Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 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 all of us are reminded of the need for all of us to seek God’s mercy, forgiveness, kindness and compassion. We are all reminded just how we are all truly sinners and unworthy of God and yet, all of us have been so fortunate and blessed to enjoy the graces of God and to be given many opportunities, yet again and again just that we may be reconciled with God.

Continuing from the previous few days’ discourse from the Old Testament in which we heard of the final days of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and how both kingdoms were destroyed because of the disobedience and sins of the people who chose to trust in their worldly designs and other worldly supports and matters rather than trusting in God, today, all of us heard in our first reading the part from the Book of Lamentations, which as the title holds, is filled with sorrow and regret for the sins that people have committed before God.

In that passage we heard of the destructions that had ravaged through the land, the destruction of Jerusalem and the entire kingdom of Judah and Israel centred in Samaria, which have been this week’s topic. And we heard how the Lord had laid the people humbled and low, shamed for their actions, disobedience and all. But at the same time, the author of the Book of Lamentations also called on the people to seek to return to God, to cry out for His mercy and forgiveness, to beg for His compassion and love to allow them to be reconciled with Him.

Then, we remember what we have then heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord encountered an army captain, whose servant had fallen sick and perhaps was on the verge of death. And being an army captain or centurion at that time, it was likely that this army captain was a member of the Roman army, and could very well have been a Roman himself. At that time, it was also quite common for the Jewish people to look down on the pagans and people whom they deemed to be unworthy of God’s kingdom, like the Samaritans as well as the Greeks and the Romans.

That was the context behind what the Lord then uttered when the army captain humbly sought the help of the Lord to heal his sick servant. And when the Lord wanted to go to his house, the army captain politely declined, and instead, spoke in a very interesting if not intriguing manner, saying that since in his position as an army captain, a mere word of his would be translated into direct order to be completed without fail, thus, if the Lord were to just speak the words, then the army captain believed that his servant would immediately be well.

First of all, visiting the house of a Gentile or a non-Jew especially if the Gentile is a pagan was truly a sensitive matter at the time, and many considered interacting with the Gentiles would make them unclean, going to the house of a Gentile made it even more unclean for them, and thus, was frowned upon by the society. The army captain might have been aware of this and wanted to avoid the Lord getting into controversy by visiting his house to heal his servant.

And then, what the army centurion said to the Lord also underlined his great and genuine faith in God, as contrasted to those who have seen the Lord’s works, heard His words and teachings, and yet, continued to doubt Him and demanded to see more signs and miracles, the army captain did not need to see the sign or witness for himself whatever the Lord was going to do. Instead, he believed that by the will of God alone, such a feat was possible and would be accomplished.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is exactly the kind of faith that all of us must have as well. The faith that leads us to seek God wholeheartedly, to be humble before Him and to love Him above all else, and not to allow the pride, ego, hubris and our desires from intervening and swaying us into disobedience and sin against God. In the past it was all these things that had brought the ancestors of the people of God into their downfall through sin and disobedience.

Are we able and willing to commit ourselves to God with new strength and hope, with new courage and desire to love God even more? That is why today we should also take courage and inspiration from one of our holy predecessors, namely St. Cyril of Alexandria, a great Church father and leader of the Church in Alexandria, and as its Patriarch, is one of the members of the Pentarchy, the five most senior leaders of the Church at time, and he was busy dealing with many issues facing the Church at that time.

St. Cyril of Alexandria was a courageous defender of the true Christian faith against the errors and the heresy of Nestorianism, which at that time was endangering the unity of the Church, with the false ideas being promoted by the then Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, the Imperial Capital of the Roman Empire. Nestorius claimed that the humanity and divinity of Christ were separated and not united together, creating a dual personality that were distinct, in contrast to the true teachings of the Church.

As Nestorius had his support from yet another powerful leader, the then Patriarch of Antioch, he had great sway over the Church and the faithful, and being the leader of the See of Constantinople, he had great influence over the secular Empire and its leadership as well. But this did not deter St. Cyril from trying his best to oppose the efforts of the heretics from gaining influence and further ground in the Church and among the faithful. He had to endure much suffering and opposition for his efforts.

But in the end, the efforts of St. Cyril of Alexandria bore fruits, as he managed to gain the support of the Church and many among those who remained true to the Orthodox faith, that the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convoked and in that Council, the true nature of Christ, his two natures, divine and human jointly united though distinct in the person of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, was affirmed and the heresy of Nestorianism was condemned.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having seen and heard what St. Cyril of Alexandria had done, all that he had done for the greater good of the Church, let us all devote ourselves, our time and attention, our faith and commitment to God from now on, that we may truly be able to follow God wholeheartedly from now on, following the good examples set before us by the army captain who professed his faith publicly before the Lord, as well as St. Cyril of Alexandria, the faithful servant of God.

May the Lord continue to guide us all through life, and may He strengthen us in faith and in the resolve to continue living our lives with faith from now on. May God bless us all and all of our good endeavours, at all times, now, always and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 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 8 : 5-17

At that time, when Jesus entered Capernaum, an army captain approached Him, to ask His help, “Sir, my servant lies sick at home. He is paralysed and suffers terribly.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

The captain answered, “I am not worthy to have You under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed. For I myself, a junior officer, give orders to my soldiers. And if I say to one, ‘Go!’ he goes; and if I say to another, ‘Come!’ he comes; and if I say to my servant, ‘Do this!’ he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, He was astonished; and said to those who were following Him, “I tell you, I have not found such faith in Israel. I say to you, many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; but the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown out into extreme darkness; there, they will wail and grind their teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the captain, “Go home now. As you believed, so let it be.” At that moment, his servant was healed. Jesus went to Peter’s house and found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with fever. He took her by the hand and the fever left her; she got up and began to wait on Him.

Toward evening, they brought to Jesus many people possessed by evil spirits; and with a word, He drove out the spirits. He also healed all who were sick. In this way, what was said by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled : He bore our infirmities and took on Himself our diseases.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 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 73 : 1-2, 3-5a, 5b-7, 20-21

O God, have You rejected us forever? Why vent Your anger on the sheep of Your own fold? Remember the people You have formed of old, the tribe You have redeemed as Your inheritance. Remember Mount Zion, where You once lived.

Climb, and visit these hopeless ruins, the enemy has ravaged everything in the Sanctuary. Your foes have roared triumphantly in the holy place, and set up their banner of victory.

Like lumbermen felling trees, they smashed the carved panelling with hatchets, hammers and axes. They defiled Your Sanctuary and set aflame the dwelling place of Your Name.

See how they keep Your Covenant, in the dark caves of the land. Do not let the oppressed be put to shame; may the poor and needy praise Your Name.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 : 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)

Lamentations 2 : 2, 10-14, 18-19

Without pity YHVH has shattered in Jacob every dwelling. He has torn down in His anger the ramparts of Judah’s daughter. He has thrown her rulers and her king to the ground, dishonoured.

The elders of the daughter of Zion sit in silence upon the ground, their heads sprinkled with dust, their bodies wrapped in sackcloth, while Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads to the ground. With weeping, my eyes are spent; my soul is in torment because of the downfall of the daughter of my people, because children and infants faint in the open spaces of the town.

To their mothers they say, “Where is the bread and wine?” as they faint like wounded men in the streets and public squares, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms. To what can I compare you, o daughter of Jerusalem? Who can save or comfort you, o virgin daughter of Zion? Deep as the sea is your affliction, and who can possibly heal you?

Your prophets’ visions were worthless and false. Had they warned of your sins, your fate might have been averted. But what they gave you, instead, were false, misleading signs. Cry out to the Lord, o wall of the daughter of Zion! Oh, let your tears flow day and night, like a river. Give yourself no relief; grant your eyes no respite.

Get up, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him, for the lives of your children, who faint with hunger at the corner of every street.

Saturday, 25 April 2020 : Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great feast day of the Evangelist, St. Mark, one of the Four Holy Evangelists, the writers of the Four Holy Gospels. St. Mark was a great disciple of Christ, and while he was not one of the Twelve Apostles, he was accorded the same honour and respect as the Apostles and he was also the founder of the very important See of Alexandria. Thus St. Mark was considered retroactively as the very first Patriarch of Alexandria, one of the five greatest centres of early Christendom.

And on this day we recall the great deeds of St. Mark in his efforts as one of the followers of Christ, not just in writing the Gospel according to St. Mark, but also in his evangelising and preaching ministry among many of the people, in Alexandria where he would establish the Church there, in Egypt as a whole and in other parts of the world such as in other parts of North Africa and also the Mediterranean, as he also accompanied St. Peter during some of his travels.

This relationship can be seen as part of our first reading today from the Epistle of St. Peter in which St. Peter referred to St. Mark as his ‘son’, alluding to the close Christian relationship that they had between them, and how St. Mark must have been an important companion to at least some of St. Peter’s travels and works. And in that same passage from St. Peter’s Epistle, the Apostle also reminded us all the faithful that we must be filled with virtues and humility, to serve God with all of our strength and to be vigilant against the temptations of evil.

In all of today’s readings therefore, including that of the Gospel in which the Lord Jesus after His resurrection described what His disciples would be sent out to do, and how the Lord would protect them from harm, all of us are reminded now therefore of this calling which God had called us into, the mission that He has shared with us and entrusted to us, which is the mission to save the whole world, to bring God’s salvation to them and to call them to embrace the fullness of His grace.

If God has called St. Mark and the Apostles, the many disciples He had called and chosen, then we must also realise that God has also called all of us, His faithful ones, to be His followers and to do what He desires of us to do in accordance with His will. And this means that we have been entrusted with the same mission which the Lord had given and entrusted to His Apostles and disciples, to go forth to the world and spread His Good News of salvation, and bring all souls to Him.

Are we willing and able to take up this mission that the Lord has entrusted to us? God wants us to follow Him and to contribute to the missions of the Church in whatever way we can. And the Lord had given us many gifts and abilities, talents and opportunities to follow Him and give all these for the sake of His greater glory. But many of us have not been using them properly as we should have, and many of us even abused and misused them for our own selfish purposes.

Today, all of us are called to discern carefully with our lives and our actions. We are called to follow in the footsteps of St. Mark the Evangelist and the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, in their courageous and devout pursuit of service to God and His people. God has called all of us through our baptism, which we all share, to walk down the path of faith and to be His witnesses and workers, to be faithful to Him and to be inspirations for one another especially during these difficult times.

During these dark and challenging times, we are challenged to be bearers of hope and to be beacons of God’s wonderful light amidst the darkness that have been covering this world. We are now living through particularly difficult and dark times, and we see all around us all forms of sufferings and pains, conflicts and evil. Many among us have fallen into despair and gave in to our fears and uncertainties, our desires and selfishness, resulting in us acting and behaving in ways that often cause hurt and pain upon others.

Are we able to challenge ourselves to overcome these temptations of our desires and pride? Are we able to focus our attention instead on God and on His love and providence, rather than being obsessed and overcome by the pride and ego within us? Let us all spend some time to think about these matters, and let us all be inspired by the faith and the dedication of our holy predecessors that we, too, may follow in their footsteps and do our best to serve the Lord at all times. May God bless us all and our many good endeavours for our faith. May St. Mark intercede for us sinners too before our Lord and Master. Amen.

Saturday, 25 April 2020 : Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 16 : 15-20

At that time, Jesus told His disciples, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

“Signs like these will accompany those who have believed : in My Name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

So then, after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and took His place at the right hand of God. The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Saturday, 25 April 2020 : Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 88 : 2-3, 6-7, 16-17

I will sing forever, o Lord, of Your love and proclaim Your faithfulness from age to age. I will declare how steadfast is Your love, how firm Your faithfulness.

The heavens proclaim Your wonders, o Lord; the assembly of the holy ones recalls Your faithfulness. Who in the skies can compare with the Lord; who of the heaven-born is like Him?

Blessed is the people who know Your praise. They walk in the light of Your face. They celebrate all day Your Name and Your protection lifts them up.

Saturday, 25 April 2020 : Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Peter 5 : 5b-14

All of you must clothe yourself with humility in your dealings with one another, because God opposes the proud but gives His grace to the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God so that He will raise you up at the appointed time. Place all your worries on Him since He takes care of you.

Be sober and alert because your enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Stand your ground, firm in your faith, knowing that our brothers and sisters, scattered throughout the world, are confronting similar sufferings. God, the Giver of all grace, has called you to share in Christ’s eternal Glory and after you have suffered a little He will bring you to perfection : He will confirm, strengthen and establish You forever. Glory be to Him forever and ever. Amen.

I have had these few lines of encouragement written to you by Silvanus, our brother, whom I know to be trustworthy. For I wanted to remind you of the kindness of God really present in all this. Hold on to it. Greetings from the community in Babylon, gathered by God, and from my son, Mark. Greet one another with a friendly embrace. Peace to you all who are in Christ.

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.