Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day each and every one of us are reminded of the need for us to dedicate ourselves to the Lord wholeheartedly, and be ready to commit ourselves to His path. On this day, the day after Ash Wednesday, we continue to uphold our resolve to live through this blessed season of Lent, spending our time to be closer to God, carrying our crosses with Him.

In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, God through His servant Moses communicated clearly to the people the choice that they had before them, as they went through their forty years of journey in the desert while waiting to enter into the land promised to them by God. Many of them had disobeyed the Lord and refused to follow His ways and His commandments, preferring to follow their own, sinful ways, and hardening their hearts and minds against Him.

And thus, through this we are reminded that we too have been given a choice, that is either for us to live in God’s way and obey His laws and commandments, or for us to abandon Him and turn instead to the ways of the world that is full of temptations and are seemingly easier and less challenging for us. We are presented with the choice between the seemingly tougher and less appealing way that God showed us, and the seemingly more enjoyable path of this world.

We are no strangers to the alternative path shown to us by the world, for indeed, we are surrounded by many of the temptations. At the time of the Israelites in the days of the Exodus, the people of Israel constantly grumbled before God and before Moses, complaining that they were hungry without good food, or thirsty without water and good drinks to enjoy. They refused to budge even after they have seen many of the miraculous deeds God performed before them through Moses.

They desired to return to Egypt, saying that it was better for them to go back to Egypt and suffer again under slavery, as they would at least be able to eat decently and not having to worry about dying in the desert without food or drink. They complained and refused to comply to the Lord’s will, just because they had little faith in God. If only they know just how much God loved each and every one of them, as He gave them everything they needed, and yet even those were not enough for those stubborn people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see the parallel between their examples and our own lives in this present world today. The path of the world seems to be easier to us, and it seems to be less arduous, less challenging and more promising to us, as this is the effort by the devil and all of his forces, trying to tempt us into sin, into disobedience against God, by presenting all sorts of wicked temptations that go straight into our pride and ego, our desires and our hearts’ greed.

Some of us may even think that just because we are Christians, then we should expect to have good lives full of graces and blessings, that we do not have to suffer but instead, with greater faith comes greater blessings in life, in physical and material terms. But this is the false ‘gospel of prosperity’ that is unfortunately adopted by some of our separated brethren in faith. We must not fall into that same trap of the devil, who tries to tempt us with worldly temptations.

The Lord made it clear, in our Gospel passage today, that He Himself was to suffer grievously at the hands of His enemies. This was fulfilled when He went through His Passion, suffering persecution and rejection, brutal pain and sufferings, as He was beaten and spat on, ridiculed and made to bear a heavy cross, stripped and nailed to that cross, and made to suffer and die for the sake of all of us mankind.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the suffering that our Lord had to endure, and all of that is caused by His love for us, which is so great that He was willing to even endure those painful torture and experience just so that by His selfless and loving sacrifice, we may be saved from certain destruction. And He Himself said that if we are to be His disciples, then we must follow Him and have a share in the cross that He bore out of love for us.

It does not mean that we will suffer forever. Instead, our suffering now on earth is just a temporary prelude of the greater glory and joy that is to come. God has promised that all those who are faithful to Him will not be disappointed, for in the end of the journey it is nothing less than an eternity of glory and true happiness being in the presence of God forever, where we will not suffer any longer, and all that we need are no longer there, for God alone is enough for everything.

The devil knows this, and he does not want us to be saved. And that is why he is so hard at work, trying to prevent us from finding our way towards Him. He is always at work, trying to lure us away from the right path, and turn us away from righteousness and faith. In fact, we will realise that frequently, we will have to go up even against our friends and those who are dear to us, and we have to make often difficult choices, to choose between obeying God and suffer, or to obey the devil instead and receive satisfaction from him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of two famous martyrs of the Church, two courageous women who defended their faith in God to the very end with great dedication and courage. St. Perpetua was a noblewoman while St. Felicity was a slavewoman, both of whom shared the Christian faith. At that time, during the height of the Roman Empire, Christians have been harassed and persecuted again and again by the authorities, and many had to practice their faith in secret.

But eventually some were found out to be Christians, and put in prison and made to suffer with the hope that they would abandon their faith in God and sought safety and good assurance in life for themselves. Some did fall to the temptations or yielded to the strong pressures and abandoned their faith, but many remained firm in their faith in God, such as St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. These two women were firm in their conviction to remain faithful to God.

Having endured much suffering and pain, opposition and challenges, even from those who were close to them, St. Perpetua, who encountered great challenges from her family, who wanted her to recant her faith, as well as St. Felicity, who suffered in prison while being pregnant with a baby, both of them chose to remain true to their faith, and died as courageous martyrs and examples of true faith and dedication to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to look upon the examples set before us by the holy saints and martyrs of God, particularly that of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity whose feast day we commemorate today. Are we able to make the same commitment and decision as they have done? They carried together the cross of Christ and endured the grievous sufferings just as the Lord had suffered, with the hope of eternal glory and salvation in the end of their earthly journey.

Let us all make good use of this season of Lent to reorientate ourselves and reorder our lives, so that from this moment onwards, we do not live any longer for ourselves, but rather, to serve the greater purpose of God, and to obey Him in all things, standing up to Him and remaining faithful to Him despite the challenges we may encounter in our daily lives. Let us all remain true to Him, and love Him ever more as we pass through this blessed Lent. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be put to death. Then after three days He will be raised to life.”

Jesus also said to all the people, “If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me! For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for My sake, you will save it. What does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you destroy or damage yourself?”

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 30 : 15-20

See, I set before you on this day life and good, evil and death. I command you to love YHVH, your God and follow His ways. Observe His commandments, His norms and His laws, and you will live and increase, and YHVH will give you His blessing in the land you are going to possess.

But if your heart turns away and does not listen, if you are drawn away and bow before other gods to serve them, I declare on this day that you shall perish. You shall not last in the land you are going to occupy on the other side of the Jordan.

Let the heavens and the earth listen, that they may be witnesses against you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving YHVH, listening to His voice, and being one with Him. In this life for you and length of days in the land which YHVH swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the word of God speaking to us about the wonderful deeds of the Lord, which He performed before all the people and witnesses to show the great wonders of God’s glory and His loving attention to His people, to whom He has sent the Saviour and Deliverer. It was through Christ that God wants to save all of us mankind, and He fulfilled all of His long promised salvation through Him.

That is why we heard all of the wonderful things He performed during His ministry, including the healing of the sick woman with haemorrhage and the rising of the dead daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official. He healed all of them from their problems and sicknesses, because He loved each and every one of them, and had pity on them when they suffered and were asking Him for help and mercy. And He also saw the great faith in each one of them.

All of these things the Lord will do for all those who have faith in Him. He will not abandon all those who have put their trust in Him, and will provide for the needs of those who have strong love for Him in their hearts and minds. God knows the depth of our thoughts and hearts, just as He knew the faith of the woman who was suffering from the haemorrhage. God knew her faith and healed her because of the faith she had in Him.

Today, all of us are called to look deep into our own lives, into our hearts and minds, to see more carefully into our own actions and deeds, our direction in life, our attitudes and behaviours, on whether by these, we have been exemplary in living our lives with faith, or whether we have not had faith in our minds and hearts. Too many of us put our trust first in our worldly provisions and abilities, and God took a secondary and less important role among us.

And yet, for all the lack of faith, disobedience and wickedness that we have committed thus far in our respective lives, we are called to remember just how the Lord continued to love us, despite our stubborn attitude and refusal to walk in His ways. He willingly endured all the suffering and pain, which were supposed to be our burden, just so that we may be saved through our faith in Him.

Many of us think that we have faith in God, but in reality few of us only have that true commitment and devotion to God, that comes from within our hearts. Having faith in God often does not just mean to come and attend Mass regularly as stipulated by the Church teachings and regulations. In reality, for us to have faith in God often means that we must suffer and face rejection, just as the Lord Himself has suffered all the humiliation and rejection before.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, many of those who have gone before us showed us that the reality of this world is such that many of us have not had that deep devotion to God, in times of good and bad, in times of prosperity and in times of hardship and suffering. Many of us remember God only when things turn downhill and we expect Him to come and help us with a quick fix so that we do not need to suffer. And when we continue to suffer, we often become angry at God, thinking that He was not there with us.

That is why today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be inspired by the good examples shown to us by our holy predecessors, those holy and devoted men and women who had stood by the Lord in good times and in bad times, suffering persecution and troubles, challenges and pain, all sorts of difficulties just because of their commitment and belief in God. And today, we commemorate the feast of one of those saints, namely St. Agatha, holy woman and good martyr of the faith.

St. Agatha was born in what is now Sicily in southern Italy, and lived during the years of the tumultuous second century Roman Empire, when many Christians suffered various persecutions by the Roman authorities. But St. Agatha together with the many other holy men and women of God did not easily give up their faith, even under the pain of suffering and oppression. St. Agatha made a holy vow of virginity, committing herself to a life of perpetual virginity dedicated to the Lord.

In doing that, she went up against the advances and efforts of some pagan Roman nobles who were enamoured by her beauty and tried to get her to marry them. Despite all of their advances and efforts to get her to change her mind, St. Agatha remained true to her faith and did not give in to their demands. For her dedication, she was arrested and put to suffer for her Christian faith, as her persecutors hoped that by the sufferings she endured, she would give in to their demands and give up her faith in God.

Nonetheless, St. Agatha remained firm in her commitment, and none that her persecutors did could dissuade or force her to abandon her dedication. She was tortured and suffered grievously, and was forced to endure the tremendous pain of having her breasts cut. But to the very end, St. Agatha did not give up her faith and remained true in her commitment. She was in fact showing the same faith, effort and attitude as the woman who was suffering from the haemorrhage and the synagogue official, who went out all of their way to seek healing and to love the Lord, their God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Are we able and are we willing to commit ourselves and to be truly faithful as all those people which we have mentioned and discussed earlier had done? Are we able to spend our time, and give our effort and attention to the Lord? For after all, He has loved us so much, that He was in fact willing to endure such unimaginable pain and suffering for our sake, that by bearing our sins on the cross He bore, He brought us our salvation.

Let us all spend some time to reflect on all these, and think of ways how we can be better Christians, through all our everyday actions and deeds, by our every living moments. May the Lord be our guide, and may through the intercession of St. Agatha, holy virgin and martyr, we will draw ever closer to the Lord, our loving God. Amen.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 5 : 21-43

At that time, Jesus then crossed to the other side of the lake, and while He was still on the shore, a large crowd gathered around Him. Jairus, an official of the synagogue, came up and, seeing Jesus, threw himself at His feet, and begged Him earnestly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, so that she may get well and live.”

Jesus went with him, and many people followed, pressing from every side. Among the crowd was a woman, who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a lot at the hands of many doctors, but instead of getting better, she was worse. Because she had heard about Jesus, this woman came up behind Him and touched His cloak, thinking, “If I just touch His clothing, I shall get well.” Her flow of blood dried up at once, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her complaint.

But Jesus was conscious that healing power had gone out from Him, so He turned around in the crowd, and asked, “Who touched My clothes?” His disciples answered, “You see how the people are crowding around you. Why do You ask who touched You?”

But He kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, aware of what had happened, came forward trembling and afraid. She knelt before Him, and told Him the whole truth. Then Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be free of this illness.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people arrived from the official’s house to inform him, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Master any further?” But Jesus ignored what they said, and told the official, “Do not fear, just believe.” And He allowed no one to follow Him except Peter, James and John, the brother of James.

When they arrived at the house, Jesus saw a great commotion, with people weeping and wailing loudly. Jesus entered, and said to them, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead, but asleep.” They laughed at Him. So Jesus sent them outside, and went with the child’s father and mother and His companions into the room, where the child lay.

Taking her by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha, kumi!” which means, “Little girl, get up!” The girl got up at once and began to walk around. (She was twelve years old). The parents were amazed, greatly amazed. Jesus strictly ordered them not to let anyone know about it; and He told them to give her something to eat.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 21 : 26b-27, 28, 30ab, 30c-32

I will fulfil my vows before all who revere You. The lowly will eat and be satisfied. Those who seek the Lord will praise Him. May your hearts live forever!

The whole earth will acknowledge and turn to the Lord; the families of nations will worship Him.

Before Him all those who rest in the earth will bow down, all who go down to the dust.

My soul will live for Him. My descendants will serve Him and proclaim the Lord to coming generations; they will announce His salvation to a people yet unborn, “These are the things that He has done.”