Friday, 8 February 2019 : 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 and Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of God reminding us to remain virtuous and faithful in life, especially with the emphasis on faith and fidelity in our love for one another, in the married life between a man and a woman, the foundation of all Christian families. Through the Scripture passages that we heard today, we are reminded to put our faith and trust, especially in our marriage and family life, in God, and not in any other things.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard how the king Herod Antipas got himself into a very serious sin of murder because of his lack of faith in God, which caused him to fall into the temptations of lust and human desire, as well as ego and pride, that made him to commit even more and more heinous acts and sins against God. He committed adultery by taking the legal Herodias, the wife of his own brother Philip, and made her to be his queen, while his brother was still alive and legally married to Herodias.

St. John the Baptist spoke up against this heinous act and immoral behaviour, which went up against the Law of God and the moral conduct of the society. For his outspokenness and his stand against the king, St. John the Baptist was arrested and put into prison. Herodias held grudge against the saint for what he had blatantly and fearlessly mentioned before all, the sin of adultery that she and Herod had committed.

That was why in today’s Gospel passage we heard of how Herodias tried to achieve this by manipulating Herod, through her daughter, who was very beautiful and seductive, as she danced during a party that Herod had thrown for his nobles and guests. Herod was mesmerised by her performance and probably swayed under influence of the party and even alcohol, began making unrealistic promises and oaths before her, overcome by his desire and lust.

And this was when Satan struck, by making use of the opportunity through Herodias and her daughter, to force Herod’s hand into committing a great sin. Herod had not wanted to deal harm to St. John the Baptist even though he had arrested him and put him into prison, but as he made all those promises and oaths to the daughter of Herodias, when the mother instigated her to ask for the head of St. John the Baptist, Herod was trapped and could not refuse the request before his guests and nobles.

In all of these, we saw how when God is not at the centre of our family and married life, then we will end up having a lot of troubles, temptations of the desires of the flesh and the greed within our hearts, lust for things that are immoral and improper in the sight of God and men alike. That was how Herod and Herodias sinned, and that was also how countless others among us mankind also had sinned. Marriages and families have been destroyed by those corrupt desires and sin.

Today all of us are called to return to the true faith in God, and anchor ourselves, our marriage and family lives for all those who have families and been married, in God. Unless we do this, we will end up bringing harm and destruction to us and to our loved ones. Satan is always busy at work trying to strike at us, and even when we are faithful, we saw how St. John the Baptist was treated. He suffered many rejections, people who doubted and accused him, and was martyred for his courage in faith.

But all of these should not discourage us from living our lives with faith. Instead, they should become inspiration for us to be even more courageous and dedicated in living our lives with sincere love and genuine faith for God. Today, we celebrate the feast of two saints whose exemplary life and commitment to God should become inspiration to each and every one of us in how we ought to be living our individual and respective lives.

St. Jerome Emiliani was a soldier who turned into a priest and loving servant of God and His people, after conversion experience and intercession by the Blessed Virgin Mary during his time of troubles. He became well-known for his care of many orphans whom he encountered, all those who experienced sorrow and sadness, suffering and pain for the loss of their loved ones. They had no one to take care of them, but St. Jerome Emiliani took care of them, fed them and showed them much love.

He founded a religious order, gathering those who were like-minded and having the same desire to serve the poor and all those children of God who were suffering and had no one to take care of them. And he continued to minister to the people, particularly the poor, the orphans as mentioned earlier, the sick and those who were dying. St. Jerome Emiliani did not let up on his work, and ministered to all, dying in his duty as he contracted illness as he cared for the sick.

Meanwhile, St. Josephine Bakhita was once a slave, who was enslaved by slavers and made to suffer many terrible experiences as a slave, as someone who had virtually no rights at all, and she had to endure many insults to her dignity as a human being. Eventually, she became the servant to an Italian family, who was the Vice Consul of Italy in the region where she was in, today’s Sudan. And that was how she gained her freedom, as she left her old life of slavery behind and became a free woman.

She became a Catholic after being inspired through the experience of her freedom, and after baptism, she decided to dedicate her life to God for the rest of her life, and join the religious order of the Canossian sisters, and she was a very dedicated servant of God and of her fellow sisters, and praying at all times for all those who shared the painful experiences of her slavery and for all others in Africa, who were suffering from abject poverty and abuse of human rights.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow in the footsteps of these faithful and loving servants of the Lord? In their own ways, St. John the Baptist, St. Jerome Emiliani and St. Josephine Bakhita have shown us how we can truly be faithful in our daily lives, and also filled with love for one another and for God, by loving those who are in our midst, and putting aside all the temptations and the desires of our body and flesh. We are called to be faithful, and to resist all the efforts that Satan had put in place, to cause us to fall into sin.

Let us all pray and work together, that each and every one of us as members of God’s Church may come together united and strong in our faith, beginning from our families, where each and every one of our families are the important foundations of the Church and our faith life. Let us all strive to do our best to emulate the good examples showed by our holy predecessors and do our best to love one another and to love the Lord, putting Him at the centre of our lives. Amen.

Friday, 8 February 2019 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Mark 6 : 14-29

At that time, king Herod also heard about Jesus, because His Name had become well-known. Some people said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in Him.” Others thought, “He is a prophet like the prophets of times past.” When Herod was told of this, he thought, “I had John beheaded, yet he has risen from the dead!”

For this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested, and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her, and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John; and wanted to kill him, but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed, whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.”

And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.”

The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of his bodyguards with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother.

When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

Friday, 8 February 2019 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Psalm 26 : 1, 3, 5, 8b-9abc

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the rampart of my life; I will not be afraid.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fail; though war break out against me, I will still be confident.

For He will keep me safe in His shelter in times of misfortune; He will hide me beneath His roof, and set me high upon a rock.

I seek Your face, o Lord. Do not hide Your face from me nor turn away Your servant in anger. You are my Protector, do not reject me.

Friday, 8 February 2019 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Hebrews 13 : 1-8

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to offer hospitality; you know that some people have entertained Angels without knowing it. Remember prisoners as if you were with them in chains, and the same for those who are suffering. Remember that you also have a body.

Marriage must be respected by all and husband and wife faithful to each other. God will punish the immoral and the adulterous. Do not depend on money. Be content with having enough for today for God has said : I will never forsake you or abandon you, and we shall confidently answer : The Lord is my Helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Consider their end and imitate their faith. Christ Jesus is the same today as yesterday and forever.

Thursday, 13 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today again from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we listened again to the message of consolation and hope from God, as the Lord spoke to His people for them not to worry and to place their trust in Him, for He Who loved them would take care of them and provide for them all that they needed. They would not need to be afraid anymore, for God would be their sure guarantee and strength amidst the challenges and trials in life.

At that time, the people of God suffered from the many opponents and enemies that surrounded them, at the time when the ancient kingdom of Israel had been splintered and the northern half, consisting of the ten tribes out of the twelve tribes of original Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians, who carried off most of the people into exile. And even Judah, in the south where the prophet Isaiah was active, was also afflicted, having the Assyrians almost on the brink of conquering it if not for the intervention from God.

God was reassuring them through Isaiah that He would not abandon them, and on the contrary, He would in fact give them the way out of their predicament, because of His great love for them. Unfortunately, as if we know more about the later history, after the time of the prophet Isaiah and the righteous kings Hezekiah and Josiah, the people of Judah reverted back to their sinful ways, pagan worship and disobeyed God. That was why they too, were brought to exile by the Babylonians.

But then, yet again, God never gave up on His people, despite them having disobeyed, betrayed, abandoned and refused to listen to Him repeatedly many times. God continued to love them and desires that they should be saved, by sending to them, again and again, prophets one after another, messengers and all those who cry out asking for the people to repent from their sins and return to God.

And as mentioned in the Gospel passage today, one such figure was Elijah the prophet, who was sent to the Israelites in the years even before the time of Isaiah, in order to call on them to repent from their sins. He travelled from place to place, and had to go against even the king and his powerful supporters, those who championed the worship of pagan idols like Baal and Asherah. He was rejected, oppressed and persecuted, but that did not silence him.

In fact, he spoke all the louder and performed even more actions for the greater glory of God. For his commitment and dedication, he turned many hearts and minds back to the Lord, when he managed to prove that the Lord YHVH is indeed the one and only true God. On the mount Carmel he went up alone against four hundred fifty priests of Baal, and he showed God’s glory and power when Baal did nothing. God sent fire from heaven to burn the offerings on Elijah’s altar, and from there, God’s work and truth were vindicated.

The last of the great messengers of God, that is St. John the Baptist, was often compared with Elijah. For it was said in various parts of the Scripture, that he had in him the spirit of the prophet Elijah, or even that he himself was Elijah born into this world again. For Elijah, if we read the second Book of Kings, did not die, but was taken up by God into heaven in a flaming chariot. Nonetheless, regardless whether St. John the Baptist is Elijah or not, the fact remains that the former experienced and worked in much the same manner as the latter.

Again, at the time when St. John the Baptist came into the world to prepare the way for the Messiah, many among the people were again wandered off not following the path of the Lord. Some of them, like king Herod and his supporters lived in ways of sin, disobeying and disregarding God’s commandments. St. John the Baptist spoke harshly of the king and dared to do so, when king Herod committed adultery openly with the wife of his brother.

And still yet, some others who were seemingly pious and faithful, have also wandered off course, such as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Those people had a self-righteous attitude and looked down on others who they deemed to be less worthy than themselves. They liked to be praised for their show of piety, prayers and devotions in public, but in truth, they have allowed themselves to be overcome by desire and pride in their hearts and minds. God had no place in them.

St. John the Baptist was not afraid to rebuke the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law then, who came to him doubting his teaching and baptising authority. He called them rightly as brood of vipers, as those who were stubborn in their refusal to listen to the word of God. He had to suffer and even die in martyrdom at the hands of king Herod because of that, but all for the greater glory of God, and for the salvation of all of God’s people, fulfilling what the Lord had promised them.

Today, we celebrate the feast of a famous martyr of the Church, that is St. Lucy or St. Lucia the martyr and holy woman, whose life is again another reminder of the challenges and difficulties we will encounter as a follower and disciple of Christ. St. Lucy was a devout Christian who lived in the city of Syracuse during the time of the harshest persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

St. Lucy dedicated herself to God and consecrated herself as a holy virgin before Him. But her mother who did not know of this intention and fearing for her family’s future due to her failing health, arranged for her to marry a wealthy pagan noble. But St. Lucy managed to convince her mother to seek the intercession of St. Agatha and to distribute their riches and possessions to help the poor. This was detested by St. Lucy’s pagan betrothed, who reported her to the governor.

St. Lucy was persecuted harshly and she was even sent to a brothel to be defiled. But miraculously, she could not be moved even by a team of soldiers when they were about to bring her to the brothel. In the end, she suffered more persecutions and was martyred by the sword. The courage and purity of St. Lucy has inspired many throughout the ages, and consequently, should be a great inspiration for all of us as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to devote ourselves just as St. Lucy, the prophet Elijah and St. John the Baptist had dedicated themselves to God? They placed their complete trust in God, Who guided them to the right path and to eternal glory in Him despite their initial suffering on earth. Therefore, let us all endeavour to do the same with our own lives, and seek to glorify God through our actions from now on. May the Lord help us and be our guide in this journey of life. Amen.

Thursday, 13 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 11 : 11-15

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “I tell you this : no one greater than John the Baptist has arisen from among sons of women; and yet, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is something to be conquered; and violent men seize it.”

“Up to the time of John, there was only prophesy : all the prophets and the Law. And if you believe Me, John is indeed that Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Thursday, 13 December 2018 : 2nd Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 144 : 1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab

I will extol You, my God and King; I will praise Your Name forever. YHVH is good to everyone; His mercy embraces all His creation.

All Your works will give You thanks; all Your saints, o YHVH, will praise You. They will tell of the glory of Your kingdom; and speak of Your power.

That all may know of Your mighty deeds, Your reign, and its glorious splendour. Your reign is from age to age; Your dominion endures, from generation to generation.