had none to love and comfort them.

For all of these, St. Teresa of Kolkata was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize as well as great renown. But what she was very well-remembered for was her speech, in which she mentioned that ‘she was just an instrument, a pencil in the hands of the Lord’. St. Teresa of Kolkata remained personally humble and dedicated to her mission, and even as she struggled to overcome her many challenges, the temptations of the devil, we can see in her, a great and shining example of Christian virtue and faith, that each and every one of us can follow.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the inspiring virtues and examples of St. Teresa of Kolkata, being humble in our everyday life, humble before God and man alike, and place our focus constantly on God, as we live our lives joyfully in serving Him and in loving Him, in showing His love to one another, just as St. Teresa of Kolkata had done, sharing the genuine love of God to all man, especially to those who are most vulnerable, weakest and least loved by all.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, Mother Teresa, pray for us all that we too may follow in your footsteps, in loving our brothers and sisters, in showing genuine love, care and compassion, that we may live our lives as genuine Christians centred on God and not on ourselves or our selfish desires. May the Lord be with us always, and guide us in this journey of life in faith. Amen.

Saturday, 5 September 2020 : 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa of Kolkata, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Luke 6 : 1-5

At that time, one Sabbath Jesus was going through a field of grain, and His disciples began to pick heads of grain, crushing them in their hands for food. Some of the Pharisees asked them, “Why do you do what is forbidden on the Sabbath?”

Then Jesus spoke up and asked them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He entered the house of God, took and ate the bread of the offering, and even gave some to his men, though only priests are allowed to eat that bread.”

And Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord and rules over the Sabbath.”

Saturday, 5 September 2020 : 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa of Kolkata, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 144 : 17-18, 19-20, 21

Righteous is YHVH in all His ways, His mercy shows in all His deeds. He is near those who call on Him, who call trustfully upon His Name.

He fulfils the wish of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them. For those who love Him, YHVH has compassion; but the wicked, He will destroy.

Let my mouth speak in praise of YHVH, let every creature praise His holy Name, forever and ever.

Saturday, 5 September 2020 : 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa of Kolkata, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

1 Corinthians 4 : 6b-15

Learn by this example, not to believe yourselves superior by siding with one against the other. How, then, are you more than the others? What have you that you have not received? And if you received it, why are you proud, as if you did not receive it?

So, then, you are already rich and satisfied, and feel like kings, without us! I wish you really were kings, so that we might enjoy the kingship with you! It seems to me, that God has placed us, the Apostles, in the last place, as if condemned to death, and as spectacles for the whole world, for the Angels as well as for mortals.

We are fools for Christ, while you show forth the wisdom of Christ. We are weak, you are strong. You are honoured, while we are despised. Until now we hunger and thirst, we are poorly clothed and badly treated, while moving from place to place. We labour, working with our hands. People insult us and we bless them, they persecute us and we endure everything; they speak evil against us, and ours are works of peace. We have become like the scum of the earth, like the garbage of humankind until now.

I do not write this to shame you, but to warn you, as very dear children. Because, even though you may have ten thousand guardians in the Christian life, you have only one Father; and it was I who gave you life in Christ through the Gospel.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Scripture passages today, we heard of the encouraging story of renewal and salvation that each and every one of us are to receive from God. We are reminded how God desires to make us whole again, cleanse and purify us from our sins, to renew us and to put a new heart and Spirit inside each and every one of us. This is a very clear sign of God’s enduring love for us, and all the more reason why we need to heed His call.

In our Gospel today, we heard a similar theme as we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking of the parable of the king and his son’s wedding banquet which alluded to the call that God has given to all of us His people. In that parable, a king held a grand and magnificent banquet for his son’s wedding, and invited everyone who had been known to the king and therefore, worthy of the joy that the king wanted to share as he celebrated his son’s wedding.

However, those who were invited to the banquet of the king refused to come for the wedding, although everything had been well prepared for them, and they truly ought to have been honoured to be invited as such. But they ignored the king’s invitation, pretended that they were busy and unavailable, found excuses of why they could not attend the wedding banquet to which they had been generously and kindly invited to, and there were even those who persecuted and killed the servants sent to them.

This is a reference and also a sad reminder of how many of us mankind, who are the sharers and invitees to God’s great and wonderful heavenly banquet, and yet, we did not appreciate just how fortunate and blessed we are to be part of this great banquet of the Lord, to be part of His great Covenant and to enjoy the fullness of His grace and love. Instead, we busied ourselves with the many worldly matters and desires, concerns and other things that distracted us.

That is why we rejected His love and mercy, preferring to chart our own path rather than trusting in Him and following Him. We shut ourselves from His generous love and kindness because we thought that we know better how to live our lives. And this is where we need to realise that unless we follow the path that the Lord has shown us, we are likely to fall into sin, and from sin, into eternal darkness and death, for there is no salvation outside God and His Church.

And then, we heard in the same parable, how the king then told his servants to gather everyone they could find, that they filled in the seats that those unworthy guests had refused to fill up earlier on. All the people were gathered into the banquet, from all sorts of places, and whether good or bad. All of these are symbolic of how God’s kingdom and His salvation are truly open to everyone and all have equal chance to receive His inheritance and to be part of His glorious kingdom.

However, we must then take note of how when one of the guests did not turn up in the right garment in attending the wedding, as is customarily expected at the time, and which is surely also expected in our communities today, an the king ordered the guest to be taken out and thrown into the outer darkness. While the turn of events might confuse and surprise some of us, but in fact, this reminds us also that while everyone is welcome and has been called by God to enter into His kingdom, but we must also wear the right ‘garment’ in order to do so.

What does it mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? Just as the Lord said in our first reading today through the prophet Ezekiel that He would renew us and put a new heart and Spirit in us, therefore, this ‘garment’ refers to the new self that we put on, replacing our old selves of sin and darkness. Through baptism, we have been cleansed from the taint and corruption of our original sins, and we have received a new life, sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ.

But we must also remain faithful to that Covenant and path we have chosen in God, as baptism is only just the beginning of a new journey of life, and not a happy ending. Baptism sets us on the right path and direction, but we must maintain our direction by remaining focused on God, and keeping our lives virtuous and filled with faith and love for God, as well as the love for our fellow brothers and sisters. We must not succumb again to the temptations that led us to ignore God’s love and mercy as I mentioned just earlier.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern carefully our path in life going forward from now on as we reflect on these Scripture passages today. Have we lived our lives as God has called and taught us to? If we have not, then perhaps it is time indeed for us to take on the ‘garment’ of faith and discard the old sinful self of ours. Today, let us all also be inspired by the good examples set by St. Bernard, a famous and dedicated holy saint of God, a holy man and Abbot.

St. Bernard, also known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a renowned Abbot who was instrumental in the major reform in the monastic practices in the early Medieval era, especially among the Benedictine monks that St. Bernard was an Abbot of, and he was also renowned for his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, St. Bernard was instrumental in his efforts opposing heretical teachings and also in improving the then increasingly lax spirituality, discipline and morality among not just the monks, but also the general Christian population.

He encountered many difficulties throughout his life and ministry, but all these did not hinder or discourage St. Bernard in his dedication to the Lord and His Church. In time, his efforts began to bear fruit as more and more people came to be attracted by his reforms, and many began to commit themselves to monastic life following the rigorous reforms enacted by St. Bernard for stricter discipline and deeper spiritual life.

St. Bernard even attracted his own family members to join religious life, and through his other efforts, his many writings and contributions, he inspired many others through his faith and dedication, and was even instrumental in making peace among states and kingdoms that were then feuding and in conflict with each other. And through all these and many other deeds, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has shown us, what it means for us to live with faith, and to wear our ‘garment’ of faith with joy and pride.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all proceed forth in life, with a new heart and Spirit filled with love and devotion to God. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith, and be ever more committed, each and every moments of our lives, to be good Christians, to be faithful children of God, and to be worthy to enter into the eternal kingdom of God. May God be with us always and guide us all into eternal life that He has prepared for us. Amen.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 22 : 1-14

At that time, Jesus continued speaking to the people in parables : “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven : A king gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the banquet, but the guests refused to come.”

“Again, He sent other servants, instructing them to say to the invited guests, ‘I have prepared a banquet, slaughtered my fattened calves and other animals, and now, everything is ready. Come to the wedding!’ But they paid no attention and went away, some to their farms, and some to their work. Others seized the servants of the king, insulted them and killed them.”

“The king was furious. He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is prepared, but the invited guests were not worthy. Go instead to the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding feast.'”

“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, so that the hall was filled with guests. The king came in to see the wedding guests, and he noticed a man not wearing a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in without the wedding clothes?'”

“But the man remained silent. So the king said to his servants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 50 : 12-13, 14-15, 18-19

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will show wrongdoers Your ways and sinners will return to You.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart You will not despise.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ezekiel 36 : 23-28

I will make known the holiness of My great Name, profaned among the nations because of you; and they will know that I am YHVH, when I show them My holiness among you. For I will gather you from all the nations and bring you back to your own land. Then I shall pour pure water over you and you shall be made clean – cleansed from the defilement of all your idols.

I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put My Spirit within you and move you to follow My decrees and keep My laws. You will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you shall be My people and I will be your God.

Thursday, 13 August 2020 : 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 77 : 56-57, 58-59, 61-62

But they challenged and rebelled against God the Most High, and disobeyed His decrees. They were unfaithful, like their ancestors, deceitful and crooked, as a twisted bow.

They angered Him with their high places; they aroused His jealousy with their idols. Filled with wrath, God rejected Israel.

He lead His glory into captivity, His Ark, into the hand of the enemy. He gave His people over to the sword, so furious was He at His inheritance.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the passages from the Sacred Scriptures, we are all reminded of our duty as Christians and therefore as God’s people to follow the Lord and to obey His will and His laws, to be righteous and good just as He is good, and to be exemplary in our conduct and actions. For if we do not act as we have been called to act, and if we disobey God, then it is by our own disobedience and therefore sins that we will be judged.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard of the great vision of Ezekiel witnessing God’s glory upon His Throne of Angels, surrounded by the mighty Seraphim and Cherubim. What the prophet Ezekiel described of what he had seen was likely the best that he could do to describe within the limitations of the human expressions and perceptions of the great and infinite glory of God that he had seen, and through this, both Ezekiel and the people to whom he was sent were all reminded of the One Who had revealed all the truth they received.

The prophet Ezekiel saw what happened when the glory of God departed from the Temple and the city, where bloodshed and destruction would happen, a premonition of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of God by the Babylonians, as seen by Ezekiel who was then in exile in Babylon. Through the vision, God showed how His grace and presence among the people would leave the city and the House He had chosen and dwelled in, all because of the wickedness and evil of the people who refused to change their sinful ways.

The prophet Ezekiel’s message is parallel to what the Lord Jesus Himself told His disciples in our Gospel passage today. In that occasion, the Lord said that if someone had erred, then it is the duty, obligation and responsibility for that one’s fellow brothers and sisters in faith to correct and guide the one who erred back to the truth. And therefore, this is a reminder that each and every one of us have this responsibility to be faithful to God and to be examples for one another, and help lead each other down the right path.

However, God also said in that same occasion, that if the attempt to regain the faith in the one who erred fails, and the person stubbornly refused to change his ways, then that person ought to face condemnation for his or her own conscious refusal to obey the Lord and follow His ways. This is also what happened to the people of Israel and Judah, after they continued to disobey God and refused to listen to the many prophets and messengers God had sent to them. They were conquered, crushed and humiliated by their enemies, suffering for their own sins.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are reminded today through these Scripture passages that disobedience against God leads to sin, and sin lead us to suffering and separation from God. And thus we should strive to be faithful at all times and we should do our best to resist the temptations to walk the path of sin. Today, we celebrate the feast of a holy woman and servant of God whose examples can inspire us in our own journey of faith.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal was the founder of the religious order, the Order of the Visitation of Mary, born into an influential family and married her husband, Baron de Chantal, with which she had a short but happy married life. When her husband passed away from an accident, the baroness was heartbroken and she chose to dedicate herself and her time to God as a religious sister. She forgave those who caused her husband’s premature death and gave herself to pious works and efforts.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal founded the religious order of the Order of the Visitation of Mary which was unique in that they gathered and accepted all those women who had been rejected by the other religious orders and congregations because they were considered too sickly or too old. Inspired by the faith and dedication of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, the members of the order spent much time caring for the needs of the people of God, especially those who were poor and less fortunate.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see how this holy woman and servant of God obeyed God and did what she could to fulfil His will and His commandments. How about us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we going to follow in her footsteps or are we going to be stubborn and refuse to change our ways, and continue to sin by our pride and greed, by our ego and ambitions, our selfish desires?

Let us all spend some time to discern about all these, and let us consider how each and every one of us can be more devoted and true in our faith and how we can follow the Lord with ever greater sincerity and commitment, no longer clinging stubbornly to our past ways of sin, but instead embrace fully the love of God in each and every moments of our lives. May the Lord be with us and may He guide us in our journey of faith that we may find the true path to salvation in Him. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.