Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin 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 words of the Scripture beginning the narrative from the Book of the prophet Daniel, a prophet who was brought into exile in Babylon during his youth in the ending days of the kingdom of Judah just before the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple of God. Daniel and his companions were brought to the faraway land, uprooted from their homes and families, and made to serve the King of Babylon and his ministers.

Such was the humiliation and suffering that they all had to suffer, humiliated of having lost their homeland and later on to hear how the city of God, Jerusalem and its Temple were razed and destroyed by the Babylonians, its treasures and riches carried off to the Babylonian kingdom, all the sacred vessels once used to worship God became instead the profane drinking cups of the kings and their nobles as described in the latter part of the Book of Daniel.

Amidst such a situation, it must have been difficult for Daniel and his companions, another three Israelites named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, also known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to remain faithful to God and not to bend their knees to the pressures and demands of the Babylonians and their kings. Yet, that was exactly what they did, in remaining true to their faith even in such difficult conditions.

They gave their all to God, and in doing their best in whatever that God has led them into, in serving the king of Babylon and his ministers, in doing their best as the servants, and by the grace of God, they became the favoured servants of the king, and especially Daniel was honoured for his great wisdom and ability to interpret the king’s dreams while none other could do so. But, they would not budge when the king demanded that everyone, including them to bow down their knees to worship a golden statue that king Nebuchadnezzar built in his own likeness.

They had nothing on them, no wealth and no pride, no more than memory of the humiliation of their country and people, the destruction of their holy city and Temple, and yet, they gave their love and faith to God. In our Psalm today, we heard part of the song which Azariah the other two companions of Daniel sang when they were thrown into the blazing furnace by the order of the king when they openly defied the king’s demands to worship his golden statue.

They praised God Who had been with them all those while and reiterated their faith and love for Him. They sang of His glorious majesty in the presence of the king and all gathered from within the flame, apparently unharmed and an Angel of God by their side, as seen by the king and all. The king and everyone were astonished, and because of what happened, the king decided to destroy the golden statue that he had just built, and restored the three companions of Daniel to their previous honoured positions.

We see how God was always with His faithful ones, and for those who truly trust in Him and gave their all, they did not fear because they knew that God would be always by their side even amidst sufferings and challenges, even through martyrdoms and painful deaths. That is the same sentiment and example that the Lord Jesus highlighted in our Gospel passage today, as we heard another well-known story of the widow’s mite.

In that occasion, a poor widow came to the Temple bearing two small copper coins as offerings to God, while many rich men came to offer plentiful of offerings that were far greater than the poor widow’s offering. Yet, she offered and gave from her own shortage and limitations, and as a result, she gave from the deepest love in her heart. She is the epitome of what true Christian discipleship is, and like the prophet Daniel and his companions, she had given her all to God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what each and every one of us need to do as well. We need to do our best to serve the Lord with all of our strength, and to give the best for Him from the depths of our hearts. And today we have yet another example to look up to, in the person of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a holy woman and saint whose feast we celebrate today. St. Catherine of Alexandria was a faithful disciple of the Lord who went through a particularly brutal persecution under the pagan Roman Emperor Maxentius.

St. Catherine defended her fellow faithful when that Emperor persecuted Christians throughout his realm, rebuking him for his actions and stood up for the Lord. The Emperor tried to oppose her with the best pagan philosophers and thinkers of the time, but none of them were able to outshine her wisdom, and the Emperor in his anger made this faithful woman to undergo bitter suffering and torture. When the Emperor’s own wife and other women came to see St. Catherine in her suffering, it was told that even they converted and were martyred along as well.

St. Catherine of Alexandria gave everything for the Lord’s sake, even her own life, not holding back even when the pagan Emperor in desperation tried to get her by trying to woo her in marriage, as beautiful as St. Catherine was even after she was tortured. She remained firm in her dedication and committed herself and her virginity before God and the Emperor, by which then she was martyred after a long time of suffering, and became a great inspiration for many Christians after her time.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all called to follow in the footsteps of St. Catherine of Alexandria, to imitate the love of the widow who gave her all to God, and also the dedication of Daniel and his fellow companions who remained true to their faith in God amidst all the challenges they had to face. Let us all thus strive to be true Christian disciples and do our very best to serve the Lord with all of our hearts and to give Him everything that we are, and committing ourselves to Him from now on. May He continue to bless us all and guide us in this journey, that we may draw ever closer to Him. Amen.

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Luke 21 : 1-4

At that time, Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury of the Temple. He also saw a poor widow, who dropped in two small coins. And He said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them. For all of them gave an offering from their plenty; but she, out of her poverty, gave all she had to live on.”

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Daniel 3 : 52a, 53, 54, 55, 56

Blessed are You, Lord, God of our fathers, be praised and exalted forever.

Blessed are You in the Temple of Your sacred glory; Your praises are sung forever.

Blessed are You, on the throne of Your kingdom; honoured and glorified forever.

Blessed are You, Who fathom the depths, Who are enthroned on the Cherubim; praised and exalted forever.

Blessed are You, in the firmament of heaven; praised and glorified forever.

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Daniel 1 : 1-6, 8-20

In the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign as king of Judah, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem. The Lord delivered into his hands king Jehoiakim of Judah, and some of the vessels from the Temple of God as well. These he carried off, to the land of Shinar, and placed in the treasure house of his god.

King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief eunuch Ashpenaz to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility : young men without physical defect, handsome, intelligent and wise; well-informed, quick to learn and understand; and suitable for service in the king’s palace.

They were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans. They were allotted a daily portion of food and wine from the king’s table; and were to be trained for three years, after which, they were to enter the king’s service. Among these were young men of Judah : Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

As Daniel was resolved not to make himself unclean with the king’s food or wine, he begged the chief eunuch to spare him this defilement. By the grace of God, the chief eunuch had been sympathetic to Daniel. But he was afraid of the king, so he said, “If the king, who has allotted your food and drink, sees that you look more emaciated than the other young men of your age, he might think ill of me. It will put my life in danger to give in to your wish.”

Daniel then turned to the steward whom the chief eunuch had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. “Please test your servants for ten days. Give us only vegetables to eat and water to drink, and see how we look in comparison with the young men who eat food from the king’s table. Then treat us in accordance with what you see.”

The steward agreed and tested them for ten days, at the end of which, they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate the king’s food. So the steward continued to give them vegetables instead of the choice food and wine. To these four youths God gave wisdom and proficiency in literature, and to Daniel the gift of interpreting visions and dreams.

At the end of the period set by the king for the youths’ training, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them and found none to equal Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. These four became members of the king’s court. In any matter of wisdom and discernment about which the king consulted, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

Friday, 22 November 2019 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cecilia, Virgin 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 passages by which we are reminded of the duty and responsibility that each and every one of us have to keep as all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as true Christian disciples and as the followers of God’s will and commandments. All of us are called to be full of faith and love for God in all things.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of the victory and triumph of the rebellion of Judas Maccabeus, one of the Maccabean brothers who revolted against the kings of the Greek Seleucid Empire because of their oppression of the faithful people of God and their attempts to destroy the Law of God and outlawing the worship of God and by forcing the Greek pagan worship to the Jewish people.

The city of Jerusalem was taken over by the pagans and the citadel built there kept the entire populace under the power of the kings, while the Temple of Jerusalem was desecrated and made to be a mockery of the faith, where pagan idols and pagan worship took place at the altar once reserved only for the worship of the One and only True God. As such, the House of God was defiled and could not be used for the purpose of divine worship.

That is how it was until the time when Judas Maccabeus and his forces managed to score victories against the king in rebellion and eventually came to occupy the Temple of Jerusalem once again, and as described in our first reading passage today, the abominations, pagan idols and corruptions in the Temple were cleared out and the old altar torn down to make way for a new altar dedicated to God.

There is then a clear parallel between that event and how just over a century later, the Lord Jesus cleared the same Temple from the corruptions of merchants and sinners as described in our Gospel passage today. At that time, the Temple courtyard just outside the main Temple building itself was filled with numerous merchants and people peddling their wares and goods to the visitors and worshippers of the Temple.

Yet, many if not most of those merchants and peddlers cheated their customers to gain more profits for themselves. They bought their goods at a low price while raising their sale prices to be as high as possible to profit from all the people visiting the Temple for various purposes. As many of the worshippers came from faraway places, they would have no choice but to accept the prices imposed by the merchants even at a great loss.

Such wicked and sinful practices should not have been allowed at the Temple, and yet the Temple authorities tolerated them all and even became angry at the Lord Jesus when He cleared them and chased those merchants out of the Temple grounds. Why was that so? That is because the presence and the activities of the merchants were mutually beneficial to both the merchants themselves and the Temple priests and elders.

When the Lord Jesus chased those merchants outside the Temple, the Temple authorities, the elders and the chief priests became angry because while the Lord stated the right thing but those Temple authorities were more concerned about their own worldly concerns and attachments, their desire to retain power and authority, and saw the Lord Jesus as a dangerous threat to their own worldly power.

But the Lord wants us all to know through these that if we are too attached and distracted by the many temptations of life present in this world, we will end up forgetting what our true focus in life should be. And we will end up walking down the same path of wickedness and sin that have been mentioned in our Scripture passages today. We heard of the defilements of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, twice, first by the Greeks and then secondly by the wicked merchants with the tacit approval of the elders and the priests.

But more importantly for us all today is to take note that each and every one of us are also in fact God’s Temple, the Houses of His holy Presence. Why is this so? That is because firstly, through our Holy Communion and by sharing in the wonderful gift of the Eucharist, we have partaken in the Lord Himself, being fully present in the Eucharist in Body and Blood. And not only that, but the Lord Himself has given us His Holy Spirit through our Baptism and which He reaffirmed and strengthened in us through the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Therefore, if we are God’s Holy Temples and are His dwelling place, then if we act in manners that are wicked and sinful, we are in fact corrupting and defiling the holiness of this Temple that is our body, our heart, our mind and our soul. We are no better than the Greek kings, those wicked merchants and all those who have defiled God’s Temple. And we saw how God’s anger became manifested against all those who had done that.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore today all of us are reminded of this fact and are called to live upright and virtuous lives, turning away from sin and from all sorts of temptations that can cause us to fall and to defile the sanctity of these Holy Temples of ours. And today perhaps we should look upon the examples set by one of our holy predecessors, St. Cecilia for inspiration and strength.

St. Cecilia, whose feast day we celebrate today, is a well-known patron for musicians and choirs. Yet, she was also a dedicated servant of God, who remained true to her faith in God despite the challenges that she had to encounter because of her faith, that she had to suffer and eventually die for the sake of her faith. St. Cecilia dedicated herself to God through a vow of virginity, and although she was forced to marry a pagan noble by her parents, she remained a holy virgin and persuaded her husband, who was touched by the miracle he had seen and became a Christian as well.

St. Cecilia met her martyrdom with faith, as she was executed following her husband and her brother-in-law, both having become Christians through her. She remained adamant and strong in her faith, and no amount of suffering could have convinced or pressured her to abandon her faith in God. Truly, her dedication and commitment to God is an inspiration to all of us who are still struggling in this world in our own journeys of faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all seek to be virtuous and righteous, maintaining our purity from sin as St. Cecilia herself had done in her way. We do not have to follow her in her vow of chastity and virginity, but rather, we should imitate her love for God, and as a result, keep ourselves away and free from sin as best as we can that the Temple of God’s Holy Presence, our bodies and our whole beings may remain pure and worthy of Him. Let us all be true disciples of the Lord in all things and devote our whole lives to Him from now on. May God bless us all, our good works and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 22 November 2019 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Luke 19 : 45-48

At that time, Jesus entered the Temple area and began to drive out the merchants. And He said to them, “God says in the Scriptures, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of robbers!”

Jesus was teaching every day in the Temple. The chief priests and teachers of the Law wanted to kill Him, and the elders of the Jews as well, but they were unable to do anything, for all the people were listening to Him and hanging on His words.

Friday, 22 November 2019 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Chronicles 29 : 10, 11abc, 11d-12a, 12bcd

May You be praised, YHVH God of Israel our ancestor, forever and ever!

Yours, YHVH, is the greatness, the power, splendour, length of days, glory; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is Yours. Yours is the sovereignty forever, o YHVH.

You are supreme Ruler over all. Riches and honour go before You.

You are Ruler of all; in Your hand lie strength and power. You are the One Who gives greatness and strength to all.