Monday, 13 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passages relating to us about firstly the vision of the prophet Ezekiel as he saw the vision of the glory of God on His heavenly throne. He saw the Lord enthroned gloriously upon the Thrones and Cherubim, with a great multitude of Angels, surrounded by Seraphim and all the great servants of God.

In that vision, the Lord called Ezekiel, one of the exiles of Israel and Judah in the land of Babylon after they were brought there by king Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel was called to be God’s mouthpiece and prophet, to declare to the people in exile of His will and what would happen to the people and the kingdom of Judah, to be destroyed and brought into exile for their sins and constant disobedience against God.

Through what God has shown Ezekiel, He wanted him to know who his master truly was, that is none other than God Himself. Ezekiel obeyed the Lord and followed His commands, even though he had to encounter many opposition and challenges, even threats to his own life. He did what he could in order to perform whatever tasks He had entrusted to him, in order to bring Israel and its people to repent from their sins and reconcile with Him.

God was calling on His people through Ezekiel in order to gather them once again, that they may call Him their God, and He may call them His people. And this is related to what we heard through today’s Gospel passage, where St. Peter asked the Lord if they should all pay taxes to Temple as they were told to. And the Lord’s answer was truly wise and is something that all of us should take heed of as we carry on living our lives in this world.

At that time, the Romans ruled over most of the land around the Mediterranean Sea, including the area of Judea, where the ancient land of Israel was. They stationed garrison troops and installed governors to maintain local order, and they also imposed taxes on all the subject nations and peoples. The taxes paid to the government was used to fund all state expenses, and was also an important sign and proof of submission to the Roman state.

And on top of that, the Temple tax mentioned earlier was an additional tax levied on the Jewish people in order to maintain the running of the Temple of Jerusalem, which was the heart and centre of the Jewish faith, where sacrifices were regularly conducted. There were also many priests and ceremonies in that city, which required maintenance. Hence, again, the Temple tax was a sign of support and also obedience to the Jewish authorities, just as the Roman tax was a sign of obedience to the Romans.

The Lord Jesus said to St. Peter, asking him of his opinion, on who was supposed to pay the taxes to the kings, whether those who belong to the royalty or aliens, that is strangers and the common people. The Apostle answered that the strangers and aliens were the ones who were supposed to pay the taxes and not those who belong to the family of the kings.

Through this, the Lord wanted to state that, as the first reading passage today has shown us, He is the One and only True King of the whole Creation and the entire Universe. There is no other authority or power greater than that of God, and He alone is the source of all power and authority. And then, each and every one of us are beloved by God, that we are made to be none other than God’s own adopted sons and daughters.

Through Christ, Who became Man and as One Who is like us in His humanity, each one of us have been given the chance to call God our Father, just as Jesus called God the Father as His Father. Christ is both the Son of God and Son of Man alike, and through this, we are made to be God’s own children. Therefore, linking this fact with what the Lord had said in today’s Gospel passage, all of us ought to only obey God and His commandments alone.

But, this does not mean that we should disobey earthly and worldly authorities, as being Christians mean that we must be God-centric and we must place Him at the very centre of our lives, but not at the expense of our certain worldly obligations and relationships. We have to realise, that governments and worldly states are actually delegated part of the authority which God alone has.

That means, if we disobey the world and the order of things in this world, just because we want to obey only the Lord and no others, but at the detriment of ourselves and many others around us, we are actually not being responsible and good Christians. There are indeed occasions when the state and the government may act in contrary to the teachings of the Lord as preserved in His Church, when we are called to stand up for our faith, but as long as the state functions within the just boundaries of Christian truth and morality, we should obey the laws of the state and be good citizens of this world, just as we are first and foremost, God’s people.

Today, we celebrate the feast of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, whose life and works were intertwined together at the time when the Church was in its early days, during the time of the harsh persecutions of Christians by the Roman authorities. There were rivalry and bitterness between the two saints, as they were rival candidates to succeed to the throne of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

Nonetheless, even though they eventually became rival Pope and Antipope, with portions of the faithful and the clergy on each side, but they continued to serve the faithful in their respective capacities, and as Roman citizens, surely they also obeyed the Roman state in the matter of paying taxes and also other civil duties, with the exception of the obligation to worship the pagan gods and the Emperor.

To them, their one and only true Master, is the Lord, and not the Roman Emperor or that of any other authorities of the world. That was why, they stood their ground in faith, when the community of the faithful were persecuted by the Roman authorities. And it was told that they were exiled together and endured many persecutions and sufferings, until they were martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to follow in the footsteps of those holy martyrs, who have given their all to the Lord and obeyed Him to the very end. Yet, at the same time, we are also called to continue to obey the authorities of this world, to which power and authority had been delegated from God, as long as the laws and rules do not contravene the centre tenets of our Christian faith.

May God be with us always, and may He continue to inspire us all to live with faith and with greater love, each and every day, for His laws and commandments. May He bless us all, in all of our works and endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 13 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 17 : 22-27

At that time, when Jesus was in Galilee with the Twelve, He said to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. But He will rise on the third day.” The Twelve were deeply grieved.

When they returned to Capernaum, the temple tax collectors came to Peter and asked him, “Does your Master pay the temple tax?” He answered, “Yes.” Peter then entered the house; and immediately, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? Who pay taxes or tribute to the kings of the earth : their sons or strangers and aliens?”

Peter replied, “Strangers and aliens.” And Jesus told him, “The sons, then, are tax-free. But, so as not to offend these people, go to the sea, throw in a hook, and open the mouth of the first fish you catch. You will find a coin in it. Take the coin and give it to them for you and for Me.”

Monday, 13 August 2018 : 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 148 : 1-2, 11-12, 13, 14

Alleluia! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the heavenly heights. Praise Him, all His Angels; praise Him, all His heavenly hosts.

Kings of the earth and nations, princes and all rulers of the world, young men and maidens, old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the Lord. For His Name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.

He has given His people glory; He has a praise to His faithful, to Israel, the people close to Him. Alleluia.

Monday, 13 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Ezekiel 1 : 2-5, 24-28c

On the fifth of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of king Jehoiachin) the word of YHVH came to Ezekiel, son of Buzi, the priest, in the land of the Chaldeans by the banks of the Kebar. There the hand of YHVH was upon me.

I looked : a windstorm came from the north bringing a great cloud. A fiery light inside it lit up all around it, while at the centre there was something like a glowing metal. In the centre were what appeared to be four creatures with the same form.

I heard the noise of their wings when they moved, similar to the roar of many waters, similar to the voice of the Most High, the noise of a multitude or of a camp. When they were not moving they lowered their wings. I heard a noise above the platform over their heads. Above it was a Throne resembling a sapphire; and high on this Throne was a Figure similar to that of a Man.”

“Then I saw a light as of a glowing bronze, as if fire enveloped Him from His waist upwards. And from His waist downwards it was as if fire give radiance around Him. The surrounding light was like a rainbow in the clouds after a day of rain. This vision was the likeness of YHVH’s glory. On seeing it I fell on my face.

Friday, 10 August 2018 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture telling us that we need to do good in our lives and be generous in our giving towards one another, especially to those who are less fortunate and less privileged. And He said this pointing out at His own examples, in how He has loved us all generously with constancy even when we mankind have not been consistent in our faith and love towards Him.

In the first reading today, that is the gist of what St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth. He reminded them of the Lord Who gives each and every one of us good blessings and graces, that all of us have enough for ourselves, and are able to fend for ourselves. Now, then, surely we will come to wonder, why is it that in this world there are still sufferings and people who had not enough to survive and live, while there are others who are enjoying in great excess of wealth and all?

It is not because the Lord is unfair in His treatment to us, or that He is biased in His love for each one of us. Each and every one of us, regardless of our origins, our background, our cultural, linguistic, national differences and our appearances, physical and mental talents and abilities, and even those with disabilities, all are equally beloved by the Lord without bias and prejudice. Suffering comes about because of the abuse of freedom by God’s people, who chose to act unjustly towards one another.

And in the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus used a parable to explain this matter to the people, by comparing it with the grain of wheat that falls on the ground and die, and by that action, creating many more new life that came about from that death. This is a parable that foreshadows the moment of the Lord’s own Passion, suffering, death and resurrection, when He died on the cross in order to save all of us mankind.

That is the method by which wheat germinates into new wheat plant, such that even a single wheat grain is able to grow into a large new wheat plant that can generate many more wheat grains in turn. This signifies Christ’s willingness to die, so that by the breaking and the sharing of His Body, all of us who share in His Body and Blood may receive a share in the eternity of glory and life with God.

Today, these Scripture readings also have an additional significance as today we celebrate the Feast of St. Lawrence, holy deacon and martyr of the Church. St. Lawrence was one of the pious and dedicated deacons of the Church of Rome, a position of honour and yet filled with great challenges and dangers during the time of great persecutions of the Church by the Roman Emperors, at that time the Emperor Valerian.

St. Lawrence ministered to the Church and to the faithful in the city of Rome and he had to endure harsh persecution and avoiding detection by the authorities while serving the needs of the faithful and the poor among them. Eventually, he was arrested along with several other leading members of the Church, tortured and condemned to death when he refused to recant his faith and abandon his God.

Through the blood of his martyrdom, St. Lawrence and his companions showed all of us great inspirations of faith, which inspired many other faithful to be courageous in their own faith. In fact, many more came to believe in the Lord, having been inspired by the great example of the holy martyrs. Thus the saying, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

Surely they would have also be tempted to give up their faith by the enticement of worldly guarantees and security of power, glory, wealth, possessions and material goods. Many of the martyrs were offered positions of power and worldly riches if only they would abandon their Lord and their faith, and worship the pagan gods of the Romans. Similar instances have also been recorded for many other occasions of martyrdom.

But they remained true to their faith and devoted themselves to God to the very end. God blessed them and kept them in His grace, and gave them the crown of glory promised to all those who have kept the faith and persevered to the very end. Now, all of us are called to follow their examples and strive to do our best to live our lives as good Christians, who obey the will of God and walk in the truth of God.

May the Lord continue to bless us and all of our endeavours, and may He strengthen us and empower us to live ever more faithfully, amidst the challenges and trials we may face, inspiring us to live by the examples of the holy saints and martyrs, particularly that of St. Lawrence, holy deacon and martyr. May the Lord be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 10 August 2018 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 12 : 24-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Those who love their life destroy it, and those who despise their life in this world save it even to everlasting life.”

“Whoever wants to serve Me, let him follow Me; and wherever I am, there shall My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.”

Friday, 10 August 2018 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 111 : 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9

Alleluia! Blessed is the one who fears YHVH, who greatly delights in His commands. His children will be powerful on earth; the upright’s offspring will be blessed.

It will be well with him who lends freely, who leads a life of justice and honesty. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered and loved forever.

He has no fear of evil news, for his heart is firm, trusting in YHVH. His heart is confident; he need not fear; he shall prevail over his foes at the end.

He gives generously to the poor; his merits will last forever; and his head will be raised in honour.