Saturday, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard about the healing which God is offering to all of us His people, which He had made by offer through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into this world in order to become the salvation for all the people, and become healing for all those who have fallen into the sickness of sin, the disease of our souls.

The message which the Lord our God had announced to all in today’s readings is that all of us ought to change our lives, and reorientate them towards the Lord, so that if we have once committed sins and wicked acts, we must stop them immediately, no longer disobeying the Lord and His laws, and instead, beginning to follow Him and obey His ways, in all the things we do in this life.

God is merciful and loving, and He wants each and every one of us to be saved and freed from the torment of our sufferings because of our sins. He wants all of us to receive grace, peace and blessings because we have found our way to Him, and no longer are lost in the darkness of this world. That is why He had given His mercy and love so freely through Christ, through Whom He gathered all of us to Himself.

However, many of us do not realise that it is we ourselves who have been stubborn and resistant to God’s mercy and love. We have not been willing to welcome God’s mercy in our hearts, and all of these is because of first of all, our human pride and ego, refusing to believe that we have erred or committed a mistake in our lives. We are not willing to allow God to come in and transform our lives, just because we have too much ego and cannot bear others to see that we have humbled ourselves.

That was exactly what happened to the Pharisees and the elders, the teachers of the Law and the chief priests. Many of them criticised Jesus for having embraced and walked among the tax collectors and prostitutes, and even calling some of His disciples from among them, one of whom was Levi, whose calling was part of the Gospel we heard today. Jesus called Levi from his tax collector post, and he willingly left behind everything in order to follow Him.

Those tax collectors had been hated and resented by the population as a whole, because especially upon the instigation of the Pharisees, they had been seen as traitors of the nations and the people, having worked with their Roman conquerors and helping them in administrative works such as the collection of taxes, resented by the people as a whole.

But many of them were aware of their status and their sins, and when God called them through Jesus His Son, they responded in kind and turned away from their sinful ways, as Levi had done, and followed Him wholeheartedly. They followed Him and were saved because of their sins, and because they humbled themselves before God, fully knowing of their sins and unworthiness, unlike that of those who have accused them.

The same mercy and love have been offered by God to all, but while those who accepted God’s mercy were forgiven, those who refused to acknowledge their sins had not received His mercy. They have haughtily thought that they were worthy of God but they have overlooked their own sins. They thought that they were without blame, but they failed to recognise their own shortcomings and sins. In this manner, those tax collectors and sinners they had ridiculed came before them in attaining God’s salvation and grace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we need to understand from today’s Scripture readings is that, no one is truly beyond God’s forgiveness and ability to forgive, unless they themselves reject being loved and being forgiven by God. God extended His love and grace to all, without any exceptions, and therefore all of us need to respond in kind, doing what we can in order to love Him back, and devote ourselves to Him.

This season of Lent is a very good opportunity for us to reevaluate ourselves and our lives, whether we are ready to continue moving forward in our path towards God’s grace and salvation, or whether we need time to reevaluate and rethink the direction of our lives. It is a good time for us to heed the examples of the holy saints and the holy people of God in the ages past, who had lived a righteous and worthy lives, as examples for us to emulate and follow.

St. Casimir of Poland for example, the holy saint whose feast we celebrate today, is an exceptional role model for our faith. He was a royal prince of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, and eventually became its crown prince after the death of his elder brother. However, despite his noble and high position in life, St. Casimir was renowned to be a person filled with humility and compassion, known for his charity and love for the poor, and for his pious works and devotions to God.

He led a life wholly committed and dedicated to the Lord, and showed others by example on how they ought to be faithful to their Lord and God. He inspired many others in following his footsteps and after his early death at the age of twenty-five, many people continued to venerate him and follow on his examples in their lives, imitating the holy saint for his exemplary life and piety.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on our own lives today and henceforth, and remembering what St. Casimir had done, let us all open our hearts to the Lord, allowing Him to enter into them and thus transforming us from dirty and unclean vessels into worthy and glorious vessels of His Presence. Remember that God Himself has chosen to reside in us, and therefore, all of us need to turn away from our sins and embrace God’s mercy and love. Sin no more and follow the Lord in all that we say and do.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He strengthen us and our resolve to be ever more faithful to Him. Let us all throw far away our pride and arrogance, our human resistance and weaknesses, that we will not end up like the Pharisees who rejected God’s love and mercy, but instead be like Levi and the tax collectors, who humbly repented their sins, and were gloriously transformed by God’s love. May God bless us all always. Amen.

Saturday, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, Jesus 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, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o Lord, 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 Lord, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant, for You, o Lord, I lift up my soul.

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

Saturday, 4 March 2017 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Casimir (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 fail. 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.

Friday, 3 March 2017 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard a very clear message from the Sacred Scriptures, reminding all of us Christians that during this season of Lent, even as we prepare ourselves for the coming celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter, and as we practice the traditional Lenten practices of fasting and abstinence, we must understand what is it that we are doing, and how we are going to do them appropriately.

Why is this so, brothers and sisters? It is because it is very easy for us to end up doing things that our faith has prescribed, and yet without understanding of what it is that we are doing, and therefore in the end, we end up doing things for the sake of doing them. We end up becoming Christians for-show-only and not having much substance in our faith. We cannot be like these, brethren.

We cannot fast in the manner that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done, as they wailed and acted to show very visibly to all who saw them, that they were fasting. They wanted to be seen by all others in how pious they have been with their fasting, with how they wore the sackcloth and in their long prayers for God’s forgiveness, and yet, their words and prayers were empty, for they did not have God in their hearts, and their outward expressions of faith were meaningless.

All of these came to the basic question we all need to ask ourselves, what is it that we are fasting for? What is it that we are abstaining and doing all of our penance for? Is it for ourselves and for our own glory? Is it to make ourselves look good and praiseworthy in the eyes of others? If these are our motivations and intentions, then perhaps we really should spend some time to reevaluate our efforts this Lent.

We fast and abstain from certain kind of food, or from certain kind of our obsessions not because of ourselves, but because of the Lord our God. It is because we are sinners and we have been unworthy of the Lord that we fast. We fast because we are aware of just how sinful and wicked we are, and we humble ourselves before the Lord, asking Him to forgive us our trespasses.

And more importantly, the main reason of our fasting and abstinence is for us to restrain ourselves and our human and worldly desires, resisting the temptation of the flesh, the desires for pleasure and sexual gratification, for things that cause us to sin and fall into wickedness. And therefore, that is why in the first reading today, the Lord through His prophet Isaiah rebuked His people, because while they fasted and did all sorts of acts of penance, but they committed other forms of sin at the same time, by being angry upon others and by committing injustice and corrupt acts.

That was what happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as well. On one hand, they acted as if they were pious and devout, following obediently the laws of God, fasting and following the important dates of the year, in all of its events and observations, but on the other hand, they had acted unjustly, condemning the poor and sinners who needed their help. They did not lift up their hands to help those who are in need of help.

And they even misled the people of God and acted as unjust shepherds, who abandoned their people when they are in need. In that way, their fasting and abstaining, all of their pious observations were meaningless not just because they did not do it for God or for the absolution of their sins, but also because they have done more wicked deeds than good, and therefore, their fast and abstinence were truly empty.

Is that what we are also doing with our own lives, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we also fasting and abstaining without understanding their true purpose and meaning? Are we doing them while at the same time, committing more acts of sin and injustice, of hatred and anger, and all sorts of wicked deeds that make our acts of penance meaningless?

Fasting is not just about staying away from food and resisting the temptations of hunger. The same goes with abstinence and other acts of penance we commonly do during this season of Lent. More importantly, we must show love, care and concern for others, so that as we restrain ourselves from doing what is sinful and wicked in the sight of God, we dull the edges of our sins, but at the same time, sharpening the edges of our righteousness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this season of Lent, let us all pray and work together, so that each and every one of us will not only learn to restrain ourselves and our sinfulness through fasting and abstinence, but also learn to grow stronger in our faith, committing ourselves through love and commitment to do what the Lord had commanded us to do. Love one another, care for those who have not received any love and care, and be merciful to our fellow brethren.

May the Lord bless us all, and help us that in this season of Lent, we may grow ever closer to the Lord, and may each and every one of us through right way of fasting and abstinence, be able to prepare ourselves thoroughly to celebrate the coming celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, and gain for ourselves righteousness in God. God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 3 March 2017 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Matthew 9 : 14-15

At that time, the disciples of John came to Jesus with the question, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not Your disciples?”

Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Friday, 3 March 2017 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 18-19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone have I sinned; what is evil in Your sight I have done.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart You will not despise.