Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and 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 Scripture reminding us all of the love which God has constantly shown to us, despite all of our disobedience and refusal to love Him. He has always been faithful to the Covenant He made with each and every one of us, and He has blessed us all throughout these lives we have, and everything that we are today, all of these are because of Him and His endless love for us.

In our first reading passage today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses, who was at the last moments of his life, was speaking to the entire congregation of the people of Israel, those who have survived the whole forty years journey through the desert, having been led and guided by God throughout all those years of ordeal, suffering, trials and time of purification from their sins.

Those who have sinned and disobeyed God had perished in the desert as God Himself had told them, while their sons and daughters and those who remained faithful to God were the only ones who would then enter into the land promised to them and their ancestors, the land of Canaan. Moses reassured them all that God would be with all of them and they had nothing to fear. It was because of that fear which made Israel disobeyed and distrusted the Lord that caused the whole nation to wander in the desert for forty years in the first place.

God has always been faithful, and He continues to love His people generously as He has always been. And that is the clear message of today’s passage from the Book of Deuteronomy. God will care for us and take care of everything we need, but we need to trust in Him and put our whole lives, our whole existence in His care and devote ourselves to His providence and His compassionate mercy.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord through His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, reminds us yet again of this love which He has for all of us. By using the example and parable of the lost sheep, He shows that if even any one of us, represented by the sheep of the flock, wanders off and becomes lost, God, as our ever loving and dedicated Shepherd, will go all the way to look for us and to find us, and be reunited with us.

That is exactly what He has done, brothers and sisters in Christ, by willingly humbling Himself and assuming the form of our humanity, in becoming the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, to become the One through Whom we would be saved, by His works and by His ultimate sacrifice of love, the sacrifice of the Cross. God loves us so much that He willingly embraced all the sufferings and the pains of the punishments for our sins, and by His Cross, He unites us all back to Himself, reconciling us all by the atonement for our sins.

But His love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness will not be able to enter into us, if we remain obstinate and stubborn as those Israelites who have disobeyed and rebelled against God. They have closed their hearts and minds against the Lord and preferred to follow the temptations and false promises of Satan instead of listening to and obeying the Lord Who has loved and cared for them throughout all those years.

That is why, all of us need to reexamine our lives and reflect on the other words of the Lord today, Who has mentioned that unless we are like children in the manner of our faith, we will not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Why is this so? That is because we all surely know how children usually behave. Children below a certain age of understanding and knowledge are truly pure and innocent, and they will believe whatever they have heard, seen and experienced wholeheartedly.

And this is exactly the kind of faith that all of us must have as well, a pure love and commitment to God, a genuine dedication and longing for Him. We should not be swayed by the many temptations in life, the temptations of desire, the temptations of worldly glory and the many other things that often prevented us from finding our path towards the Lord. Today, therefore, we should look at the examples shown by two great saints of the early Church who have overcome the temptations of worldly glory and chose to be truly faithful to the Lord.

Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were two great leaders of the early Church during the years of terrible persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Maximinus in the early third century after the birth of Christ. At that time, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were in fact on the opposing sides of the bitter divide between two factions in the Church, when Pope St. Pontian was elected to be the successor of St. Peter. Some of the Church elders has elected St. Hippolytus earlier on as an Antipope.

The bitter division and conflict between the two saints then and their followers threatened to cause great schism in the Church, but eventually, by the grace of God and because of the persecutions against the Church, they were reconciled to each other, and when the Pope was arrested and exiled, Pope St. Pontian chose to voluntarily resign his position, and it was likely that St. Hippolytus did so as well, allowing for the restoration of the full unity in the Church and the continuation of the line of St. Peter even after they were exiled and martyred for their faith.

The example of humility shown by those two saints and their devotion to God and to the people entrusted to them, despite the divisions that occurred temporarily at that time should show us that if we are able to cast off the temptations of pride, of worldly glory and power, of influence and fame, and accept humbly the cross of Christ as Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus had done, we too can share in their glory, through our own virtuous and exemplary lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray to the Lord, asking Him for strength and encouragement, that each and every one of us may draw ever closer to Him and find our way to the salvation He has promised to us all. May all of us be ever more committed and be able to serve Him from now on with all of our hearts and with all of our strength. Amen.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 18 : 1-5, 10, 12-14

At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child, set the child in the midst of the disciples, and said, “I assure you, that, unless you change, and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble, like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives such a child, in My Name, receives Me.”

“See that you do not despise any of these little ones; for I tell you, their Angels in heaven continually see the face of My heavenly Father. What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”

“It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to perish.”

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Deuteronomy 32 : 3-4a, 7, 8, 9 and 12

For I will proclaim the Name of the Lord and declare the greatness of our God. He is the Rock, and perfect are all His works, just are all His ways.

Recall the days of old, think of the years gone by; your father will teach you about them, your elders will enlighten you.

When the Most High divided humankind and gave the nations their inheritance, He set up boundaries for the people after the number of the sons of God.

But the Lord keeps for Himself His portion Jacob, His chosen one. The Lord alone led them, without the aid of a foreign god.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Deuteronomy 31 : 1-8

When Moses finished telling all Israel these words, he said, “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I can no longer deal with anything – Remember that YHVH told me that I shall not cross the Jordan River. Now Joshua shall be at your head, as YHVH has said. He, your God, will go before you to destroy these nations before you, and you will drive them away.”

“YHVH shall deal with these cities as He dealt with Sihon and Og, the Amorite kings, and their land, which He destroyed. So when He has given these nations over to you, you shall do the same, according to what I have commanded you. Be valiant and strong, do not fear or tremble before them for YHVH, your God, is with you; He will not leave you or abandon you.”

After this, Moses called Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel : “Be valiant and strong, you shall go with this people into the land which YHVH swore to their ancestors He would give them and you shall give it to them as their possession. YHVH shall go before you. He shall be with you; He shall not leave you or abandon you. Do not fear, then, or be discouraged.”

Saturday, 13 August 2016 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and St. Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Scripture readings today spoke to us about what we ought to be doing in order to find righteousness and salvation in our God. And that is for us to abandon our sinful ways and our wicked past, just as what the Lord told His people through His prophet Ezekiel, telling them that while the righteous enjoy the favour of the Lord, but the wicked and those who refused to obey Him, shall receive punishment due for them.

And in order to find righteousness and justice in God, we will have to learn to distance ourselves from all the things that are wicked and that are against the Lord’s ways, as God Himself announced to the prophet Ezekiel, that His faithful people ought to distance themselves from things that can cause fornication and corruption of the body, heart, mind and soul. That means, we should avoid unjust attitudes and behaviours, avoid greed and unbridled desires, avoid all the things that bring us into the trap of sin and thus into our downfall.

Why is this something so important for us to take note of, brethren? That is because, by our nature, we have that tendency to be swayed by our needs and wants, by our desires and by our attachments to the world and its goods. It is easy for us to lose our way going forward as we are presented with many options, many of which lead not to the Lord but instead towards the devil and his false ways.

In the Gospel today, Jesus spoke to His disciples to point out to them that very simple fact which we often forget in life. That if we want to follow the Lord our God, then our focus cannot be on other things beside Him. We have too many attachments and concerns in life, and that is a singular most important reason why so many of us were incapable of being devoted and committed servants of our Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us ought to heed what Jesus our Lord said to us in the Gospel, that we have to be like that of little children if we are to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. And no, it does not mean that we should become childish in our actions and way of life, but rather, we must be as children are when they believe in something and be like them in our faith towards the Lord.

If we have seen children before, talking to them and working with them, we should realise that they are truly clean slate, pure and innocent, untainted by the many concerns and attachments to the world. And these are exactly the very reason why many of us met our downfall and falter on our way to the Lord, as our burdens, the burdens of our attachments weighed us down and held us back.

Are we able to believe in the Lord just as the children had believed? The faith of a child is pure and true, and when they believe in something, they will hold on to that faith and to that belief. Whereas many of us are easy to turn away our beliefs and faith, for something else, just as what many of us did, ditching the Lord behind for the gain of our own flesh, the pleasures of that same flesh, and for the tempting gains of money, fame, possessions and worldly glory.

Let us then look at the examples of the two holy saints and servants of God whose feast we are celebrating on this day. Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were renowned elders and leaders of the Church at the time of the early Church, during the time when the Church was still under the persecution and attack from the Roman Empire and its government.

Pope St. Pontian was the leader of the Universal Church at that time, while St. Hippolytus was supported by some segments in the Church to become the Bishop of Rome in opposition to Pope St. Pontian. The struggle and tension between the two of them were quite bad for some time, with both sides accusing each other of trying to divide the Church and the faithful.

But in the end, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus agreed to lay down their differences for the sake of the faithful and the Church, and it also happened during the time of a particularly vicious and cruel persecution of the Church by the Roman Emperor Valerian. They were both arrested and put into great suffering and were exiled, where eventually they were martyred for their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from the example of these two saints, we can see how our human desires and wants can become great obstacles on our journey and path towards the Lord. These can cause divisions and intrigue to arise among the faithful and in the Church. And certainly, from what we have learnt, we should also endeavour to reject the temptations of the flesh, the allures of the world, and instead, do what we can in order to help one another to find our way to the Lord and to His salvation.

Let us all cultivate and strengthen our faith, so that it may grow stronger in us, and with stronger faith, may all of us be united ever more closely and intimately with our God, and in all the things that we say and do, let us do them for the greater glory of God. Amen.

Saturday, 13 August 2016 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and St. Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of our Lady)

Matthew 19 : 13-15

At that time, little children were brought to Jesus that He might lay His hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded those who brought them.

Jesus then said, “Let them be! Do not stop the children from coming to Me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to people such as these children.” So Jesus laid His hands on them and went His way.

Saturday, 13 August 2016 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and St. Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of our Lady)

Psalm 50 : 12-13, 14-15, 18-19

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing Spirit. Then I will show wrongdoers Your ways and sinners will return to You.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it.