Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the messages of the Scripture, reminding us of the need for conversion and change of heart, especially in this blessed and holy season of Lent, during which time we take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and actions. It is a time for us to contemplate on what we have gone through this far in our lives on our journey towards full reconciliation and returning to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the essence of the words of the Scripture which we have heard today is the fact that we mankind have disobeyed the Lord, Our God, and by that disobedience, we have fallen into sin. But we must not be discouraged, because God is our loving Father, Who knows all that need to be done in order for us to be reconciled with Him in perfect and new love.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard about the moment when the Lord called one of His disciples from among the tax collectors, a man named Levi, who answered the Lord’s call and followed Him, leaving everything behind and became Christ’s disciple. He discarded all that was his, and took for himself a greater possession in becoming one who followed and obeyed the Lord, eventually known as St. Matthew, the Apostle and one of the Four Evangelists.

At that time, tax collectors did not have a good standing in the society. In fact, they were reviled and hated because of their role in collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman rulers and governors who took over the rulership over the Jews and the people of Israel at that time. And as the taxations were heavy and became burdens for the people, they hated the taxes and by extension, those who worked to collect the taxes for the Romans.

Hence, the tax collectors were often considered as sinners and people unworthy of the Lord’s grace. They were often looked down by the society, particularly the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who had high esteem and view of themselves in the matters of piety and faith. To the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they alone had the most perfect observance and obedience to the laws of Moses, and therefore, others had to respect them and obey their teaching authority.

Yet, they failed to see that they themselves were sinners in need of God’s mercy. In all of their supposed righteousness and external forms of piety, they did them not for the glorification of God or because they truly loved God, instead, they loved themselves and wanted to look good before the people. They failed to see that God did not desire their sacrifices and prayers, but their total commitment and desire to repent instead.

The tax collectors readily welcomed the Lord Jesus into their midst, as He sat down at Levi’s house for a meal with them. They listened to His teachings and believed in Him, something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law refused to do. In that sense, the tax collectors were much further ahead than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law on their way towards salvation in God.

In the same Gospel passage today, the Lord made it clear to all of us that He is seeking for the conversion and healing of sinners. That is because ultimately we cannot forget the very important fact that God loves every single one of us, all those whom He had created and to whom He had given the grace of life. He does not discriminate between any one of us, and all of us are equally important to him, from the greatest among us to the poorest and to the least.

And because of sin, due to our disobedience and refusal to walk in His ways, we have fallen away from God’s grace and became separated from Him. Our fate would have been eternal damnation and disgrace in hell, in the eternal fire, because that is what our sins would have merited us. But God had mercy on us, because He did love us greatly, and would not have wanted us to fall into such a terrible fate.

That is why He went all the way to save us, sparing nothing less than the very best effort to help and rescue us from our predicament. He gave us His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour, through Whose death on the cross, we receive the ultimate healing and reconciliation. He Who is sinless and without fault had willingly embraced punishment and suffering in our place, so that all of us may have a new hope in Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord offers us this healing and reconciliation freely and generously. However, the question is, are we willing to take up the offer of forgiveness and love which He has presented to us? Many of us refuse to repent from our sins, and we continue to live in a state of sin, preferring to do what is right according to us, but not what is right according to God.

The problem lies with our inability to resist the temptations of our human pride, our refusal to listen to advice and feedback, because we think that we are always right. And we find it hard to turn to the Lord, because the devil is always active, trying to persuade us, to bring us into a lull, to tempt us, and even to force us to do what is sinful and wicked in the sight of God. And unless we put a strong and conscious effort to resist those temptations, and desire to repent from our sins, we may fail in our endeavour of faith.

Today the Church commemorates the memory of the seven holy saints who were the founders of the religious order of the Servites, formally known as the Order of Friar Servants of Mary. These seven holy and devout men were remembered for their commitment to God, having been cloth merchants of the city of Florence during the Middle Ages era of what is now Italy, being very rich and influential, and yet, voluntarily chose to leave everything they had behind in order to serve the Lord.

They lived a life of poverty and also penance, filled with prayers and devotions, works of charity among the poor and the underprivileged. Through hard work, persistence and perseverance, they inspired many others to follow in their footsteps and lead a life of holiness and purity, no longer chained by the sins of their past. They devoted their time, effort and attention to the Lord, and did their best to advance His good works among His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be inspired by the examples of these holy predecessors, who have gone before us to the glory of heaven. We should spend more time in prayer and contemplation before God, especially during this time of Lent, when we are called to a renewed relationship and connection with God. Let us allow the Lord to speak to us, in the silence of our hearts, that we may know what His will is for us.

May the Lord be with us always, that throughout our journey of faith during this Lenten season and beyond, we may grow ever stronger in faith, and we may draw closer to God, and eventually find full and complete reconciliation in Him. May God bless us all and all of our endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it, that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o YHVH, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life, for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word. If you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fall. Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses.

If you stop profaning the Sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the Sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Saturday, 10 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the sins done by the people of God, as we continue to hear the story from the ancient kingdom of Israel, after the division of the old kingdom of Israel of David and Solomon into two kingdoms. The southern kingdom of Judah remained in the family of David until the end of that kingdom, while the northern kingdom also called Israel, started with Jeroboam mentioned in the first reading today, would change hands many times.

And the rivalry, jealousy and fear which king Jeroboam of Israel felt, having seen how the people still went to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple built by Solomon, made him to disobey God and went on to impose a new pagan and wicked worship of golden calves. In this we see once again, how the people fell again and again into sin, disobeying God and refusing to follow Him.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, if we think that what the people of Israel had done were wicked, then so were our actions, our words and our deeds. Many of us often do not realise just how much wickedness and how many sins we have committed, sometimes even unknowingly, because for us, often sinning is the norm for us. Temptations to sin and the pressures from our peers and those around us are plenty, and that is why, we often fall again and again into sin.

That happens in particular when God is not in our hearts and minds. Even when we think that God has a place in our hearts and minds, but often we relegated Him to a less prominent position, putting Him aside to a corner, and instead focusing on our numerous worldly concerns and desires. We forgot about God because we were too busy pursuing our worldly careers and concerns, and we only remembered Him when we were desperate and in need, thinking that God would surely listen to us.

But God will only help those who are willing to be helped themselves. What does this mean? It means that if we do not proactively live our lives in accordance with His ways, and refuse to accept His offer of love and mercy, then we cannot be helped. It is only upon our agreement of accepting His generous offer of mercy and love, which He had made unconditionally for our sake, then we can be saved.

But we can be assured of God’s everlasting and generous love, ultimately because even though despite all of our sins, wickedness and disobedience, God still loves us, each and every one of us, just as what we have heard in the Gospel today ought to assure us of this fact. The Lord Jesus saw a large multitude of people, four thousand men not counting the women and children present there, and they were all hungry, having followed Him and heard His teachings without stopping by to rest and eat.

Thus, we heard how the Lord took seven loaves of bread available in the hands of the Apostles, and blessed them before the people, breaking them all and gave the bread for all the people to eat. And they all ate well, according to what we have heard, and there were enough leftovers in fact, to fill up seven full large baskets of leftover loaves of bread. Such a miracle was God’s doing alone, and it showed also just how much He cared for us.

And not only that, not just that the Lord had pity on His people who suffered from physical hunger of the body, but He also had pity on us because of our afflictions of the soul, the mind, the heart and our whole beings. Sin has claimed us and has enslaved us under its power, and we have therefore been made unworthy and unclean before God. Without God’s help and mercy, we would have fallen without hope into hell, to suffer for eternity as a consequence for our sins.

But the Lord laid down His own life, by offering His life in exchange for ours. He willingly sacrificed Himself on the Altar of the Cross, at the hill of Calvary, when He was crucified for us and died. He gave us His own Most Precious Body and Blood to eat and drink, that by the Most Holy Eucharist He has passed down to us through the Church by the hands of our priests and bishops, we may be filled not just physically, but also well satisfied in spirit, and healed of all of our afflictions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us think back again at our own respective lives. How many times had it been that God had been kind to us, giving us chances after chances, and opportunities after opportunities, guiding us towards the right path? We might have disappointed Him and rejected Him, but God Who loves us all very much, will not easily give up on us.

Let us all reorientate our lives that we no longer refuse His love and generous offer of mercy, but instead, follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, the Apostles and the saints, especially today’s saint, St. Scholastica, holy virgin and devout servant of God, whose memory we remember together. She is the sister of another great saint, St. Benedict of Nursia, and together, each of them showed many future generations of the faithful, right up to our present era, how to be truly devoted to God, in a life filled with God and His love, and for some, they followed her examples, and devoted themselves to God in a consecrated life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us fill our lives with prayer, not just prayers mumbled through the mouth, but prayers made from our hearts and minds. Let us open ourselves completely to God, allowing Him to come into us, and to dwell in us, speaking with us in the depths of our heart. Let us allow Him to transform us all by His love, so that eventually, we may be ever more like Him, and be worthy of the eternal glory He has prepared for all of those who are faithful to Him. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 10 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 8 : 1-10

At that time, soon afterward, Jesus was in the midst of another large crowd, that obviously had nothing to eat. So He called His disciples and said to them, “I feel sorry for these people, because they have been with Me for three days and now have nothing to eat. If I send them to their homes hungry, they will faint on the way; some of them have come a long way.”

His disciples replied, “Where, in a deserted place like this, could we get enough bread to feed these people?” He asked them, “How many loaves have you?” And they answered, “Seven.” Then He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Taking the seven loaves and giving thanks, He broke them, and handed them to His disciples to distribute.

And they distributed them among the people. They also had some small fish. So Jesus said a blessing, and asked that these be shared as well. The people ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand in number.

Jesus sent them away, and immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Saturday, 10 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 105 : 6-7a, 19-20, 21-22

We have sinned like our ancestors; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. When they were in Egypt, our ancestors had no regard for Your wondrous deeds.

They made a calf at Horeb and worshipped the molten image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of a bull that eats grass.

They forgot their Saviour God, Who had done great things in Egypt, wonderful works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Sea of Reeds.