Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the words of the Lord speaking to us and reminding us of the need for us to be faithful to God and to dedicate ourselves to Him despite the challenges, trials and persecutions we may encounter through life, and this is because the Lord has always been faithful to the Covenant that He has established with each and every one of us. We have nothing to fear and trust that a great and wonderful future and inheritance have been prepared for us by the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard what St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to St. Timothy, one of the earliest leaders of the Church as bishop and successor to the Apostles. St. Paul encouraged and strengthened St. Timothy as his mentor in the faith, that he ought not to lose courage and hope even in the midst of challenges that he might face throughout his own ministry given how often St. Paul had to endure persecution and ridicule during his missionary journeys.

St. Paul encouraged St. Timothy to continue in his mission and dedicate himself to the service of God, to ‘fan into flame’ the zeal and the Spirit that God had given unto them, referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul had received from the Apostles, and which St. Timothy had also received together with other members of the faithful. St. Paul uttered the powerful and encouraging words, that ‘God had not given us the spirit of fearfulness, but the spirit of strength, love and good judgement.’

St. Paul reassured St. Timothy and as such all of us as Christians, that he trusted completely in the Lord that no matter what, as he knew that for all the sufferings he had to endure, in the very end, the Lord will vindicate him and grant him and all the faithful ones, true joy and eternal glory, and St. Paul emphasised how the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world had triumphed against sin and death, darkness and evil, and showed us all the path to freedom from all of these, through Christ.

And all these are related to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard of the encounter and exchanges between the Lord and the members of the Sadducees, one of the two most powerful and influential groups within the Jewish community at that time. While the Pharisees represented those who zealously guarded the traditions and spiritual life of the people, the powerful intellectual and religious elite who had great influence over the society, the Sadducees represented the secular and powerful societal elites who were mostly irreligious and worldly in their attitudes and bearing.

The Sadducees rejected spiritual aspects of the Jewish customs and teachings, refusing to believe in the presence of Angels and the Spirit, as well as the concept of the afterlife. They rejected the notion that there is life after death and Resurrection after death into a new life. To them, this life on earth is the only life they have and are living through, and no other things matter more than to enjoy the world as it is, and thus, they tend to live an excessive lifestyle, and had self-serving and selfish attitudes.

But the Lord rebuked them well when they came up to Him and tried to test Him with the trick question, asking if seven brothers all shared a woman as their wife, as according to the Jewish laws and customs, when a man died without having any descendant to continue his name and lineage, it was his brother’s responsibility and obligation to take the widow of the deceased man to be his own wife, and the firstborn child of the union would be considered as the child of the deceased brother.

Based on what we have heard, the Sadducees showed their disdain and lack of belief in anything spiritual, on the matter of afterlife and faith, by their worldly way of thinking, desiring for worldly pleasures and joys, including having wives and therefore perhaps other forms of worldly desires and wants. Their preoccupation with such matters showed that their attachments to the world prevented them from being able to follow the Lord and have faith in Him.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this world, all of us as Christians are challenged to overcome our excessive attachments to the world and to be more trusting in God and allow Him to guide us in our path. St. Paul had shown this in our first reading today, as he reminded all of us not to worry about worldly trials and persecutions, or even to suffer and to endure ridicule and rejection from the world as we live our lives in a most Christian manner. Instead of worrying about our lives now, let us instead focus our attention on the assurance of the life that is to come, the fullness of life and true joy in the kingdom of God.

Today, coincidentally we celebrate the feast of saints whose lives and examples essentially explain what we have been discussing today. The Holy Martyrs of Uganda, namely St. Charles Lwanga and his many companions, missionaries and local converts to the Christian faith, martyrs of brutal persecutions against them, show us what it truly means for us as Christians to remain faithful to the Lord even amidst opposition, and at times, danger and threats to our livelihood and existence.

At that time, as Christian missionaries began to come to the region now known as Uganda, those missionaries were quite successful in their efforts and quite a few people came to believe in the Lord and gave themselves to be baptised as Christians. Before long, the missionary works and efforts led to conversions among the local populace, and quite a few of the local nobles and high-ranking officials also converted. Unfortunately, this caused members of the faithful, the missionaries and the local converts to be caught up in the bitter political struggle for control at that time.

Very soon, the king who was suspicious and wary of the rapid growth of the Christian faith and its rapidly growing followers, began to persecute the Christians from all walks of life, from the common men right up to even those among the nobles and the officials. Christian objections and opposition to some of the immoral attitudes and actions of the king and the then still pagan members of the community made opposition and persecution against them to become even more rampant and powerful.

It was at Namugongo just outside of modern day Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that dozens of Christians, including St. Charles Lwanga, the chief page or servant of the king, were burnt to death because of their refusal to recant their Christian faith and embrace the immoral actions ordered by the king. As the chief page, St. Charles Lwanga often did his best to protect the victims of the king’s immoral actions and behaviours from his efforts and advances at fornication and sin with them. St. Charles Lwanga became a Catholic and baptised many hundreds of his fellow compatriots in the faith secretly, even from the time when he himself was just merely a catechumen.

When the Christian converts refused to abandon their newfound faith in God, they were tortured and brutally put to death, mostly by burning on the stake. Their courage in standing up for their faith, their steadfast refusal from abandoning their faith and safeguarding their own personal desires and safety, knowing that God was always with them and standing by them, became a great source of inspiration and example for many Christians over the years. At the site of their martyrdom now stands a great Basilica, the Basilica of Holy Ugandan Martyrs at Namugongo which draw regularly over two million pilgrims every year.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard and seen the faith of St. Paul the Apostle, the courage and faith of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda we are all called to reexamine our way of life and our faith. Are we able to trust in God and to have faith in Him as our holy predecessors had shown us all? Are we able to detach ourselves from worldly excesses, from worldly temptations and the allures of worldly pleasures? Let us all reorientate our lives so that from now on, we live no longer for the purpose of attaining our own selfish desires, but rather to glorify God with every single actions and deeds in life.

May the Lord be with us always and may He be our guide, that we may always have that courage and strength in us to carry on living with faith even though we may endure ridicule, suffering, pain and even persecution because of our dedication to the Lord. Let us all be ever more genuine followers of Christ from now on. O Holy Martyrs of Uganda, St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, pray for us all your brothers and sisters in faith, that we too may have the strength and courage to follow the Lord as you have done. Amen.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 12 : 18-27

At that time, the Sadducees also came to Jesus. Since they claim that there is no resurrection, they questioned Him in this way, “Master, in the Scriptures Moses gave us this law : if anyone dies and leaves a wife but no children, his brother must take the woman, and with her have a baby, who will be considered the child of his deceased brother.”

“Now, there were seven brothers. The first married a wife, but he died without leaving any children. The second took the wife, and he also died leaving no children. The same thing happened to the third. In fact, all seven brothers died, leaving no children. Last of all the women died. Now, in the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife? For all seven brothers had her as wife.”

Jesus replied, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry, but are like the Angels in heaven. Now, about the resurrection of the dead, have you never had thoughts about the burning bush in the book of Moses?”

“God said to Moses : I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He is the God not of the dead but of the living. You are totally wrong.”

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 122 : 1-2a, 2bcd

To You, I lift up my eyes; to You, Whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master.

As the eyes of maids look to the hand of their mistress, so our eyes look to YHVH our God, till He shows us His mercy.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

2 Timothy 1 : 1-3, 6-12

From Paul, Apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, for the sake of His promise of eternal life, in Christ Jesus, to my dear son Timothy. May grace, mercy and peace be with you, from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus Our Lord.

I give thanks to God, Whom I serve with a clear conscience, the way my ancestors did, as I remember you constantly, day and night, in my prayers. For this reason, I invite you to fan into a flame, the gift of God you received, through the laying on of my hands. For God did not confer on us a spirit of fearfulness, but of strength, love and good judgment.

Do not be ashamed of testifying to Our Lord, nor of seeing me in chains. On the contrary, do your share in labouring for the Gospel, with the strength of God. He saved us and called us – a calling which proceeds from His holiness. This did not depend on our merits, but on His generosity and His own initiative.

This calling, given to us from all time, in Christ Jesus has just been manifested with the glorious appearance of Christ Jesus, Our Lord, Who destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light, in His Gospel. Of this message, I was made herald, Apostle and teacher.

For its sake, I now suffer this trial, but I am not ashamed, for I know in Whom I have believed, and I am convinced, that He is capable of taking care of all I have entrusted to Him, until that day.

Saturday, 28 December 2019 : Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the innocent martyrs of the time of the Lord’s coming into the world, those children below the age of two years old in the town of Bethlehem, the place where the Lord was born over two millennia ago according to the prophets. Those children were killed by the order of the king of Judea and Galilee then, king Herod the Great.

King Herod heard of the star that appeared over the town of Bethlehem from the three Magi who was on their way to find the star, and the king asked his advisors and the priests on the matter, who confirmed with him how the signs all pointed out to the coming of the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures and the Torah, as the prophets had all proclaimed Him and spoke of the time and circumstances of His coming.

King Herod became afraid of the news of the coming of this Messiah, Whom the Jews believed to be the descendant and therefore Heir of king David of Israel, the once powerful and mighty King who ruled over all the people of Israel. According to the prophecies, the Messiah would restore Israel and rule over David’s kingdom and sit on his throne as his rightful Heir, and God would make His reign forever secure.

Instead of welcoming the coming of the Lord and True King of all as prophesied, king Herod succumbed to his fear, his anger, his jealousy, his desires and greed, his hubris and ambition, as he was often known for, and sought to destroy this King before He could become a threat to his own power and kingdom. That was why he sent the troops to destroy the King, ordering them to kill all infants and newborns aged two and below.

For us to understand even more clearly in context of what happened, we must also know that king Herod himself was a usurper of the righteous king, who before king Herod’s ascent to power, was the Hasmonean kings of Judea, the descendants of the Biblical Maccabees. The Maccabees as described in the Book of Maccabees led the rebellion against the tyranny of the Greek Seleucid kings and eventually won independence for the Jewish nation, and their descendants eventually became kings.

King Herod belonged to the Idumean people, a non-Jew himself, coming from the desert regions bordering both Judea and Arabia. He came to power by riding on the coattails of the Roman Republic, who under one of its generals, Pompey the Great, came to conquer the provinces and territories of Syria, and eventually, through political manoeuvres, overthrew the Hasmonean kings, and the reign of king Herod the Great was established.

Thus, all these historical facts coupled with the many grandiose projects king Herod undertook, such as the rebuilding and expansion of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, expansion of the city of Jerusalem itself and building of new cities such as Caesarea and also buildings named in his own honour like the Herodion, showed how insecure king Herod was, and how much he desired power, glory, fame and worldly honour.

That was why, he acted in such an evil and wicked manner, to preserve and protect himself from his supposed ‘Enemy’, the King Who was to come and born in Bethlehem, by killing all the innocent children hoping that this King would be killed alongside the other children, without any regards for the sanctity of human life and just how wicked that action had been in the eyes of God and men alike.

Then we may also be wondering, why God allowed such a great tragedy to happen? Why did He allow the innocent children to be slaughtered? Surely He could have done something to prevent it? But this is where then we must understand that while God is all powerful and mighty, He also gave us all, each and every one of us free will and the freedom to choose what we are to do with our own lives.

King Herod chose freely of his own free will to commit such a heinous and evil action, and his abuse of the freedom that God has granted him, the authority and power entrusted to him therefore is the culprit behind the evil deeds and all the sufferings suffered by the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem and their families. This is a classic example of how power and earthly glory can corrupt and lead us into sin, if we allow them to overcome us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the tragedy of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem was not the only tragedy that happened in this world. So many wars, conflicts and all sorts of actions had happened throughout the history of mankind and civilisation, because men chose to abuse the freedom and the privileges given to them by God, misusing the power and authority entrusted to them to satisfy their own needs over the sufferings of others.

And we ourselves may also be to blame for this, as surely at some point in our lives we have also acted in manner that cause others to suffer for the sake of our happiness and enjoyment. If we want to blame or look down on King Herod for having committed such a terrible evil and crime, perhaps we may want to look at ourselves first before that. Have we ourselves lived worthily in our faith? Have we acted in ways that bring glory to God and happiness to everyone and not just to ourselves?

Let us all reflect on this even as we rejoice in this joyful Christmas season. Let us seek to make our Christmas celebrations meaningful and filled with the true joy of Christ and not the fleeting joy and greed of the world, the same greed and desire that brought king Herod and so many other sons and daughters of mankind into sin. Let us all turn away from excessive attachments to worldly pleasures and desires, especially in this Christmas time and season, putting our focus and attention back on the Lord, our God and Saviour.

May God be with us always and may He strengthen each and every one of us in our faith, so that we may resist the temptations of pride, greed, hubris, ambition, and all the things that often led us to sin, to manipulation and the harming of others. May God bless our Church and the world today, that true faith in God may triumph over the greed of mankind. Amen.

Saturday, 28 December 2019 : Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 2 : 13-18

After the wise men had left, an Angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon be looking for the Child in order to kill Him.”

Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and left that night for Egypt, where He stayed until the death of Herod. In this way, what the Lord had said through the prophet was fulfilled : I called My Son out of Egypt.

When Herod found out that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old or under. This was done in line with what he had learnt from the wise men about the time when the star appeared.

In this way, what the prophet Jeremiah had said was fulfilled : A cry is heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation : Rachel weeps for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for they are no more.

Saturday, 28 December 2019 : Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 123 : 2-3, 4-5, 7b-8

Had not the Lord been on our side, when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive; such was their anger against us.

A bit more and the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.

The snare was broken and we were freed. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

Saturday, 28 December 2019 : Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 John 1 : 5 – 1 John 2 : 2

We heard His message from Him and announce it to you : God is light and there is no darkness in Him. If we say we are in fellowship with Him, while we walk in darkness, we lie instead of being in truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we are in fellowship with one another, and the Blood of Jesus, the Son of God, purifies us from all sin.

If we say, “We have no sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He Who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from our wickedness. If we say that we do not sin, we make God a liar, His word is not in us.

My little children, I write to you that you may not sin. But if anyone sins, we have an Intercessor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Just One. He is the sacrificial Victim for our sins and the sins of the whole world.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

2 Maccabees 7 : 1, 20-31

It happened also that seven brothers were arrested with their mother. The king had them scourged and flogged to force them to eat the flesh of a pig which was prohibited by the Law.

More than all of them, their mother ought to be admired and remembered. She saw her seven sons die in a single day. But she endured it even with joy for she had put her hope in the Lord. Full of a noble sense of honour, she encouraged each one of them in the language of their ancestors. Her woman’s heart was moved by manly courage, so she told them :

“I wonder how you were born of me; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor I who ordered the matter of your body. The Creator of the world Who formed man in the beginning and ordered the unfolding of all creation shall in His mercy, give you back breath and life, since you now despise them for the love of His laws.”

Antiochus thought she was making fun of him and suspected that she had insulted him. As the youngest was still alive, the king tried to win him over not only with his words, but even promised to make him rich and happy, if he would abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He would make him his Friend and appoint him to a high position in the kingdom.

But as the young man did not pay him any attention, the king ordered the mother to be brought in. He urged her to advise her son in order to save his life. After being asked twice by the king, she agreed to persuade her son. She bent over him and fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her ancestral language : “My son, have pity on me. For nine months I carried you in my womb and suckled you for three years; I raised you up and educated you until this day.”

“I ask you now, my son, that when you see the heavens, the earth and all that is in it, you know that God made all this from nothing, and the human race as well. Do not fear these executioners, but make yourself worthy of your brothers – accept death that you may again meet your brothers in the time of mercy.”

When she finished speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I do not obey the king’s order but the precepts of the Law given by Moses to our ancestors. And you who have devised such tortures against the Hebrews, shall not escape the hands of God.”

Tuesday, 19 November 2019 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

2 Maccabees 6 : 18-31

Eleazar, one of the prominent teachers of the Law, already old and of noble appearance, was forced to open his mouth to eat the flesh of a pig. But he preferred to die honourably than to live in disgrace, and voluntarily came to the place where they beat him to death. He spat out bravely the piece of meat, as should be done by those who do not want to do things prohibited by the Law, even to save their life.

Those in charge of this impious banquet took him aside, since they had known him for a long time, and tried to convince him to pretend to be eating the meat, but in reality, to eat something allowed by the Law and prepared by himself. In this way, he could escape death, and be treated with humanity for the sake of their long-time friendship.

But he preferred to make a noble decision worthy of his age, of his noble years, of his shining white hair, and of the irreproachable life he had led from childhood. Above all, showing respect for the holy laws established by God, he answered that he would rather be sent to the place of the dead. And he added, “It would be unworthy to pretend at our age, and to lead many young people to suppose that I, at ninety years, have gone over to the pagan customs. If I led them astray for the sake of this short life I would bring disgrace to my old age.”

“Even if I could now be saved from mortals, I cannot – whether living or dead – escape from the hands of the Almighty. I prefer to bravely sacrifice my life now, as befits my old age. So I shall leave an excellent example to the young, dying voluntarily and valiantly for the sacred and holy laws.” Having said this, he gave himself over to death.

Those who escorted him considered his words foolishness, so their previous gentleness turned into harshness. When he was almost at the point of death, he said groaning, “The Holy Lord, Who sees all, knows that though I could have saved myself from death, I now endure terrible sufferings in my body. But in my soul, I suffer gladly because of the respect I have for Him.”

In his death, he left a noble example and a memorial of virtue and strength, not only to the young but to the whole nation.