Tuesday, 9 March 2021 : 3rd 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 we heard of the mercy, love and benevolence of God Who has heard the prayers and pleading of His people, beginning with the prayer of Azariah, and the other friends of Daniel, who have been put into a most difficult situation, and they prayed before the Lord asking for His mercy and love, and then in our Gospel passage today we heard the Lord speaking about the parable of the ungrateful servant which is related to this matter as well.

In our first reading today, as mentioned we heard of the moment when king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sentenced the three friends of Daniel to be burnt in a great fiery cauldron that was made even hotter because they adamantly refused to worship a great golden idol that the king had built in his own image. The king demanded all of his subjects to worship the golden idol or be punished to death. Everyone obeyed the king’s commands except for the three friends of Daniel.

The king was enraged when the three of them not only refused to obey the king’s commands but reiterated and reaffirmed their faith in the Lord publicly before the king and all those who were gathered. Thus, they were condemned to death and they should have perished in the great furnace that was prepared for them and others who dared to disobey the king. But Azariah, one of the three, together with the other two friends of Daniel prayed to the Lord, showing their commitment and faith, while also showing the repentance of the people of Israel.

Through this, they represented the people of God who at that time was in exile, having lost their homeland and their Temple, their kingdom and honour. They expressed their regrets and sincere mournfulness over all of their sins. They also expressed their dedication and love for the Lord, and that they hoped their example and courage in standing up for their faith would finally move the Lord to show His mercy and forgiveness to His people.

The Lord sent His Angel to safeguard the three men, and they all miraculously survived the flame unharmed, and all those who witnessed this miracle, including that of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, were astonished at what they had seen. Not only that the three men were unharmed, but they were released without injury and the king himself tore down the golden statue that he had built.

In the Gospel reading today, we heard of the parable of the ungrateful servant in which the Lord told His disciples about a servant who owed an immense amount of ten thousand pieces of gold to his master, who should have suffered the terrible consequence of his debt, having to lose his property and even loved ones. But the master took pity on the servant when the latter begged for mercy, and he was forgiven all of his debt, therefore becoming a person free from bondage and obligation of his debt.

Yet, as we heard, the servant was not grateful for what he had received, and instead he persecuted his own fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount of merely a hundred pieces of silver. Not only that the amount owed to him was a mere hundredth of what he used to owe the master, but as it was of silver rather than gold, this served to highlight just how much smaller that debt was in comparison to what the master had earlier on forgiven him.

That ungrateful servant was then on punished by the master for his lack of gratitude and for not forgiving his fellow servants when he himself had already been forgiven so much, and this parable together with our first reading today served to remind us all Christians that all of us are called to forgive much and to get rid of vengeance and all related things from our hearts and minds, just as we ourselves have been forgiven so much more by God.

We cannot be angry and be nasty to our fellow brothers and sisters, and we should not hold grudges and any sorts of negative feelings against our neighbours, just as the Lord Himself had willingly forgiven us from our sins when we come to Him seeking for forgiveness and mercy. This Lent, we are all challenged to be more forgiving and to be more filled with mercy and compassion in all of our actions and deeds, in everything that we say and do.

Today we can also be inspired by the examples shown by St. Frances of Rome, a mother of a family and a venerable woman who was remembered for her kindness, charity and compassion for others, especially for the poor and the less privileged. She also founded a community of Benedictine oblates who were committed to a holy life in the Lord but without professing solemn religious orders and vows. She was remembered for her care for the poor, and was generous in giving when there were others in need.

It was told that on one occasion, St. Frances’ giving so annoyed her father-in-law that he locked the supply room to prevent her from giving any more to the poor and the suffering. Yet, the same father-in-law returned the key to her when miraculously the supplies in the boxes were refilled just as St. Frances finished her prayers. And although she did encounter much difficulties during her own life, having to endure exile and devastations due to wars and plagues, St. Frances remained firm in her faith and in her charitable efforts, no matter what happened.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore follow the good examples set by St. Frances, and dedicate ourselves anew as Christians to be loving and more forgiving, to be more compassionate and committed in our faith and service to God, as well as to our fellow brothers and sisters. Let us all turn towards the Lord with a new conviction and desire to love Him, and do our very best to glorify Him by our actions and deeds in life. May God bless us all and may He be our guide, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 18 : 21-35

At that time, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offences of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven : A king decided to settle the accounts of his servants.”

“Among the first was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment. The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.'”

“The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even cancelled his debt. When the servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his companions, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the neck and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!'”

“His companion threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ The other did not agree, but sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt. Now his fellow servants saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord.”

“Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed when you begged me to do so. Were you not bound to have pity on your companion, as I had pity on you?’ The lord was now angry, so he handed his servant over to be punished, until he had paid his whole debt.”

Jesus added, “So will My heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”

Tuesday, 9 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 24 : 4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9

Teach me Your ways, o Lord; make known to me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and instruct me, for You are my God, my Saviour.

Remember Your compassion, o Lord, Your unfailing love from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, but in Your love remember me.

Good and upright, the Lord teaches sinners His way. He teaches the humble of heart and guides them in what is right.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Daniel 3 : 25, 34-43

Azariah stood up in the midst of the fire and prayed aloud : Do not abandon us forever, do not reject Your covenant for Your Name’s sake. Do not withdraw Your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, Your friend, of Isaac, Your servant, of Israel, Your holy one, to whom You promised to multiply their race as the stars of heaven and the sand on the shore of the sea.

Lord, see, we have become the least among the nations in all the world, and we are humiliated because of our sins. At this time, we no longer have a king, or prophet, or leader. We cannot offer You holocausts, sacrifices, offerings, or incense. We have no place to present to You the first-fruits of our crops, and so obtain Your favour.

But at least when we present ourselves with a contrite soul and humbled spirit may we then be acceptable to You, more than by offerings of rams and calves as holocausts, and of thousands of fat lambs. May this sacrifice of ours today obtain for us Your favour for we know that those who trust in You shall never be disappointed.

And now, we serve You with our whole heart, we fear You and we seek Your face. Do not leave us in our humiliation, but treat us according to Your kindness and Your great mercy. Free us in keeping with Your wonders, and give us the glory of Your Name, Lord.

Monday, 8 March 2021 : 3rd 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 we listened to the words of the Scripture in which we heard about the healing of the Syrian general Naaman by the prophet Elisha through the power of God, and how the same healing was mentioned by the Lord as He spoke to the people of His own hometown in Nazareth, as He was not trusted and believed by the latter.

In our first reading, Naaman the Syrian was the trusted general and right hand man of the Aramean king, the rival kingdom of Israel, who unfortunately had contracted leprosy, a disease that was much dreaded at that time. Those who contracted leprosy would end up losing their limbs and might even end up in death, as the disease would keep on spreading through the body and inflict more damage unless the person was able to fight off the infection, which was actually quite rare given the then relatively primitive form of healthcare.

That was why the Aramean king was desperate to find cure for Naaman, and hearing that the famous prophet Elisha and his miracles in Israel, the king endeavoured to send Naaman to his rival king and enemy, to seek for healing. Naturally the king of Israel, who was no friend of Elisha, refused to help, and Naaman had to go and visit Elisha on his own.

When he found the prophet Elisha, he was told to go and immerse himself seven times in the River Jordan and he would be healed. Naaman was angry that the prophet did not come and do as what he had expected, that Elisha would touch him and make him whole again in body and healed from his leprosy. He found that the task of immersing himself in the River Jordan to be ridiculous, and that the rivers of his own homeland were no less great.

However, as we heard, Naaman’s servant begged him to listen to reason and just do as the prophet had asked him, as it was just something very simple to be done, to immerse himself seven times in the River Jordan. And almost immediately after Naaman did so, he was healed and was perfectly healthy again. Naaman obeyed and swallowed his pride, and he was healed by God.

This is what the Lord referred to when His own people rejected Him and refused to listen to Him, as He stated how during the time of Elisha, it was the pagans like Naaman who came to be healed by God and who was the one that eventually became a believer, while the Israelites of Elisha’s time remained distant and in open rebellion against God and His ways.

What is the significance of these readings, brothers and sisters in Christ? First of all, we are all called to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, to be healed of our sins, for indeed our sins are just like leprosy, eating and gnawing at us, the ‘leprosy’ of our souls. And unlike the physical leprosy of the body that can still be healed by medicine and worldly means, the only cure for sin is God’s forgiveness and grace.

God alone can heal us from our sins, and through His forgiveness we are made whole once again. However, it requires from us the desire to be forgiven, and for us to humble ourselves like what Naaman had done. More often than not, it is our pride and ego, our stubbornness and desire that become major obstacles preventing us from gaining forgiveness and mercy from God.

As Naaman’s servant pointed out, it was actually not a difficult thing that the prophet Elisha had asked of Naaman to do in order to be healed, and thus, it is the same for all of us as well. God has abundantly made available His forgiveness and mercy, constantly seeking for us and wanting all of us to be reconciled to Him. However, it is we ourselves who have delayed, postponed, refused to commit to the Lord and was ambivalent in our attitude towards Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this cannot be the case anymore. We must not allow our pride and ego from undermining our path towards reconciliation with God. In this season of Lent, that is why we are all called to embrace God’s ever generous mercy and compassion, and seek to be healed just as God has healed Naaman from his leprosy, that we too can be healed from the sins we have with us.

Today, let us all follow the good examples set by St. John of God, one of our holy predecessors in faith. St. John of God was a soldier and later on farmer, who grew dissatisfied with the way he led his life, as he struggled spiritually with all the hardships he saw in all those whom he encountered. In the end, this led to him going through a period of conversion and became a dedicated servant to the Lord and His people as a religious brother, serving the poor and the sick in particular.

St. John of God was thereafter renowned for his care for the sick and the poor, and he inspired many others to follow his examples, in being charitable and generous in giving, in obeying the Lord’s commandments and being righteous and good in his deeds, and this is what all of us as Christians can also be inspired to do as well. It is by following these faithful examples as shown by St. John of God that we can draw closer to God and find healing and justification through Him.

May the Lord be with us always and may He guide us all through life, and may He help us to remain humble and to desire His forgiveness and mercy so that we may find healing and reconciliation through our humility and sincere desire to seek Him for forgiveness and grace, that we may once again be living worthily in His presence, free from sin and from its corrupting influence and power so that in the end, we may enter into the eternal glory of heaven. Amen.

Monday, 8 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 4 : 24-30

At that time, Jesus said to the people of Nazareth, “No prophet is honoured in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land. Yet, Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet; and no one was healed except Naaman, the Syrian.”

On hearing these words, the whole assembly became indignant. They rose up and brought Him out of the town, to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth is built, intending to throw Him down the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went His way.

Monday, 8 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 41 : 2, 3 and Psalm 42 : 3, 4

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for You, o God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I go and see the face of God?

Send forth Your light and Your truth; let them be my guide, let them take me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You reside.

Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my gladness and delight. I will praise You with the lyre and harp, o God, my God.

Monday, 8 March 2021 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Kings 5 : 1-15a

Naaman was the army commander of the king of Aram. This man was highly regarded and enjoyed the king’s favour, for YHVH had helped him lead the army of the Arameans to victory. But this valiant man was sick with leprosy.

One day some Aramean soldiers raided the land of Israel and took a young girl captive who became a servant to the wife of Naaman. She said to her mistress, “If my master would only present himself to the prophet in Samaria, he would surely cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to tell the king what the young Israelite maidservant had said. The king of Aram said to him, “Go to the prophet, and I shall also send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman went and took with him ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces and ten festal garments.

On his arrival, he delivered the letter to the king of Israel. It said, “I present my servant Naaman to you that you may heal him of his leprosy. When the king read the letter, he tore his clothes to show his indignation, “I am not God to give life or death. And the king of Aram sends me this man to be healed! You see, he is just looking for an excuse for war.”

Elisha, the man of God, came to know that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, so he sent this message to him : “Why have you torn your clothes? Let the man come to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and stopped before the house of Elisha. Elisha then sent a messenger to tell him, “Go to the river Jordan and wash seven times, and your flesh shall be as it was before, and you shall be cleansed.”

Naaman was angry, so he went away. He thought, “On my arrival, he should have personally come out, and then paused and called on the Name of YHVH, his God. And he should have touched with his hand the infected part, and I would have been healed. Are the rivers of Damascus, Abana and Pharpar not better than all the rivers of the land of Israel? Could I not wash there to be healed?”

His servants approached him and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had ordered you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? But how much easier when he said : ‘Take a bath and you will be cleansed.’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan where he washed himself seven times as Elisha had ordered. His skin became soft like that of a child and he was cleansed.

Then Naaman returned to the man of God with all his men.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our Scripture readings today all of us heard of the creation of man at the pinnacle of the creation of the world and how God formed us and gave us the breath of life, blessing us mankind and granting us dominion and stewardship over creation. Everything had been made good and wonderful by the Lord, all the celestial things and all the lifeforms in this world, on the land, in the sea and air.

Therefore, when we heard of the Lord’s confrontation with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, as the latter argued that the way they enforced the Law was the only right one, the Lord Jesus revealed the truth about the Law and commandments of God, and said how all things were inherently good and wonderful, just as God had created them to be, and that also includes us mankind as well. However, because of sin, we have been defiled and corrupted, not because of the things that entered into our bodies, but because of the things that came from within our hearts.

Take for example, the tree of knowledge of good and evil mentioned in the first reading today, the tree that was forbidden for mankind to touch or eat by God. That tree by itself was not evil or good in nature, but it was mankind’s mistaken way and misguided intention that led our first ancestors to sin against the Lord. It was not the fruit of the tree of knowledge entering their bodies that condemned Adam and Eve, but rather, their willingness in cooperating with the devil and listening to him that led them to their downfall.

In the same manner therefore, the notion that any food could have made a person unclean had no true and spiritual basis, as the Lord Himself debunked the falsehoods of such an idea. This was however the prevailing view for the many centuries of the traditions and practices of the people of Israel, for all those years that they lived under the Law of God revealed through Moses. However, we have to understand the context of such laws if we are to appreciate the true nature of the Law and the real intention of God for His people.

The Law of God revealed to Moses was given as sets of guidance and instructions that were meant to help to keep the people of God in line, especially considering how stubborn and disobedient they had been at that time, in refusing to listen to the Lord and His commandments and laws. Thus, the rules and tenets were revealed at the time to make sure that the people did not lose their way and remain faithful to the Lord despite the temptations and other obstacles in their path, trying to pull them away from the path towards God.

Some of those laws including the dietary restrictions were also enforced to ensure that the people of God remained healthy amidst the long journey throughout the desert, as well as considering the prevailing conditions at the time. In the end, when the reason for such laws were no longer in place, the people themselves had forgotten the reason and purpose of such laws and regulations. In the end, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they obeyed for the sake of obeying, and worse still, doing what was asked by the Law for appearances and to be praised for it.

That is why the Lord wanted all of the people to realise the folly of such thoughts and way of life, and thus, revealed how the true meaning of the Law of God was far from what the laws and traditions of the people had prescribed, having veered off far from the original, intended purpose and meaning. He wanted to show us all that what is important is the purity and the sincerity of our inner, spiritual orientation of life rather than merely just focusing on outward gestures and appearances alone.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are all called to reexamine our way of life, and consider how we can be better disciples of the Lord in everything we do, in each and every moments of our lives. We are all called to a greater existence in holiness in God, to be genuinely devoted to Him with faith, and to follow His path wholeheartedly by appreciating all that He had taught us and revealed to us.

Today, we also celebrate the feast of St. Scholastica, a holy saint of God and a faithful servant whose life can be a great example for us to follow, as she dedicated her whole life in a holy life of prayer. As the paternal twin sister of the great St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Scholastica also lived her life virtuously and committed herself to a life consecrated to God, traditionally considered as the foundation of the society of Benedictine nuns just as St. Benedict inspired the foundation of the Benedictine monastic order.

The faith of these saints were truly great, and they inspired many others to follow their examples. All of us should also follow in their footsteps and commit ourselves to the cause of the Lord. Are we able to do so, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to live our lives from now on with true and genuine faith, that each and every one of us may become true followers of Christ in all things?

May the Lord be our Guide and Strength, and may He empower us all to become faithful and dedicated Christians, living our lives wholeheartedly according to the way of the Lord and to our faith. May God bless all of our good efforts and commitments, and may He enlighten our path forward in life. Amen.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 14-23

At that time, Jesus then called the people to Him again and said to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and try to understand. Nothing that enters a person from the outside can make that person unclean. It is what comes from within that makes a person unclean. Let everyone who has ears listen.”

When Jesus got home and was away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him about this saying, and He replied, “So even you are dull? Do you not see that whatever comes from outside cannot make a person unclean, since it enters not the heart but the stomach, and is finally passed out?” Thus Jesus declared that all foods are clean.

And He went on, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him, for evil designs come out of the heart : theft, murder, adultery, jealousy, greed, maliciousness, deceit, indecency, slander, pride and folly. All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean.”