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.

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

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Psalm 118 : 67, 68, 71, 72, 75, 76

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word.

You are good, and Your works are good; teach me Your decrees.

It is good for me to have been afflicted, for I have deeply learnt Your statutes.

Your Law is more precious to me than heaps of silver and gold.

I know, o YHVH, that Your laws are just; and there is justice in my affliction.

Comfort me then with Your unfailing love, as You promised Your servant.

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

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

James 1 : 1-11

James, a servant of God, and of Lord Jesus Christ, sends greetings to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. Consider yourselves fortunate, my brothers and sisters, when you meet with every kind of trial, for you know, that the testing of your faith makes you steadfast. Let your steadfastness become perfect, with deeds, that you, yourselves, may be perfect and blameless, without any defect.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, Who gives to all easily and unconditionally. But ask with faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave driven and tossed on the sea by the wind. Such a person should not expect anything from the Lord, since the doubter has two minds and his conduct will always be insecure.

Let the believer who is poor, boast, in being uplifted, and let the rich one boast, in being humbled, because he will pass away like the flower of the field. The sun rises and its heat dries the grass; the flower withers and its beauty vanishes. So, too, will the rich person fade away, even in the midst of his pursuits.

Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of God in the Scriptures which first of all told us of the prayer of the king of Israel, Solomon, son of David, who prayed to God at the beginning of his reign asking for wisdom and good judgment, that God would bless him and help him to make up what he lacked in experience and ability. God blessed Solomon and praised his humility that he has not asked for worldly glory, wealth and power which were things commonly desired by those who were in power, like kings and lords.

God blessed Solomon for his steadfastness, honesty and sincerity, as Solomon readily admitted his youth and inexperience before Him, and also looked up to his father David as a great example he admired and aspired to follow in the actions he had taken in leading a righteous and just reign. God blessed Solomon with more than what he has earlier asked for, not just for wisdom and guidance, but even all those things which he had not asked for earlier on.

Solomon had a heavy responsibility and burden on his shoulders as king, especially as he succeeded his father David who had been very successful as king. David reunited the people of Israel once divided in civil war after the death of Saul, the previous king, and he also expanded the borders of the kingdom and brought great prestige and honour to the people of Israel. David provided a steady foundation that allowed Israel to enter into a great golden age, which continued and peaked under Solomon’s reign that God had blessed as He promised earlier on.

Solomon carried on his duties responsibly and reigned with great wisdom and justice over all of Israel, ruling Israel at the height of its glory and power. He also built the famous Temple of God, also known under its namesake the Temple of Solomon, upon the foundation and preparation that his father David had gathered beforehand. He was faithful to God for much of his reign, but unfortunately, if we read on more through the account of his reign from the Book of Kings, we will find it unfortunate that at his old age, Solomon began to be swayed by his many wives and concubines, many of whom continued to practice their pagan worship and customs.

Many of the successors of Solomon as kings in Israel and in Judah after the division of the kingdom were unfaithful to God and they led the people into sin, as they were the ones entrusted with the guidance over the people of God, and yet, they themselves were in error and led the people, the flock of God further away from their God and deeper into sin. And this is when we ought to look again into our Gospel passage today, when we heard about the Lord Jesus and His actions during His ministry with His disciples.

It was told that the Lord and His disciples were tired and exhausted after continuous work and encounter with many of the people who constantly brought their sick ones over for the Lord to heal them. And when they wanted to take a break, the Lord saw how many people were still coming to Him and seeking His help, even finding the way to discover where He and His disciples were despite their best effort to slip away. The Lord then continued to teach them and work, seeing how the people were like flock of sheep without a shepherd to guide them.

The Lord Jesus was the one and true King of Israel, Who as the Heir of David was the One promised by God to be the King that would sit on the throne of David and perpetuate his house. And yet, as the Lord Jesus Himself showed, His kingship was different from the many other kings of Israel who had not been faithful to God and led the people to the wrong paths. We can see how Jesus placed the needs of His people, His flock, above that of Himself, caring for their needs and loving them, even when He was tired and in need of rest.

Through all of these, God wants all of us to know that to be His followers and servants, to obey His will and commandments and to be the ones whom He had called and chosen, is something that will not be easy and straightforward for us. Those kings of Israel were chosen by God and had the obligation of being God’s vicars in taking care of God’s own people, the Israelites, but many of them fell to the many temptations present in our world, the temptations of money and wealth, of fame and glory, of lust and pleasures of the flesh among others.

As long as we allow our desires, pride, ego, ambition and all those temptations to mislead us, we will likely end up getting more and more distant from God and be like those who have not been faithful to their calling. The Lord Himself showed us what it means for us to work for the sake of the greater glory of God, which often requires sacrifices of time and energy, effort and resources. And today perhaps we should also look upon the good examples set by the two servants of God whose feasts we are celebrating.

St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Jerome Emiliani are two saints whose lives are truly extraordinary and they show us what being true and faithful disciples of the Lord is indeed about. They dedicated their lives in service to God, through prayers and work, that each and every one of us can also be inspired to follow in their footsteps too. If we are able to walk in their footsteps to follow the Lord, then we are heading in the right direction in life.

Let us begin first with St. Josephine Bakhita. She had a difficult early years of her life, being abducted from her family and community at a young age by slavers who made her into a slave and forced her to convert to a faith that was not her own. St. Josephine Bakhita had to endure much suffering as a slave and endured all sorts of humiliation and difficulties when she was treated less than a proper human being, sold from one place to another, until eventually she met her last employers, the Italian Vice Consul in Khartoum, Sudan who treated her well and eventually passed her on to another Italian family, who then gave St. Josephine Bakhita to encounter Christ for the first time through the Canossian Sisters when circumstances put her under their care.

Through the help of many people, St. Josephine Bakhita eventually was freed from her slavery with the support of the court and the authorities, and she became a Christian, and in time, joined the Canossian sisters into religious life. Her past, painful and difficult experiences in life did not make her to be bitter in life. On the contrary, she worked devoutly and always remembered the suffering of her people in Africa throughout her many years living as part of the Canossians, leading her to be well-respected by everyone for her faith and dedication to God.

She also forgave her abductors, persecutors and all those who had given her a terrible life during her first and early years. She would even thank and bless them, as she said that were it not for them, she would not have become a Christian and to be where she was then. It was God who called her out of slavery, much as how He liberated His people out of Egypt, and gave her a new life, to be a testimony of His glory and wonderful works among His people, and St. Josephine Bakhita’s life is indeed a powerful testimony of her faith.

Meanwhile, St. Jerome Emiliani was a man who ran away from his family during his teenage years to join the military, and then became official in the government. He encountered God through miraculous survival from a siege, which he attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Mother of God, which gradually began to touch his life, and in his later years, St. Jerome Emiliani dedicated himself to the care of the poor and orphans, those who are sick, opening houses and places to be where they can be taken care of and treated.

St. Jerome Emiliani was thus known for his extensive labours of charity, opening hospitals and orphanages, as well as dormitories for former prostitutes, caring for many and touching the lives of countless thousands. Together with some priests who supported his efforts, eventually St. Jerome Emiliani laid the foundations for the Congregation of Regular Clerics, composed of all those who share the same ideals and charity of St. Jerome Emiliani, in reaching out to the people of God, especially the less fortunate and weaker ones among them.

St. Jerome Emiliani embodied what the Lord Jesus Himself had done as described in our Gospel passage today, in caring for the needs of the poor and the needy, consoling orphans and all those who seek God for help. Together with St. Josephine Bakhita, they truly show us what true Christian virtues and charity are all about, and how each and every one of us are also able to follow in their footsteps to serve God in our own capacities and with our own abilities and talents.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Are we willing and able to follow in our predecessors’ footsteps? Are we capable to making the commitment to serve God as we should? Let us all ponder on this and reflect on how we can probably be better Christians and disciples of Christ from now on through our lives and through our commitment to live up to our calling as those whom the Lord has called to be His followers and disciples. May the Lord be our guide and may He strengthen us all in faith, at all times. Amen.

Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Mark 6 : 30-34

At that time, the Apostles returned and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. Then He said to them, “Let us go off by ourselves into a remote place and have some rest.” For there were so many people coming and going that the Apostles had no time even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a secluded area by themselves.

But people saw them leaving, and many could guess where they were going. So, from all the towns, they hurried there on foot, arriving ahead of them. As Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.

Saturday, 8 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints, Holy Virgins or Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 118 : 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

How can young people remain pure? By living according to Your word.

I seek You with my whole heart; let me not stray from Your commands.

In my heart I have kept Your word, that I may not sin against my YHVH.

Praise to You, o YHVH; instruct me in Your statutes.

That, with my lips, I may declare all Your spoken decrees.

I delight in following Your laws, more so than in all riches.