Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings we heard two stories, one from the Book of Genesis, and the other from the Gospel of St. Matthew, both which remind us of the need for us to trust in God and to be faithful to Him, so that our lives may truly be blessed and be firm in His hands, and not being swayed by the uncertainties of this world we are living in today.

In the first reading today, we heard about the story of Abraham and Sarah, then known as Abram and Sarai respectively, who have not yet had a child on their own, even though they have been married for a long time and by then they were already quite old and Sarai was already past the child-bearing age. Without an heir of his own, Abram had planned that his wealth and possessions would be inherited by one of his own trusted servants, but God made it clear that it was not how things would be.

Instead, God revealed that Abraham would have an heir and son as He has promised to him in the Covenant He made with him, that the descendants of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars and would be blessed by God forevermore. Abraham trusted in God’s will and plan, but his wife, Sarai, had a different idea in mind. Instead of waiting patiently for God’s plan to come to fruition, Sarai instead chose to take a shortcut.

According to the ancient customs of the time, Sarai took his own slave, Hagar, to bear a child with Abram, as a child of a slave at that time was recognised as the child of the legal wife of the person, the one who owned the slave. As such, when Ishmael, the son of Abram and Hagar was born, technically he was recognised as the son of Abram and Sarai. But this was not what God had meant for his servant Abram.

Nonetheless, God still blessed Ishmael as one of the descendants of Abraham and reassured him that Ishmael and his descendants would still be blessed by Him. Yet, at the same time, God reiterated that His will was for Abram to have a child with Sarai, and fulfil the promise of the Covenant which He had made with Abram. And indeed, God is ever faithful and eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a child, named Isaac, the one whom God had promised.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples using a parable which many of us are surely familiar with, speaking of two houses built upon different foundations, one on a foundation of sand, while the other one was built on a firm foundation of rock. When the winds and the waves battered the house built on the foundation of sand, the house is destroyed and toppled, while the one built on the firm, rocky foundation remained strong.

In this parable we see the comparison with the case of Abraham and his wife and slave as we heard in our Gospel passage today. What do I mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? The actions of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, in taking a shortcut with her own slave to provide a child for herself and Abraham was an example of the lack of faith and trust in God, akin to building a house on the foundation of sand.

And true enough, when Ishmael grew older, conflict grew between Ishmael and Isaac, and also between Hagar and Sarah, as rivalry grew between them and pride got in between them all. It ended with Hagar and Ishmael being exiled and cast out so that Isaac could have his full inheritance. We see how Sarah’s plan did not go well in the end, causing just sorrow and sadness to all who were involved.

That will likely the same outcome for us, if we choose to trust in ourselves alone and in our own human judgments in how we choose to live our lives, and not putting our trust and faith in God. Putting our trust and faith in God is like building a house on a firm foundation of rock, as no matter what happens, and no matter what challenges we may encounter, God is always ever faithful, and while man may fail us and be unfaithful, God cannot deny His own love and faithfulness.

This does not mean that our lives will be free of difficulties and challenges if we choose to trust in God. Rather, if we remain faithful, in the end, if we look back through what we have gone through, we will indeed realise just how much God had blessed us with, and how much He has strengthened and provided for us. He is our firm foundation upon which our faith strengthens us and keeps us steady amidst the dangers and challenges of the world.

Today, all of us celebrate the feast day of one of the holy and devoted servants of God, whose life was anchored to the Lord so deeply, that he can be a great inspiration to all of us in how we should be living our own lives with faith. He is St. Cyril of Alexandria, the very influential Patriarch of Alexandria and therefore one of the great leaders of the Church during his time, leading his flock for thirty-two years.

St. Cyril of Alexandria was remembered for his great piety and dedication to God, his courageous faith and orthodoxy, defending the true faith against the false teachings and heresies that were espoused and held by priests, bishops and leaders of the Church at the time, chief of all being the heretic Nestorius, who espoused the Nestorian heresy, which at that time had the support of the Emperor and many among the influential members of the Church and the society.

The Nestorian heresy claimed that Jesus the Man and the Son of God or the Logos, the Divine Word of God were separate and distinct from each other, an argument that the orthodox and true Apostolic faith firmly rejected, defended by St. Cyril of Alexandria and others who stood by the truth that in the person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, His nature as the Son of Man, and His nature as the Son of God, His humanity and divinity, were united and inseparable from each other, two natures in one person, equally and fully God and Man.

St. Cyril of Alexandria had to defend the faith against all these false teachings and this brought him into quite a few conflict both within the Church and also with the secular authorities. St. Cyril stood his ground strongly and devoted himself to the Lord fully, that he persevered through all the challenges and oppositions, all the struggles he had to go through throughout his ministry of the people of God.

Through the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria and several other prominent leaders of the Church, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convoked in the year 431, to resolve the dispute between the orthodox party and the Nestorian supporters. In the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, the heresy of Nestorianism was officially condemned, but St. Cyril of Alexandria had to suffer, as the Emperor supported the Nestorians who convened a rival Council of their own.

St. Cyril had to endure arrest and imprisonment for a while, and yet he continued to struggle for the true faith, and eventually, with the backing of the people and the support of many others who defended the true faith, the heretic Nestorius was deposed and sent into exile, and St. Cyril was freed and continued to shepherd his flock to the end of his life. Truly, we have seen in the life of this holy saint, a great inspiration for us all to follow in how we live our virtuous Christian lives.

Let us all be inspired by the virtuous examples of St. Cyril of Alexandria as well as the faith of Abraham, our father in faith, in trusting the Lord completely and putting our faith in Him, He Who is the firm foundation of our lives, that despite the challenges and difficulties we may encounter, we do not take shortcuts and means that put our faith more in our own human and worldly power as Sarah had once done.

Let us all build our Christian lives upon the firm foundation in God, and devote ourselves with ever greater zeal and fervour from now on. May the Lord continue to guide us throughout our lives, and may He bless us all in our journey through life, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Matthew 7 : 21-29

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not speak in Your Name? Did we not cast out devils and perform many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will tell them openly, ‘I have never known you; away from Me, you evil people!’”

“Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

When Jesus had finished this discourse, the crowds were struck by the way He taught, because He taught with authority, unlike their teachers of the Law.

Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 105 : 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, for His love endures forever. Who can count YHVH’s mighty deeds, or declare all His praises?

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o YHVH, when You show favour to Your people.

Rescue me when You deliver them; let me see the triumph of Your faithful; let me share the joy of Your nation; and join Your people in praising You.

Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Genesis 16 : 1-12, 15-16

Sarai, Abram’s wife had not borne him a child, but she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar, and she said to Abram, “Now, since YHVH has kept me from having children, go to my servant; perhaps I shall have a child by her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

Abram had been in the land of Canaan ten years when Sarai, his wife, took Hagar, her Egyptian maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as wife. He went in to Hagar and she became pregnant. When she was aware of this, she began to despise her mistress. Sarai said to Abram, “May this injury done to me be yours. I put my servant in your arms and now that she knows she is pregnant, I count for nothing in her eyes. Let YHVH judge between me and you.”

Abram said to Sarai, “Your servant is in your power; do with her as you please.” Then Sarai treated her so badly that she ran away. The Angel of YHVH found her near a spring in the wilderness and said to her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.”

The Angel of YHVH said to her, “Go back to your mistress and humbly submit yourself to her.” The Angel of YHVH said to her, “I will so increase your descendants, that they will be too numerous to be counted.” Then the Angel of YHVH said to her, “Now you are with child and you will have a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for YHVH has heard your distress. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, defiant towards all his brothers.”

Hagar gave birth to a son and Abram called the child Hagar bore him, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Genesis 16 : 6b-12, 15-16

Then Sarai treated Hagar so badly that she ran away. The Angel of YHVH found her near a spring in the wilderness and said to her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.”

The Angel of YHVH said to her, “Go back to your mistress and humbly submit yourself to her.” The Angel of YHVH said to her, “I will so increase your descendants, that they will be too numerous to be counted.” Then the Angel of YHVH said to her, “Now you are with child and you will have a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for YHVH has heard your distress. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, defiant towards all his brothers.”

Hagar gave birth to a son and Abram called the child Hagar bore him, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, 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 listened to the words of the Scripture, beginning with the account from the second Book of Kings, about the discovery of the Torah or the Law of God at the Temple of Jerusalem, during the reign of king Josiah of Judah. As a brief background, King Josiah reigned after the king Ammon, his father, who did not obey the Law of God and neglected the observance of the commandments.

While his grandfather, king Hezekiah of Judah had been faithful to God, it was likely that the Torah or the scroll of the Word of God, preserving the Law and the Covenant of God as written in the first five books of our Bible, in the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, has been lost for many years after many years and generations of rulers and peoples who were disobedient against God, and for a long time, His Covenant was forgotten.

When the priests discovered the long lost Scriptures from the Temple, the king and his people realised just how wicked and sinful they had been, and how the Lord had mentioned in those Scriptures, that those who were sinful and wicked, would suffer the fate of those who were punished for their disobedience. One example that was written in the Book of Exodus, was the time when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, and many were killed on that day because they refused to repent.

Thus, the king and his whole court, and the whole nation of Judah went into repentance and mourning for their sins, and they announced a total conversion to the Lord, with a renewal of the Covenant of God being mentioned in the same passage from the Book of Kings. King Josiah celebrated one more time, the Passover as celebrated by Moses and the Israelites as they left Egypt, as the symbol of the renewal of the Covenant that God had made with them.

In the Gospel today, we listened then to the Lord Jesus speaking to His disciples and to the people, giving them a warning about false prophets who would mislead the people and leading them into sin. He mentioned how they would be able to recognise the fruits of the false prophets and therefore identify whether they were true prophets of the Lord or whether they were heretics.

During the time of the kingdom of Israel and Judah, there were many false prophets, including in one occasion in Israel when the prophet Micah spoke out against king Ahab of Israel, while the many false prophets spoke well about the upcoming war the king was going to embark on. The other prophets mocked Micah for his prophecy, and contended that they were the ones who had the word of God with them.

In the end, king Ahab was slain during the battle, and the truth of

God as revealed through his prophet Micah came to reality. It is the same with the prophet Jeremiah who prophesied about the coming end of the kingdom of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem, while he was opposed by the many false prophets who said that all would be well with Judah, and that the Lord would help Judah against the Babylonians.

In the end, again, God’s truth alone prevailed. And in this, we see yet again, just how easily the people of God could have been swayed by false ideas and untruths spread by those who claimed to have God’s truth, and yet, those so called ‘truths’ were actually falsehoods spread by the devil. That was why the people up to the time of Josiah had been unfaithful and wicked in their lives, and again, unfortunately, they would not remain faithful to God after the reign of Josiah.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, who was the Patriarch of Alexandria and one of the important Church fathers of the early years of the Church. And his story is remarkably similar to what the prophets I mentioned earlier had suffered. Just as those faithful prophets had to contend with many false prophets and idolaters at their time, St. Cyril of Alexandria had to contend with many heretics, particularly the Nestorian heretics.

St. Cyril of Alexandria had many troubles and oppositions, including his famous episode of conflict with the powerful secular Prefect ruler of the province of Egypt, who was corrupt and immoral, and backed by powerful followers and backers. On top of that, as mentioned, he had a lot of troubles with the Nestorian heretics, who wrongly claimed that the Lord Jesus has a distinct and separated human and divine natures, which had the backing of many bishops and even the powerful Patriarch of Antioch at the time.

Yet, St. Cyril of Alexandria persevered through all those challenges with faith, and dedicated himself wholeheartedly to oppose all the mistakes and the falsehoods brought forward by the heretics as well as the corrupt moral authority and activities of the secular rulers. He cared for the well-being of his flock, and ensured that the truth of God remained in them, and that they were not swayed by the heresies and the teachings of the false teachers.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, after having heard all the discourses on the history of the Israelites as well as the courageous works of St. Cyril of Alexandria, are we now all challenged to do our best, in our own lives and as part of the Church, to stand up for our faith and to renew our commitment to the Lord and His ways if we have fallen aside on our way to Him.

Let us all therefore, turn towards God with all of our hearts, minds, souls and indeed with our entire might and strength, and devote ourselves, our time, effort and attention to love Him and to serve Him as best as we are able to do. May the Lord bless us and be with us at all times, and may He empower us all to be ever more committed and devoted to Him, in all the things we do. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Matthew 7 : 15-20

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Beware of false prophets : they come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inside, they are voracious wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits. Do you ever pick grapes from thorn bushes; or figs, from thistles?”

“A good tree always produces good fruit. A rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit; and a rotten fruit cannot bear good fruit. Any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruit.”

Wednesday, 27 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 118 : 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40

Explain to me, o YHVH, Your commandments, and I will be ever faithful to them.

Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law with all my heart.

Guide me in obeying Your instructions, for my pleasure lies in them.

Incline my heart to follow Your will and not my own selfish desire.

Turn my eyes away from vanities and direct them to Your life-giving word.

Oh, how I long for Your precepts! Renew my life in Your righteousness.