Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord through the Scriptures that remind us all of the need for us to change our lives and follow the Lord wholeheartedly in all things. We must obey Him and do whatever it is that He has shown and taught us to do, and abandon our past life of wickedness and evil. This is what all of us as Christians are called to do with our lives, that we may truly glorify God by our lives in this world.

In our first reading today, we heard of the exchanges between the prophet Samuel and the first King of Israel, Saul, whom God had called and chosen from among His people to be the king over all of them. Samuel anointed Saul himself and Saul was faithful in leading the people of God to victory against their enemies, especially the Philistines who oppressed them. But it was not long before Saul began to disobey God and followed his own will rather than God’s.

In that occasion, the Israelites went up in war against the Amalekites, their old enemies, who were defeated in battle by the Lord’s grace and strength. The prophet Samuel had instructed Saul on God’s will, not to allow anyone or anything from the Amalekites to survive, their whole people and their whole possessions and herds. Yet, Saul thought it better on his own decision to spare not just the herds of the Amalekites but even the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

Saul thought that by doing what he had chosen to do, he was doing what God wanted, even arguing back against the prophet Samuel and trying to justify himself and his actions before God. But he did not realise that he has disobeyed God by his choice of actions and therefore led the people of Israel into sin. And his attempt to justify himself and arguing with Samuel showed that he was not remorseful or regretful over his action at first instance.

Saul was thinking in the manner of how he perceived the Lord would think, and many others also shared his perspective. To them, the Law that the Lord has given His people was to be obeyed to the letter, but they often failed to understand the true intent, meaning and purpose of the Law. Saul and others tried to go around the technicalities of the Law and even tried to benefit from it, because in his mind it was likely that he had the desire to gain from the spoils of war, that while some of them were to be offered to God, the rest would be his to possess.

That was how Saul led his people into sin and disobedience against God. He allowed his desires and pride to make him fall for the temptations of the devil. And this is the same predicament that we also see in the Gospel passage today, as we heard the argument between the Pharisees and the Lord on the matter of fasting which the Pharisees practiced fervently while they criticised the Lord and His disciples for not doing what they have done.

But the Lord rebuked them in turn because they failed to understand the true significance and meaning of fasting. The Pharisees, like Saul, fasted with some intention to gain attention for themselves, to satisfy their own personal desires for glory and honour, for fame and renown which led them to sin against God. They would not allow the Lord to go on with His works in peace and kept on opposing Him because their pride and desires led them to act in self-preservation to keep whatever privileges and good things they had gained, even if they actually went against God’s will.

This is what the Lord actually meant when He spoke using the parable of the new and old wineskins and cloth, and also the new and old wine. The incompatibility between the new wine and the old wineskin, vice versa and the new and old cloth highlighted the incompatibility between the ways of man, that is pride, desire, greed and selfishness with the ways of the Lord, which is love, humility, compassion, tenderness and mercy. As Christians we should embrace the way of the Lord and leave behind our past, worldly behaviour as described.

We are therefore also reminded today by the examples of king Saul and the Pharisees that we must be ever vigilant for it will be very easy for the devil to have his way with us if we are not careful and if we allow him to tempt us with the various desires and allures of the world, the lure of the glory of this world, the temptation of pleasures of the flesh among many others. We have to resist these temptations and do our best to overcome the devil and his lies.

Today, we are all fortunate to have two great saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian. Pope St. Fabian was one of the early Popes of the Church, who was elected under miraculous circumstances as it was told that a dove miraculously appeared and settled on him, which was interpreted as a sign of divine providence and made everyone assembled to elect him as the successor of St. Peter.

Pope St. Fabian led the Church in the era between persecutions and helped to stabilise the Church and grow, despite the rise of heresies and divisions in some segments of the Church. Pope St. Fabian sent bishops and missionaries to help settle this matter, and he dedicated himself passionately to the mission of the Church entrusted to him by God. And when the Roman Emperor Decius came to power, a new wave of brutal persecutions came to be, and Pope St. Fabian was among the first to be martyred for his faith.

Meanwhile, St. Sebastian was a high ranking Roman soldier, a captain of the Praetorian Guards, the Roman Emperor’s own bodyguards, who was a secret Christian at the time when being a Christian would mean certain suffering, persecution and death. St. Sebastian helped many Christians to escape torture and suffering under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, especially those who were condemned to death. Some of the people were even converted and strengthened by the faith of Sf. Sebastian while in prison

But eventually, St. Sebastian’s secret was discovered, and the Emperor, angry at this supposed betrayal by one of his closest confidants, made him suffer by tying him to a tree and made arrows to be shot at him many times until he was covered by them. Yet, miraculously, the arrows did not kill St. Sebastian. St. Sebastian miraculously recovered and reproached the Emperor for his persecution of Christians publicly. This was when St. Sebastian was beaten to death and finally had his martyrdom for his faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the great faith and examples set by Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian should inspire us all to also be faithful as they had been faithful, to follow God and to obey Him in every moments of our life. Let us all devote ourselves and be ever more faithful to God from now on, and let us grow ever stronger in faith and dedication to Him with each and every passing moments in our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 2 : 18-22

At that time, when the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting, some people asked Jesus, “Why is it, that both the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast, but Yours do not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the wedding guests fast while the Bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the day will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”

“No one sews a piece of new cloth on an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear away from the old cloth, making a worse tear. And no one puts new wine into old wine skins, for the wine would burst the skins, and then both the wine and the skins would be lost. But new wine, new skins!”

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 49 : 8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23

Not for your sacrifices do I reprove you, for your burnt offerings are ever before Me. I need no bull from your stalls, nor he-goat from your pens.

What right have you to mouth My laws, or to talk about My Covenant? You hate My commands and cast My words behind you.

Because I was silent while you did these things, you thought I was like you. But now I rebuke you and make this charge against you. Those who give with thanks, offerings, honour Me; but the one who walks blamelessly. I will show him the salvation of God.

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

1 Samuel 15 : 16-23

Samuel then told Saul, “Enough! Let me tell you what YHVH said to me last night.” Saul replied, “Please tell me.” So Samuel went on and said, “Though you had no confidence in yourself, you became chief of the tribes of Israel, for YHVH wanted to anoint you king over Israel. Then He sent you with this command, ‘Go. Completely crush the Amalekite offenders, engaging them in battle until they are destroyed.’”

“Why then did you not obey the voice of YHVH but instead swooped down on the spoil, doing what was evil in His sight?” To this, Saul replied, “I have obeyed the voice of YHVH and have carried out the mission for which He sent me. I have captured Agag, king of Amalek and completely destroyed the Amalekites. If my men spared the best sheep and oxen from among these to be destroyed, it was in order to sacrifice them to YHVH, your God, in Gilgal.”

Samuel then said, “Does YHVH take as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to His command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission better than the fat of rams. Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and stubbornness like holding onto idols. Since you have rejected the word of YHVH, He too has rejected you as king.”

Monday, 13 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we begin the Ordinary Time of the year, in this period between the seasons of Christmas and Lent. As we begin this Ordinary Time, all of us heard the message of the Scriptures in which God called us all to be His followers and disciples, to do His will and to walk in His path, as He called the prophet Samuel at the time of the Old Testament and His first disciples from the area of the Lake of Galilee as described in our Gospel passage today.

In our first reading today we heard of the account of the time when the prophet Samuel was about to be born, at the end of the era of the Judges of Israel and before the coming of the era of the kings of Israel. Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah were mentioned in today’s passage, when they went to the house of the Lord and Hannah was sad because she had not been able to bear her husband any child, while the other wife of Elkanah bore him many children.

But God had great plans for Hannah, as through her, a great prophet would be born, Samuel who would be the last and among the greatest of the Judges of Israel and the one who would anoint two kings of Israel, Saul and David, leading the people of God through the difficult years of trials and attacks from the Philistines, and enduring the divisions and disagreements, the sins committed by the people and also the disobedience and sin of Saul. Samuel helped the people of God and guided them through all those difficult years.

In our Gospel passage, God also called several men to follow Him, those fishermen from obscure origins, illiterate and insignificant, and yet, through His calling, He made them all to be His disciples, as great fishers of men by which He called many people to Himself. Although those disciples were then totally ordinary and undistinguished but God gave them His power and strength, and He sent them the Holy Spirit and gave them His Wisdom that they became fearless and courageous witnesses of the truth of God.

They were called from their ordinary lives to be extraordinary by the grace of God. The disciples of the Lord, the prophet Samuel and all the other holy predecessors we have all have been called to greatness. They heeded the Lord’s call and followed Him, and God was with them, guiding them in doing His will. And they did many good works for the Lord, in bringing His people closer to Him and in bringing the truth of God to the nations.

And today, we have yet another example through the saint whose feast we celebrate on this day, namely St. Hilary of Poitiers, a renowned Church father and bishop of the early Church, in the region of Poitiers which is now at the central-southern portion of France. St. Hilary of Poitiers was known for his zeal and dedication in serving the people of God especially in how be opposed the heresy of Arianism in his diocese and also in the broader Church context.

St. Hilary had to go up against powerful authorities, both within and from outside the Church. As the Emperor then was himself sympathetic to the Arian cause, St. Hilary tried his best to persuade him to turn away from the Arian heresy and to oppose the influential Arian bishops, for the benefit of the faithful and for the salvation of the souls of those who have fallen into heresy. St. Hilary dedicated all his energy and strength in doing the will of God just as the prophet Samuel and the disciples of the Lord had done.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard all these good and inspiring examples, let us all be inspired to live our lives with faith, and dedicate ourselves to do the will of God following the footsteps of the Apostles and the prophets, and inspired by the faith of St. Hilary of Poitiers, as we begin this Ordinary Time of the year, a time for action and work of our faith. Let us all be witnesses of the Lord’s truth in our society and bear witness for our faith among the peoples.

May the Lord continue to guide us and strengthen us that we may have the necessary strength and courage to carry on living our lives with faith despite the challenges and trials we may have to face along the way. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, 13 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Mark 1 : 14-20

At that time, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways and believe the Good News.”

As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people.” At once, they abandoned their nets and followed Him.

Jesus went a little farther on, and saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee; they were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately, Jesus called them and they followed Him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men.

Monday, 13 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 115 : 12-13, 14-17, 18-19

How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord.

I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. It is painful to the Lord to see the death of His faithful.

O Lord, I am Your servant, truly Your servant, Your handmaid’s son. You have freed me from my bonds. I will offer You a thanksgiving sacrifice; I will call on the Name of the Lord.

I will carry out my vows to the Lord in the presence of His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, o Jerusalem.