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.

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

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Kings 12 : 26-32 and 1 Kings 13 : 33-34

Jeroboam thought, “The kingdom could return to the house of David. Should this people go up to offer sacrifices in YHVH’s House in Jerusalem, their heart would turn again to their master, Rehoboam king of Judah. They would kill me and go back to him.”

And so the king sought advice and made two golden calves. Then he said to the people, “You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, o Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” He put one of these in Bethel, the other in Dan. This caused Israel to sin; the people went to Bethel and Dan to worship the calves.

Jeroboam also built temples on high places, appointing priests who were not from the Levites. Jeroboam also appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in imitation of the feast in Judah, and he himself offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel; and sacrificed to the calves that he had made. There he placed priests for the high places he had made.

After this, however, Jeroboam did not abstain from doing evil. Instead he made priests for the high places from among the people. He consecrated anyone who wanted to be a priest for the high places. And this became the sin of the family of Jeroboam for which it was to be cut off and destroyed from the face of the earth.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th 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 began our Scripture reflections with the story from the Book of Kings, telling us about how Solomon, the mighty and great king of Israel and son of king David, another famous king of Israel, fell from grace and fell into sin, due to his weakness and submission to the many demands of his wives and concubines, giving in to the temptations of the flesh, as well as the temptations of human pride and worldly greed.

He turned away from God and became enslaved to sin, and therefore, God withdrew from Solomon and from his descendants, the promise of glory and well-being which He has promised them. That is because they had not been faithful to their part of the Covenant which they made with God Himself. Rather than putting their trust in God, they had allowed Satan to enslave them and to rule over them through sin.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of a different story, about a woman who came to Jesus begging for Him to heal her daughter who was beset by demons and evil spirits. The woman’s daughter suffered terribly under the enslavement of the evil spirits, and as such, the mother also suffered greatly as well. Knowing and indeed, believing that the Lord Jesus alone was able to help her and her daughter, the woman came to Him.

But the Lord was reluctant to help her, telling her that it was not right for Him to throw the bread intended for the children to eat, to the dogs to be eaten by them. What did He mean by this? It means that as at that time, the common belief was that the Messiah came only to save the people of Israel, then Jesus Who is the Messiah should not have dealt with non-Jewish people, including the woman who was a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Yet the woman persevered in her faith and commitment to see her daughter healed from her condition, and humbled herself such before God that she did not mind to accept what the Lord said to her, even though it might have sounded very insulting and demeaning to her. But in truth, the Lord did not mean to disrespect her, rather to show to all the people, having known what she would say to Him, that even among the non-Jewish people there was such a great faith.

We can see the contrast here, firstly of the famous king of Israel, Solomon, who willingly embraced the devil and his temptations to sin, going from a free state of being a son of God in good graces, into a state of slavery, because sin is indeed the enslavement of our souls under the forces of sin and evil. Then we see the contrast between that and the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, whose daughter was enslaved and wanted her to be freed from such slavery, and thus, begged the Lord to do so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to reflect on ourselves and our lives as we internalise what we have heard from the Scripture passages today. We mankind have fallen into sin because of our failure to obey the Lord and His commandments, and we preferred to follow the rebellious ways of the devil, who thus enslaved us through sin and death ruled over us because of those sins.

Yet, throughout history, many of us have ended up like Solomon, failing to resist the temptations and the urges to sin, which are the stumbling blocks put in place by the devil, meant to be our downfall. We voluntarily enslave ourselves once again to sin, even though as we know, the Lord has liberated us all from sin, by His death on the cross. I am sure we can see just how ironic our actions sound like, when we come to think of it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be free, and indeed, desire strongly to be free, for unless our souls and our whole being are free from sin, we will still be enslaved to sin, and thus, in danger of eternal damnation. We need to take the concrete steps and make the conscious efforts to actively seek the Lord, just as the Syro-Phoenician woman had done, and beg the Lord to heal us and save us from our predicament.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, whose life and story truly fits into our narrative and theme today on humanity’s enslavement to sin and the need for liberation. St. Josephine Bakhita herself was a longtime slave during the early years of her life, living in the area now known as Sudan. From her young age, she had experienced slavery firsthand, having been snatched and abducted by slavers, sold as slave to the highest bidder in the slave market.

St. Josephine Bakhita went from master to master, and she suffered great indignities during her years of slavery, suffering and pain were her daily cup. Eventually, she came to be under the patronage of an Italian, who brought her away from the land of her suffering into Italy, where she eventually managed to obtain her freedom and she also came to accept the Catholic faith through faithful instruction, and eventually became a religious nun renowned for her great faith and piety.

St. Josephine Bakhita and her amazing story of conversion and liberation, not just from physical slavery of the body but also spiritual and mental slavery of sin is truly a very real and relevant example for us, as we reflect on what we have heard in today’s Scripture passage. Her experiences, together with that of the other saint we celebrate today, St. Jerome Emiliani, the patron saint of orphans renowned for his commitment to alleviating the sufferings of the poor and those who were orphaned, serve as reminders for us Christians.

All of us should first of all strive to be free from our enslavement to sin, by actively practicing our faith and shunning all that is wicked and evil from our own respective lives. And then, we should also help one another, especially when we see that some among us are in the danger of falling and slipping away into sin, that we should encourage one another to live faithfully and remind ourselves that we should resist the falsehoods and lies done by Satan to trap us.

Let us all pray, brothers and sisters, that all of us Christians may be truly free, free from all the chains and bonds of sin, which have prevented us from being able to be with God in all of our hearts, minds, souls and our whole beings. May the Lord be with us always, and through the intercession of the holy saints, particularly St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Jerome Emiliani, may we as sinners, come to seek the Lord’s most abundant mercy and receive His forgiveness. Amen.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th 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 7 : 24-30

At that time, when Jesus went to the border of the Tyrian country. There, He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know He was there; but He could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet.

Now this woman was a pagan, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.”

But she replied, “Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.” Then Jesus said to her, “You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Psalm 105 : 3-4, 35-36, 37 and 40

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o YHVH, when You show favour to Your people; rescue me when You deliver them.

They mingled with these nations and learnt to do as they did. In serving the idols of the pagans, they were trapped.

Into sacrificing children to demons. The anger of YHVH grew intense and He abhorred His inheritance.