Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, all of us heard the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded by God to keep up, to have hope, and to trust in Him, never to worry or to be afraid, but to be faithful because God Himself will help us and provide for us, and He will bring us out of the darkness and evil into the new life of light and joy. This is what the Lord has promised us and what He will grant us through our faith in Him.

In our first reading today we heard of the Lord reassurance to St. Paul as he carried out his mission in the region of Greece as he visited several places carrying out works of evangelisation and preaching the Good News to the people in those places. He had encountered difficulties and challenges from both the pagans who refused to believe in him and ridiculed his revelation to them of the monotheistic faith in the one True God. Some among the pagans were receptive of the truth, but there were many who refused to believe.

In addition, St. Paul also encountered a lot of challenges and problems from the Jewish communities of the Jewish diaspora in many of the cities and towns that he had visited. Some of the Jews, like some among the pagans, were receptive of the Apostle and the message of truth that he brought to them, but many others persecuted the Apostle and the other Christian missionaries as well as the Christian converts in their midst. This was part of the conflicts among the Jewish elites who saw Christianity as an aberration and heresy because of the teachings of Jesus Who had been condemned by the Sanhedrin to death.

Amidst all of these situations, it must have seemed very daunting for St. Paul to continue with his mission, as he was often alone against so many people who were against him, were rude to him, and had his life threatened on not just once, but a few separate occasions. He could have given up and returned to safer places, but God reassured St. Paul and said that He would be with him along his journey and while he might encounter difficulties, but he would not be harmed.

In that same passage from the Acts of the Apostles we heard then the very proof of God’s providence, how God saved St. Paul from trouble when he was faced with all these oppositions and troubles. And when the governor to whom the Jews had complained about St. Paul refused to indict the Apostle based on their complaints against him, they became desperate and even plotted further by trying to incite a riot with the beating of one of the leading man of the synagogue.

Yet, God saved St. Paul and prevented harm from coming to him. The plots and efforts of all those who were against the faithful servants of God could not stop the zeal and the dedication which they showed us through their commitment and devotion. They trusted fully in the Lord because as the Lord Himself reassured them, that their pains, sorrows, sufferings and troubles were merely temporary, and in the end, they would receive the promise of eternal glory and true joy.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord reassuring His disciples using the metaphor and comparison to the woman who was about to give birth, suffering and enduring the bitter pain of the birth process, and yet, once the whole process ended, the woman would be happier and felt more wonderful with the joy that her newborn brought her, helping her to overcome all the pain and sorrow that had come earlier on. In this same way therefore, our faithful predecessors, from the days of the earliest Christians, focused their attention on the reassurances of Christ’s coming glory, enduring the challenges and trials in their path.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are now living through a truly unsettling and challenging times, in the midst of great economic crises, societal instability and divisions, brought about mainly by the current pandemic, as well as the conflicts and disagreements between nations and communities among others, it must have been tough for us to remain hopeful and strong amidst all the challenges that we and our families are facing. Some of us have people we know and love who are suffering and sick, and some even had lost our loved ones, or are separated because they are our frontline healthcare workers and other essential workers.

Quite a few people had also lost their means of income and employment, losing what was once stable and certain iron rice bowl of income. Many are still unsure of their future, as although they have retained their employment, but they have faced great pay cuts and reductions, put on no-pay leave for indefinite length among others. We have many people having difficulties in seeking their first-time jobs due to the lack of demand in the job market, and many other problems that may make everything seem to be very bleak.

Yet, we must not lose hope, brothers and sisters in Christ. We must stay faithful in God and give Him our trust, for everything that we are facing now, are indeed truly temporary and will not last forever. We must keep our focus and attention on God and His sure promise of eternal joy and glory with Him, that while we may suffer and face challenges now in this world, all of these troubles and challenges combined cannot compare to the great things we are to receive later.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, one of the saints who had truly difficult life, having married into a difficult family involved in the late Medieval Italian conflicts among feuding families, which led to the murder of her husband. St. Rita of Cascia had a difficult life filled with abuse, insults and humiliation, but before her husband’s murder by a rival family, her steadfastness in faith and efforts to convert her husband bore fruit as her husband had at least become a much better person by the time of his death.

And when her husband’s greater family wanted her sons to take part in revenge action against the rival family for the murder of their father, despite St. Rita of Cascia’s efforts in keeping her sons faithful and away from the wicked activities, eventually, she prayed to God asking Him humbly to take them away from the world. It must have been very hard and painful for a mother to ask God to take her own sons away, but she did so knowing that it would be better for them to be taken away, rather than for them to commit grave sins through revenge and more, and end up in hell for eternity.

After the deaths of both of her sons due to sickness, St. Rita of Cascia became a religious and dedicated the rest of her life in prayerful service to God, living a virtuous and piety-filled life as she had done earlier on in her life. Her great and exemplary life inspired many others, and eventually made her to be venerated as a great saint many years after she has passed on. And now, all of us can also emulate her virtues and good examples in each and every one of our lives too.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to trust in God more and focus ourselves more to Him, entrusting ourselves so completely like St. Paul as well as St. Rita of Cascia had done? There will indeed be lots of trials and pains we may have to endure in our respective journeys of life, but unless we have that firm faith in God, then it will be very easy for us to fall into despair and darkness, to give up on our lives and everything just because we lose sight on God and His love.

Let us all discern on this and spend some time reevaluating our lives, our choices of action and our direction as we progress on in our lives. Let us all be more faithful from now on, trust God more, and every importantly, deepen our relationship with Him, spending more time with Him in prayer, through charity and action, loving our fellow men and understanding more what our role is as Christians in our world today. May the Lord help us all to be strong in our faith, and may He give us the courage to go on and strive harder despite the trials and challenges we may face going forward. Amen.

Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 16 : 20-23a

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth is in distress because her time is at hand. But after the child is born, she no longer remembers her suffering because of such great joy : a human being is born into the world.”

“You feel sorrowful now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice; and no one will take your joy from you. When that day comes you will not ask Me anything.”

Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 46 : 2-3, 4-5, 6-7

Clap your hands, all you peoples; acclaim God with shouts of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared; He is a great King all over the earth.

He brings peoples under our dominion and puts nations under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us – the pride of Jacob whom He loves!

God ascends amid joyful shouts, the Lord amid trumpet blasts. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

Friday, 22 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 18 : 9-18

One night, in a vision, the Lord said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, but continue speaking and do not be silent, for many people in this city are Mine. I am with you, so no one will harm you.” So Paul stayed a year and a half in that place, teaching the word of God among them.

When Gallio was governor of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the court. And they accused him, “This man tries to persuade us to worship God in ways that are against the Law.”

Paul was about to speak in his own defence when Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of misdeed or vicious crime, I would have to consider your complaint. But since this is a quarrel about teachings and divine names that are proper to your own law, see to it yourselves : I refuse to judge such matters.”

Then the people seized Sosthenes, a leading man of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal; but Gallio paid no attention to it. Paul stayed on with the disciples in Corinth for many days; he then left them and sailed off with Priscilla and Aquila for Syria. And as he was no longer under a vow he had taken, he shaved his head before sailing from Cenchreae.

Monday, 9 March 2020 : 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, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scriptures we are all reminded of the need for us all to forgive one another just as we ourselves have been forgiven by God for our mistakes and faults, that we imitate our heavenly Father in His mercy, compassion and love just as we always pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

In our first reading today we heard from the Book of the prophet Daniel, the prayer which he made and addressed to God, seeking for His mercy and forgiveness for all the sins and faults committed by the people of Israel, pleading for His mercy and compassionate love. God has kept His Covenant and remained faithful to the promises He made to His people despite all that they have committed, the sins and wickedness they have done and their rejection of God.

Yet, because of their sins and disobedience, the Israelites have been scattered and humiliated by their enemies, defeated and sent into exile by first the Assyrians and then those in Judah by the Babylonians. Daniel was among those who have been sent into the exile in Babylon, enduring many trials and difficulties as a people brought low and humbled by God. But Daniel also kept faith in God and trusted in His providence and love for His people.

That is why in his prayer, Daniel sought God’s forgiveness for His people while also admitting the sins on behalf of the people, admitting their past shortcomings and all the wicked things they have done in opposition to God. Daniel presented to us this faith which we all must have in God’s ever enduring mercy and love for us. For if not for God’s ever enduring love and compassion, we would have been annihilated a long while ago because of our sins.

God has kindly extended to us His mercy and His willingness to forgive us from our many sins, provided that we are willing to accept His offer of mercy and be converted from our sinfulness to righteousness. God indeed does not despise us the sinners, but He does despise our sins and iniquities. That is why He has repeatedly tried to bring us out of the trap of sin, reminding us to change our ways and to repent from our wicked past that we may be reconciled with Him once again.

That is why it is very important for us to have humility in us and the willingness to admit that we have been wrong in our ways and that we need God’s healing and mercy. And we often need to practice that same mercy in our own lives as well so that we may appreciate what it means to be shown mercy and to be forgiven. This is why as long as we do not forgive others, keep hatred and jealousy, anger and vengeance in our hearts, we will find it hard to allow God’s forgiveness to enter into us.

Too often we are too proud in our hearts to admit our mistakes or that we have been wrong or faulty in our ways. We are too proud to admit that we are not as good as what we think we are or what we want others to think of us. This is the obstacle that we need to overcome especially in this good time and opportunity given to us in this season of Lent, to be more open to God’s loving compassion and mercy, and show that same mercy and love in our own interactions with one another.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Frances of Rome, a holy woman and saint of the Church whose life can be a source of inspiration for all of us on how we should live our own lives in a good Christian manner as we should. St. Frances was born a noble and was made to marry at an early age following her family’s wishes, ending up as a wife and the matron of her family. St. Frances however was also known for her great love and charitable acts for the poor and the needy in her community.

St. Frances turned a part of her large family estate into a hospital for the poor and the sick, and distributed much needed goods for those who have little or none to get by. Initially she encountered opposition from her in-law family, but it was told that the opposition vanished when miraculously, the storehouses were filled up through the prayers of St. Frances, after she had donated part of her goods to the poor and the needy.

She also inspired the foundation of the religious order, the Olivetan Oblates of Mary whose members carry on the charism and inspiring works of St. Frances who had given much of her life to serve the people of God despite her privileged background of nobility. St. Frances could have been like many of the other nobles of her time, living in excesses and acting with much pride and ego, looking down on the poor and the needy. St. Frances instead got rid of all that pride and ego, and reached out to her fellow men, loving them and caring for them, being patient with those who opposed her efforts and filled her life with prayer and piety.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to live our Christian faith through our lives just as St. Frances had lived it? Are we able to turn our lives into testimonies of our faith in God, and that our lives may indeed give glory to God? Let us all dedicate ourselves anew to God and make good use of this time and opportunity given to us that we may be able to open ourselves to God and allow His mercy to work in us and through us, that we may be truly reconciled to Him and be forgiven from our sins.

May the Lord continue to guide us and help us to journey towards Him in this season of Lent. May He bless us all and our good works, that we may touch even more people through our lives as we become more attuned to God with each and every passing moments of our lives. St. Frances of Rome, our inspiration and our role model in faith, pray for us all. Amen.

Monday, 9 March 2020 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 78 : 8, 9, 11, 13

Do not remember against us the sins of our fathers. Let Your compassion hurry to us, for we have been brought very low.

Help us, God, our Saviour, for the glory of Your Name; forgive us for the sake of Your Name.

Listen to the groans of the prisoners; by the strength of Your arm, deliver those doomed to die.

Then we, Your people, the flock of Your pasture, will thank You forever. We will recount Your praise from generation to generation.

Monday, 9 March 2020 : 2nd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Daniel 9 : 4b-10

Lord God, great and to be feared, You keep Your covenant and love for those who love You and observe Your commandments. We have sinned, we have not been just, we have been rebels, and have turned away from Your commandments and laws. We have not listened to Your servants, the prophets, who spoke in Your Name to our kings, leaders, fathers and to all the people of the land.

Lord, justice is Yours, but ours is a face full of shame, as it is to this day – we, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in all the lands where You have dispersed us because of the infidelity we have committed against You. Ours is the shame, o Lord for we, our kings, princes, fathers, have sinned against You.

We hope for pardon and mercy from the Lord, because we have rebelled against Him. We have not listened to the voice of YHVH, our God, or followed the laws which He has given us through His servants, the prophets.

Monday, 17 February 2020 : 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the message of the Scriptures through which we are all reminded that as Christians, we have to put our full trust and faith in God. We must be careful lest our pride, ambition, ego and desire in us lead us down the path towards ruin and sin. As we heard from the Gospel passage today, that was why the Pharisees refused to believe in Jesus and in His works and truth.

The Pharisees were often too proud of themselves and their actions, believing that they were always right and the best in everything they do and in the way that they obey and follow the Law of God. They criticised and looked down on others who they deemed to be unworthy and sinful, people like the tax collectors, prostitutes and people who were crippled and diseased. They also looked down on the Lord Himself and His disciples, whom they deemed to be dangerous influences on the people.

They were usually so full of themselves and so blinded by their pride that they were not able to open their hearts and minds to welcome the Lord, and as we heard in today’s Gospel passage, they argued with the Lord and asked, probably even rather demanding to see a miraculous sign. The Lord must truly have been sad to see their stubbornness and refusal to believe. For the truth was that all the while the Pharisees followed Him and His disciples, they have seen His miraculous signs and deeds.

Yet, despite having seen all those wonderful signs and miracles, they failed to believe and instead doubted the Lord and His works. They criticised and attacked Him, questioning His authority and legitimacy, and even going to the extent of associating Him and His miracles to the collusion with the prince of demons, Beelzebul. They asked for signs and wonders, and yet when the Lord graciously showed them all those things, they refused to believe.

They put their trust in their human intellect and judgment, their prejudices and thoughts, rather than to trust in the Lord. They were proud and could not bear to humble themselves before the Lord Who had come bearing His truth into the world. To them, the Lord Jesus was a rival and a dangerous threat because they feared of losing their much cherished privileges and honour, their own authority and glory among the people. All these things clouded their thoughts and judgements and prevented them from opening themselves up to the Lord.

This is why St. James in his Epistle which is our first reading passage today reminded us that all of us need to trust and have faith in God, and must not allow doubts, pride, desire, or whatever obstacles we often placed in our own journey of faith, to be a true obstacle in preventing us from finding and appreciating God’s love and grace. St. James reminded us as Christians that we need to be steadfast in our faith, to trust in God as there will be lots of trials and challenges that will come our way, which will test our faith and dedication to God.

How do we then overcome those challenges, both the doubts and the temptations of pride and desire from within us, and those challenges and trials that come from elsewhere? It is by deepening our relationship with God, through a healthy and living faith, filled with prayer and closeness to God, by obeying God and following Him through our lives and actions. And today, perhaps we should look upon the examples of today’s saints, whose feast we celebrate, namely that of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order.

These seven men who founded the Servite Order, a religious institution that remained and flourished until today, were those who were called by God, during the high Middle Ages era in Italy, when each of the seven men met one another and began to live their lives with a new emphasis on sanctity and obedience to God. They dedicated their lives to God, caring for the material and spiritual needs of the people living around them. Many people were touched by their devotion, faith and hard work, and many chose to follow their examples.

That was how the Servite Order eventually came to be, as thousands upon thousands enrolled themselves to the banner of the Order, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the seven holy founders had deep devotion for. Until this day, the lives of the seven holy founders continue to inspire many in the Servite Order, both the religious, priests and friars in the order, as well as the numerous lay groups associated with the Servites, all aiming for a more holy and dedicated life to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? What are we going to do in order to follow the Lord? Are we able to put our faith and trust in Him with all our heart and get rid of ourselves all the obstacles of pride, ego, ambition, greed and desire that have prevented many, such as the Pharisees among others, from truly believing in God? Are we able to commit ourselves, following the good examples set by the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order?

Let us all seek the Lord with ever greater zeal and devotion from now on then, and live our lives from now on with ever greater faith and be ever closer to God with every passing moments of our lives. May God be with us always, and may He bless us and strengthen us in our faith and courage to live in Him. Amen.

Monday, 17 February 2020 : 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Mark 8 : 11-13

At that time, the Pharisees came and started to argue with Jesus. Hoping to embarrass Him, they asked for some heavenly sign. Then His Spirit was moved. He gave a deep sigh and said, “Why do the people of this present time ask for a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this people.”

Then He left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side of the lake.