Saturday, 23 February 2019 : 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today the Scripture passages remind us of the need for us to be faithful to God, in all of our actions in life. By having faith in God it means that we must put our complete trust in Him, and we must dedicate ourselves to His way and walk in the path that He has shown us, even though those paths He led us to may be the ones that bring us pain and sufferings. To be a faithful servant of God, sometimes we need to suffer and even to face persecution, humiliation and disgrace.

Let us take for example, the names of those mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, part of which is our first reading of today. In that passage, we heard the names of Abel, Enoch and Noah. These few people who were mentioned were those who have walked on this earth at the beginning of our history, those who were considered and mentioned to be righteous among the sons and daughters of men, descendants of Adam and Eve.

First, that of Abel, he was the son of Adam and Eve, younger brother of Cain. Abel offered the pleasing sacrifice of a young lamb while Cain offered what the Lord did not command him to offer, that is of his crops. When Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God, Cain was filled with jealousy and hatred, slaughtering his own brother out of anger and that jealousy within his heart. As a result, Cain sinned against God, and when God confronted him, he persisted in his disobedience by denying his involvement in such a wicked act.

And then, Enoch was mentioned as a most righteous man, more righteous than anyone living on earth at the time, and who obeyed the Lord so faithfully and completely, that God took him up into heaven directly, and Enoch did not suffer from death, much like how the prophet Elijah would later be taken up into heaven on flaming chariots before Elisha, his disciple and successor. God showed His love and faithfulness to those who have been faithful and committed to Him.

For Noah, in the recent days we have just heard how God commanded him to build up a great Ark, as He was about to wipe out all those wicked sons and daughters of men who lived at that time. The wickedness of those people were such that, God has to rescue Noah, his family and all that He wanted to preserve even as He struck against all those who were wicked in their ways and unrepentant in their sins.

All of these faithful servants of God certainly did not have an easy life, persecuted and ostracised, humiliated and made to suffer because of their faith in God. God Himself was also suffering through His begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Who came into this world to be our Saviour. As we heard from our Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus openly proclaimed and predicted the coming of the persecutions He was about to face, and the pains He had to go through, ultimately leading to the sacrifice on the cross.

This is a reminder for us that the path which the Lord shows us, the way that He wants us to take will not be an easy one, as they will be filled with difficulties and challenges. For us to be good and committed Christians, we need to face this reality, that our lives may have to be changed dramatically if we want to be God’s disciples. That is because we have to walk in the way conforming to God’s will, which are often in opposition and are incompatible with the ways of this world.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Polycarp, a renowned holy bishop and servant of God, a committed disciple of the Lord and witness of His truth, and also a brave and courageous martyr of the faith. St. Polycarp is regarded as one of the three most important Apostolic Fathers, the early Church leaders and successors of the Apostles, together with Pope St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Polycarp was one of the earliest Church fathers who wrote extensively and helped to establish the sacred traditions of the Church.

He was dedicated in his work, and in his ministry to those faithful who were entrusted under his care. St. Polycarp devoted his life to serve the Lord and His people, so thoroughly that even through the difficult times of persecution and opposition against the Church and the faithful, he led them all through those difficult and challenging moments. That was how he was eventually martyred, by impaling and stabbing when even fire failed to harm him. St. Polycarp remained true to his faith in God and dedicated his life to His service.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to reflect on our own lives, on what we ourselves can do to give our lives in commitment to God, to serve Him and to love Him all of our lives, even as we are aware of the consequences and challenges that are awaiting us if we decide to do so. Let us remember that ultimately, in the end, the glory of God and His eternal life and blessings will be ours, if we persist and triumph through this challenging moment.

May the Lord continue to guide us all, and through the intercession of St. Polycarp, and the other holy saints, holy men and women of God, may we draw ever closer to God and may we grow ever deeper in our love and commitment towards Him. Amen.

Saturday, 23 February 2019 : 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 9 : 2-13

At that time, six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There His appearance was changed before their eyes. Even His clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleach of this world could make them. Elijah and Moses appeared to them; the two were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter spoke and said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say : they were overcome with awe. But a cloud formed, covering them in a shadow, and from the cloud came a voice, “This is My Son, the Beloved; listen to Him.”

And suddenly, as they looked around, they no longer saw anyone except Jesus with them. As they came down the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this to themselves, although they discussed with one another what ‘to rise from the dead’ could mean.

Finally they asked Him, “Why then do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered them, “Of course Elijah will come first, so that everything may be as it should be. But why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be despised? I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they have treated him as they pleased, as the Scriptures say of him.”

Saturday, 23 February 2019 : 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 144 : 2-3, 4-5, 10-11

I will praise You day after day and exalt Your Name forever. Great is the Lord, most worthy of praise; and His deeds are beyond measure.

Parents commend Your works to their children and tell them Your feats. They proclaim the splendour of Your majesty and recall Your wondrous works.

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

Saturday, 23 February 2019 : 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Hebrews 11 : 1-7

Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, being certain of what we cannot see. Because of their faith our ancestors were approved. By faith we understand that the stages of creation were disposed by God’s word, and what is visible came from what cannot be seen.

Because of Abel’s faith his offering was more acceptable than that of his brother Cain, which meant he was upright, and God Himself approved his offering. Because of this faith he cried to God, as said in Scripture, even after he died.

By faith Enoch was taken to heaven, instead of experiencing death : he could not be found because God had taken him. In fact, it is said that before being taken up he had pleased God. Yet without faith it is impossible to please Him : no one draws near to God without first believing that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him earnestly.

By faith Noah was instructed of events which could not yet be seen and, heeding what he heard, he built a boat in which to save his family. The faith of Noah condemned the world and he reached holiness born of faith.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard about the salvation of God’s people and how it all depends not on how a person’s current standing or status, but on what the person has done and committed in life. The prophet Ezekiel made it clear through the example of a holy and devout man who sinned, and by whose sins the man would be judged and condemned, as well as sinners who would be redeemed if they would turn away from their sins.

This is related to what we heard in the Gospel passage, regarding the Lord’s teaching to the people about being faithful to God in the right way. The Lord mentioned how the people must be faithful more than how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been faithful in their ways or else they would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God.

In order to appreciate and understand the fullness of the meaning of these Scripture passages, we have to understand the context in which the Lord made such a comment about the two groups of people He mentioned. Otherwise we may end up failing to understand just how important they are to our own salvation and life.

The Pharisees were influential group of people who were highly educated by the standard of the time, as were the teachers of the Law, where the Pharisees were a political grouping of those who favour strict interpretation and enforcement of the laws of Moses among the people. Meanwhile the teachers of the Law taught those laws among the people and interpreted them in accordance to their beliefs.

These two groups of people were often considered pious and authoritative in terms of religion. And they basked in the praise and adulation they received from the people, even expecting them to follow what they were doing. But many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not observe the Law for the right reasons. They did them to garner support and praise, and to advance their prestige and status rather than any genuine faith in God.

That was why the Lord often rebuked them for their hypocrisy in faith, saying to the people one thing and yet doing it in an entirely different manner and for different purpose. They expect the people to obey their strict interpretation of the laws of Moses, and yet, they did not perform their observances for the right reasons as mentioned. Is this what we have also done with our own lives? Remember what the prophet Ezekiel said, that even those who were considered pious will be judged should they fall into sin, exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to be true disciples of the Lord, following and obeying what the Lord had taught us to do. We should not become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who did not follow the laws and commandments for the right reasons. When we follow the laws and the teachings of the Church, we must first and foremost do them with God first and foremost in our hearts and minds.

Otherwise, it is easy for us to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into. God calls everyone to be faithful to Him, in their hearts, minds and whole beings. What He told the prophet Ezekiel is a reminder for us that no one is beyond God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Even sinners, as all of us are, will be made and considered righteous for whatever good deeds we do in our lives, done with the right purpose and intention, that is with the intention of the greater glory of God.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Polycarp, holy bishop and martyr of the Faith. He was a bishop of the early Church, who led the faithful and God’s flock in the region of Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was a faithful successor of the Apostles, who converted many to the faith by his teachings and exemplary faith. He helped the spiritual growth of many people, and was martyred in his old age after many years of service, having refused to offer incense to the Roman Emperor who was then worshipped like a god.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to do what the faithful St. Polycarp and our holy predecessors, the saints and martyrs had done. We have to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, without being distracted by our worldly concerns and desires. We must learn to let go of our pride, our human desires and greed, and learn to put God first and ourselves second. Otherwise, we will end up like those who put their own interests ahead of God’s interests, and thus likely to fall into sin.

Let us all renew our faith, that we may live ever more faithfully day after day, in accordance with the way that the Lord has shown us, following in the footsteps of the saints, particularly remembering the memory of the good and faithful St. Polycarp the bishop and martyr. May the Lord strengthen our faith, and give us the courage to live our lives ever more in accordance with His will. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 20-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you then, if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to our people in the past : Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you : whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial.”

“Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or a sister, ‘Fool!’ deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell. So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”

“Do not forget this : be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.”

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8

Out of the depths I cry to You, o Lord, o Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness.

For that You are revered. I waited for the Lord, my soul waits, and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects the Lord more than watchmen the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with Him is unfailing love and with Him full deliverance. He will deliver Israel from all its sins.