Thursday, 30 June 2022 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Scriptures reminding us of the works of God among us, which we often refused to heed or believe in, resulting in many of us choosing down the path of rebellion and disobedience against God, not trusting in God but instead in our own ways and choices, which we often made in contrary to His will, and not following God and His path. As a result, this led to some of us falling deeper and deeper into the path of sin, and we have to avoid that.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Amos detailing the conversation between Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, of the northern kingdom of Israel, and Amos, the prophet of God. At that time, the northern kingdom of Israel had long rebelled against God and the House of David, following their own path and way of worship, ever since the first king of that northern kingdom, Jeroboam, but not the Jeroboam mentioned in today’s passage, led the people into sin by establishing a parallel centre of worship in Bethel, in opposition to the one and true God Who ought to be worshipped at that time in Jerusalem.

Amaziah complained to this other king Jeroboam, the second Jeroboam to rule over the northern kingdom just a few decades before its ultimate destruction by the Assyrians. Amaziah as the priest of Bethel, likely representing the same pagan worship as instituted by the first king Jeroboam, found Amos, his works and prophecies to be a great annoyance and interference in his domain, and Amaziah complained to the king himself for what the prophet Amos had prophesied against the king and the northern kingdom itself.

Amaziah himself tried to push Amos away and told him off by telling him to go back to his native land of Judah. Yet, to this Amos immediately countered by saying that his mission and calling, and everything he had done come from the Lord and how God called him to do His will. Amos was to be the one to proclaim a warning and judgment of the Lord on the Israelites in the northern kingdom for all of their continued rebellion against God and refusal to obey His Law and their unwillingness to listen to the words of the many prophets that had been sent to their midst.

In our Gospel passage today, similarly we heard the case of when the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, some of whom criticised the Lord harshly for His words in proclaiming forgiveness of sins in the midst of Him healing a man who had been paralysed. The Lord had pity on the man and helped him, healing him from his troubles, and through that occasion, He also highlighted that as the Holy One of God, the Son, the Divine Word Incarnate, He has the authority to forgive sins and to deliver us from those sins, and to heal us from our afflictions, be it physical or spiritual in nature.

We heard how the Lord encountered tough opposition not only in what we encountered in the Gospel passage today but also in other occasions, where He and His disciples had to go up against the forces of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law arrayed against them. It was just like how at the time of the prophet Amos who had to go against the wickedness and stubbornness of the people of Israel, whose pride and arrogance in refusing to listen to God became their undoing. Their downfall was because they were not humble enough to admit that they were wrong and mistaken in their path, and unfortunately many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law fell into that same path.

Hence, brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings ought to highlight to us how as Christians each and every one of us are challenged to embrace God’s calling for us all to be great missionaries and witnesses of our faith in the midst of our various communities, within our families and circles of friends and acquaintances among others. Each one of us are called to be like the prophet Amos, and to be like the Lord Himself in standing up courageously for our faith in the midst of opposition and challenges that we may face in our journey of faith. However, it is not just that, as we are also called to be ever vigilant and on guard against the threat from our pride, ego, greed and desire, all of which could lead us down the wrong path to ruin.

Today, we all should follow the good examples of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, those who have defended their faith and committed themselves to the Lord in the face of suffering and persecutions. They were the ones who suffered with St. Peter and St. Paul, whose great Solemnity we have just celebrated yesterday. These First Martyrs of the Roman Church were those who were persecuted, arrested and killed during the years of the first Great Persecution of Christians done by the Roman Emperor Nero, during which many were afflicted and even martyred for their faith, and for their refusal to abandon the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all hence renew our faith and commitment in God, following the examples of our holy predecessors and that of the Lord Himself, and while also being vigilant and heeding the warning of what we should not be doing based on what we have heard in our Scripture passages today. Let us all strive to be good examples and inspiration to one another through our life and actions, all throughout this life, now and always, evermore. Amen.

Thursday, 30 June 2022 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 9 : 1-8

At that time, Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the lake again, and came to His hometown. Here, they brought to Him a paralysed man, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, “Courage, My son! Your sins are forgiven.”

Some teachers of the Law said within themselves, “This Man insults God.” Jesus was aware of what they were thinking; and said, “Why have you such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say : ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But that you may know, that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralysed man, “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home!”

The man got up, and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to human beings.

Thursday, 30 June 2022 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 18 : 8, 9, 10, 11

The Law of the Lord is perfect : it gives life to the soul. The word of the Lord is trustworthy : it gives wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right : they give joy to the heart. The commandments of the Lord are clear : they enlighten the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure, it endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true, all of them just and right.

They are more precious than gold – pure gold of a jeweller; they are much sweeter than honey which drops from the honeycomb.

Thursday, 30 June 2022 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Amos 7 : 10-17

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, then sent word to king Jeroboam of Israel, “Amos is conspiring against you in the very centre of Israel; what he says goes too far. These are his very words : Jeroboam shall die by the sword and Israel shall be exiled from its land.”

Amaziah then said to Amos, “Off with you, seer, go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there by prophesying. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is a king’s sanctuary and a national shrine.”

Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet or one of the fellow prophets. I am a breeder of sheep and a dresser of sycamore trees. But YHVH took me from shepherding the flock and said to me : Go, prophesy to My people Israel. Now hear the word of YHVH, you who say : No more prophesy against Israel, no more insults against the family of Isaac!”

“This is what YHVH says : Your wife shall be made a harlot in the city, your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, your land shall be divided up and given to others, and you, yourself, shall die in a foreign land, for Israel shall be driven far from its land.”

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings remind us that all of us are beloved and precious to God, and we should not be afraid to seek Him for help, and trust in Him. For God alone can be trusted and depended on, and when other worldly and human ways and methods fail, we often will have only the Lord and nothing else left. This is a reminder for us to turn towards God and to be ever faithful to the Covenant which He has made with each and every one of us.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael from the Book of Genesis. While Ishmael was born of a slave woman named Hagar, the slave of Abraham’s wife Sarah, Isaac was the lawful and legal son and heir of Abraham, as the long awaited son of his wife Sarah. God has promised Abraham that he would have countless descendants and that they would be blessed just as God had blessed Abraham.

However, Abraham slipped in his trust in the Lord and he listened to the suggestion of his wife Sarah to take the slave Hagar as the one to bear a child for him. In the custom of the time, the child born to a slave owned by a man’s wife was considered to be the child between the man and his wife, and not of the slave, as the slave belonged to the wife. And that was how Ishmael was therefore conceived and born, before Isaac, the promised child and son was born later as God fulfilled His wondrous promise to Abraham.

And this created friction between Ishmael and Isaac, as while Ishmael was older and the supposed heir before Isaac was born, he had been superseded by Isaac, the true heir. Hence, in our reading today we heard how Abraham sent both Hagar and her son Ishmael away after providing them with some food and water. They both wandered in the desert and in places without food and sustenance, and Hagar cried out to the Lord for mercy and compassion, which the Lord heard and He sent His Angels to help Hagar and Ishmael.

We can see therefore God’s love for His people here, for Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, as He has promised them, and even for Hagar and Ishmael, although the latter’s conception and birth had been against the will of God. He was still the child of Abraham nonetheless, and God took care of Ishmael and blessed him too, and he would go on to become the father of many nations just as his half-brother Isaac would. God fulfilled His promises and showed His love and compassion to His beloved ones.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord and His action in Gadara as He met two men tormented and possessed by the evil spirits, from whom many others had fled in fear, and those men had been ostracised and sent off to live in the wilderness away from the rest of the society. But the Lord showed His love and compassionate mercy, and just how precious and beloved they were, by commanding the evil spirits that dwelled in them to get out and by His power and authority, He sent those evil spirits instead to the flock of pigs nearby.

Again, through this example and story, all of us are reminded how God had cared for each and every one of us, and how He has loved us so wonderfully since the very beginning without cease. The Lord has always had us in His mind, and He will always seek us and wait on us to return to Him. Such is the love and the patience with which God has lovingly cared for us, that He gave everything for our sake, even to suffer and to die in His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross.

Today, we recall the memory of those who have devoted themselves to the Lord and placed their trust in Him, the very first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, celebrated this day on the day following the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Holy Apostles. These were our fellow brothers and sisters in faith, who had endured bitter and intense persecution from the Roman authorities as part of the great persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero, who falsely accused the Christians in Rome for the Great Fire of Rome.

The Emperor Nero was likely to be the one who started the fire himself, in order to clear the lands for his grandiose projects. This is a fact which had been corroborated by historical and archaeological evidences by experts. Yet, the Emperor conveniently assigned the blame on the Christian population in Rome in order to shift the blame and to dissuade the people from focusing on his increasingly unpopular reign and actions. Many Christians were put to death and numerous others suffered during this first great wave of persecutions.

Yet, they remained firm and resolute in faith, staying committed and dedicated as Christians, no matter what threats and sufferings that they had to go through. They entrusted themselves in the Lord and did not let fear to rule over them. And this is why we should make them our sources of inspiration, in how we ourselves should live our lives, seeking the Lord and always entrusting ourselves to Him, no matter what happens. Let us all seek the Lord from now on, and let us devote ourselves to the greater glory of the Lord from now on.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen each and every one of us with faith, that we may always live ever more faithfully in His path. May God bless each and every one of us, in every one of our good works, efforts and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 8 : 28-34

At that time, when Jesus reached Gadara, on the other side, He was met by two men, possessed by devils, who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way. They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

Some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. So the demons begged Him, “If You drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” Jesus ordered them, “Go!” So the demons left the men and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and was drowned.

The men in charge of the pigs ran off to the town, where they told the whole story; and also what had happened to the men possessed with the demons. The whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they begged Him to leave their region.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 33 : 7-8, 10-11, 12-13

When the poor cry out, YHVH hears and saves them from distress. YHVH’s Angel encamps and patrols, to keep safe those who fear Him.

Revere YHVH, all you, His saints, for those who fear Him do not live in want. The mighty may be hungry and in need; but those who seek YHVH lack nothing.

Come, listen to me, my children; I will show you how to fear YHVH. If you desire long life; if you want to enjoy prosperity.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Genesis 21 : 5, 8-20

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. The child grew and on the day Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a great feast. Sarah saw the child that Hagar, the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, mocking her son and she said to Abraham, “Send this slave girl and her son away; the child of this slave must not share the inheritance with my son, Isaac.”

This matter distressed Abraham because it concerned his son, but God said to him, “Do not be worried about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to Sarah and do whatever she says, because the race which is called by your name will spring from Isaac. But from the son of your servant I will also form a nation, for he too is your offspring.”

Abraham rose early next morning and gave bread and a skin bag of water to Hagar. He put the child on her back and sent her away. She went off and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When there was no more water in the skin, she pushed the boy under one of the bushes, and then went and sat down about a hundred yards away, for she thought, “I cannot bear to see my son die.”

But as she sat there, the child began to wail. God heard him and the Angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy crying. Get up, pick the boy up and hold him safely, for I will make him into a great nation.”

God then opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy. He grew up and made his home in the wilderness and became an expert archer.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast day of a major figure in the Church, namely the feast of the holy saint and martyr, St. Lawrence the Deacon, the deacon of Rome and one of its greatest and most exemplary saints. He is an example and inspiration to us, based on how he had lived, how he had carried through the mission which Christ had entrusted him with, and how he faced death with courage and hope.

St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons serving the holy city of Rome under the Pontificate of Pope St. Sixtus II, with whom he eventually was martyred under the particularly vicious persecution of all Christians by the Roman Emperor Valerian. And in that position, as the leader of the seven deacons of Rome or the Archdeacon of Rome, he was entrusted with the care and the management of the Church’s effort and assignment to the poor, the sick and the less privileged.

And he worked hard to fulfil that assignment, caring for the least of the society, all those who have no food to eat and no one to love them. When the Emperor called for the execution of all the faithful and their leaders, he also called for the confiscation of all the properties of the Church, to be taken up into the Empire’s treasury. And St. Lawrence, knowing that they would also take away all those that had been set aside for the poor, gave all the wealth to the poor as fast as he could so that the Emperor and his forces would not be able to seize them.

In the end, defiant and adamant towards the end, he refused to give in to the Emperor and his demands, and when forced to reveal where the treasures of the Church to be seized, he showed the poor, the sick and the dying as the true treasures of the Church, saying defiantly that they all are far richer and wealthier than the Emperor and the whole state would ever be. And thus, he met his end, his death with pride and complete faith in the Lord.

And it is that steadfast faith in the Lord which all of us should emulate as well. At a time when it is difficult for us to remain steady in faith and commit ourselves to the Lord, we should hold fast to the teachings of the Church and believe wholeheartedly, knowing how to trust the Lord with all our heart, for it is He alone Who will ever be faithful, and He will guard us all and bless us all.

And we have to heed what is always said, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. This came directly from the saying of Jesus in today’s Gospel, that unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will not rise up and germinate into a new wheat plant, but remain a seed that is without any use. This is a reminder of Christ’s own mission to save us mankind, that by dying for us, He raised us up into the life everlasting prepared for us, but at the same time, it reminds us of the challenges and difficulties that will be ours to bear if we choose to follow the Lord.

Thus, being a Christian is not easy, brothers and sisters in Christ. It requires commitment, dedication and hard work. If we think that being a Christian does not entail much, or is easy and manageable, then perhaps we have not been truly devoted to the Lord at all, or that our faith in Him is lukewarm, and we ignore whatever opportunities that had been presented to us, to act as how Christians should act.

It means also that all of us today have that same mission which our Lord had given to His Apostles, and we need to embrace that mission with zeal and courage, knowing that it is only through us and through our works that we may save our brethren, especially those who are still lost to the Lord and those who still live in the darkness of sin and evil.

St. Lawrence and the many other saints and martyrs of the Faith have been our inspiration because they showed us how to live as true Christians, not scared or intimidated in the face of darkness. Instead, they went forward and faced those who refused to believe in the Lord and persecuted them, and showed to all what it meant to be a follower of God, inspiring legions and many more others who saw what they have done and became a believer as well.

Thus, it is also a calling for us all to also be exemplary in our deeds, that all who see us will know that we belong to the Lord, and they too may believe in Him through us, and our reward at the end of days will be great and bountiful. May God help us in this endeavour and bless us every day of our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 : Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 12 : 24-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

“Those who love their life destroy it, and those who despise their life in this world keep it for everlasting life. Whoever wants to serve Me, let him follow Me; and wherever I am, there shall My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.”