Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the messages of the Scripture, reminding us of the need for conversion and change of heart, especially in this blessed and holy season of Lent, during which time we take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and actions. It is a time for us to contemplate on what we have gone through this far in our lives on our journey towards full reconciliation and returning to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the essence of the words of the Scripture which we have heard today is the fact that we mankind have disobeyed the Lord, Our God, and by that disobedience, we have fallen into sin. But we must not be discouraged, because God is our loving Father, Who knows all that need to be done in order for us to be reconciled with Him in perfect and new love.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard about the moment when the Lord called one of His disciples from among the tax collectors, a man named Levi, who answered the Lord’s call and followed Him, leaving everything behind and became Christ’s disciple. He discarded all that was his, and took for himself a greater possession in becoming one who followed and obeyed the Lord, eventually known as St. Matthew, the Apostle and one of the Four Evangelists.

At that time, tax collectors did not have a good standing in the society. In fact, they were reviled and hated because of their role in collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman rulers and governors who took over the rulership over the Jews and the people of Israel at that time. And as the taxations were heavy and became burdens for the people, they hated the taxes and by extension, those who worked to collect the taxes for the Romans.

Hence, the tax collectors were often considered as sinners and people unworthy of the Lord’s grace. They were often looked down by the society, particularly the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who had high esteem and view of themselves in the matters of piety and faith. To the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they alone had the most perfect observance and obedience to the laws of Moses, and therefore, others had to respect them and obey their teaching authority.

Yet, they failed to see that they themselves were sinners in need of God’s mercy. In all of their supposed righteousness and external forms of piety, they did them not for the glorification of God or because they truly loved God, instead, they loved themselves and wanted to look good before the people. They failed to see that God did not desire their sacrifices and prayers, but their total commitment and desire to repent instead.

The tax collectors readily welcomed the Lord Jesus into their midst, as He sat down at Levi’s house for a meal with them. They listened to His teachings and believed in Him, something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law refused to do. In that sense, the tax collectors were much further ahead than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law on their way towards salvation in God.

In the same Gospel passage today, the Lord made it clear to all of us that He is seeking for the conversion and healing of sinners. That is because ultimately we cannot forget the very important fact that God loves every single one of us, all those whom He had created and to whom He had given the grace of life. He does not discriminate between any one of us, and all of us are equally important to him, from the greatest among us to the poorest and to the least.

And because of sin, due to our disobedience and refusal to walk in His ways, we have fallen away from God’s grace and became separated from Him. Our fate would have been eternal damnation and disgrace in hell, in the eternal fire, because that is what our sins would have merited us. But God had mercy on us, because He did love us greatly, and would not have wanted us to fall into such a terrible fate.

That is why He went all the way to save us, sparing nothing less than the very best effort to help and rescue us from our predicament. He gave us His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour, through Whose death on the cross, we receive the ultimate healing and reconciliation. He Who is sinless and without fault had willingly embraced punishment and suffering in our place, so that all of us may have a new hope in Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord offers us this healing and reconciliation freely and generously. However, the question is, are we willing to take up the offer of forgiveness and love which He has presented to us? Many of us refuse to repent from our sins, and we continue to live in a state of sin, preferring to do what is right according to us, but not what is right according to God.

The problem lies with our inability to resist the temptations of our human pride, our refusal to listen to advice and feedback, because we think that we are always right. And we find it hard to turn to the Lord, because the devil is always active, trying to persuade us, to bring us into a lull, to tempt us, and even to force us to do what is sinful and wicked in the sight of God. And unless we put a strong and conscious effort to resist those temptations, and desire to repent from our sins, we may fail in our endeavour of faith.

Today the Church commemorates the memory of the seven holy saints who were the founders of the religious order of the Servites, formally known as the Order of Friar Servants of Mary. These seven holy and devout men were remembered for their commitment to God, having been cloth merchants of the city of Florence during the Middle Ages era of what is now Italy, being very rich and influential, and yet, voluntarily chose to leave everything they had behind in order to serve the Lord.

They lived a life of poverty and also penance, filled with prayers and devotions, works of charity among the poor and the underprivileged. Through hard work, persistence and perseverance, they inspired many others to follow in their footsteps and lead a life of holiness and purity, no longer chained by the sins of their past. They devoted their time, effort and attention to the Lord, and did their best to advance His good works among His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be inspired by the examples of these holy predecessors, who have gone before us to the glory of heaven. We should spend more time in prayer and contemplation before God, especially during this time of Lent, when we are called to a renewed relationship and connection with God. Let us allow the Lord to speak to us, in the silence of our hearts, that we may know what His will is for us.

May the Lord be with us always, that throughout our journey of faith during this Lenten season and beyond, we may grow ever stronger in faith, and we may draw closer to God, and eventually find full and complete reconciliation in Him. May God bless us all and all of our endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it, that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o YHVH, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life, for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word. If you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fall. Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses.

If you stop profaning the Sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the Sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the Lord Jesus Who reminded all of us that the path to the Lord and His salvation is difficult and tough, and the gate to His presence is narrow. And many would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God. Those who manage to enter are those whose faith have been tested by trials and tribulations and yet they remain faithful to the very end without doubt and without falling into temptation.

And we have an excellent example of this from the Old Testament, as we heard today how the king Hezekiah of Judah, the faithful king of God’s people stood up against Sennacherib, the great and very mighty king of Assyria, feared all over the known world at that time due to his great conquests and his ruthlessness. Sennacherib brought all of his armies to strike at Jerusalem, which stood defiantly against the Assyrian forces.

And Sennacherib taunted Hezekiah and the people of Judah, boasting of his many conquests and his many triumphs, and how all of them were not saved by their gods and idols, and were delivered into his hands. He boasted that neither the Lord our God, the God of Israel would be able to save Jerusalem and Judah from Sennacherib and his mighty armies.

But Hezekiah and the people of Judah did not falter in their faith in God. They knew that God has been faithful to His covenant, and He would not abandon His people in their time of need. And unlike the other gods and idols which were mere creations of men and their hands, the Lord God of Israel is the one and only true God Who created all and rules over all, even over the Assyrians and Sennacherib.

And God delivered Hezekiah and Judah through His mighty power, saving them for they have stood by Him faithfully to the end, even amidst such a great odds stacked against them. He sent His mighty Angel to slay most if not all of Sennacherib’s mighty army. The mighty and great army of the Assyrians has been humbled and destroyed.

We were told that a hundred and eighty-five thousand soldiers of the Assyrians perished that day, and this told us that the army which besieged Jerusalem was very great indeed. And this was at the time when Hezekiah would likely not be able to barely muster even ten thousand men to defend his kingdom. And thus we see again how great is the victory that God would give to His faithful ones over the wicked.

And Sennacherib would return in total shame to Nineveh, his capital, having his armies destroyed and his aim of conquering Jerusalem unfulfilled. And he met his end, murdered by two of his own sons who killed him in the temple of his gods. In the end, from this history, we can see how many people would not enter into the glory of God but end up in defeat and destruction.

Only those who keep their faith and stand fast amidst the darkness will triumph in the end. Those who have been true to God will be richly rewarded. And thus all of us have to persevere in faith and devote ourselves to the Lord in all things. And perhaps the saint whose feast we are celebrating today can give us hints on how we ought to live our lives faithfully and gain righteousness in God.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga was the scion of a noble family who was expected to be the successor to his father’s noble titles and rights, as well as possessions and wealth. And from early on in his life, he has been prepared for that role to be the head of the noble house. He was given military training and good education, but deep in St. Aloysius Gonzaga’s heart, the seeds of love and devotion for the Lord began to take root and grow deep.

St. Aloysius witnessed the terrible nature of the conflicts that raged on in Italy and Spain during his youth at that time, when wars and conflicts were commonplace, and where conflicts between noble houses and families were numerous. As such, he witnessed how two of his brothers were killed in that conflict, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga began questioning his aim and direction in life, which eventually led to his desire to become a Jesuit.

And although his father was firmly against the decision, but St. Aloysius Gonzaga was truly firm and committed in his decision. Eventually he became a Jesuit, leaving behind all his rights to succeed to the titles and properties of his ancestors, and gave himself wholly to the service of God and His people. He served the poor, the sick and the dying, including those who are affected by the epidemics that were raging at that time.

And it was in the midst of that faithful service that St. Aloysius Gonzaga himself was affected by the sickness, became weak and dying himself. But to the very end, he still desired and indeed, still ministered to the poor and the sick to whom he had devoted his life to. And after his death immediately many miracles attributed to him were reported. And thus we see how God reward His righteous ones with glory and grace.

And looking at the glory of the saints in heaven, we too shall receive the same glory that the saints have received. And thus, let us all commit ourselves to the work of God, and let us all strive to be ever righteous and just in all things, that we may receive the salvation promised to us by our God. May God bless us all, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 7 : 6, 12-14

At that time, Jesus spoke to the people and to His disciples, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, or throw your pearls to the pigs : they might trample on them, and even turn on you and tear you to pieces.”

“So, do to others whatever you would that others do to you : there you have the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate : for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many go that way. How narrow is the gate that leads to life, and how rough the road; few there are who find it.”

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 47 : 2-3ab, 3cd-4, 10-11

Great is the Lord, most worthy of praise in the city of God, His holy mountain. Beautifully elevated, it is the joy of all the earth.

Mount Zion, heavenly mountain, the city of the great King. Here within her lines of defence, God has shown Himself to be a sure fortress.

Let us recall Your unfailing love, o God, inside Your Temple. Let Your praise as does Your Name, o God, reach to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is ever victorious.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

2 Kings 19 : 9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36

Again Sennacherib sent messengers to Hezekiah with these words, “Say to Hezekiah, king of Judah that his God in Whom he trusts may be deceiving him in saying that Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria. Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands they have destroyed! And will you be spared?”

Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers, and when he had read it he went to the house of YHVH where he unrolled the letter and prayed saying, “O YHVH, God of hosts and God of Israel, enthroned above the Cherubim! You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth; You have made the heavens and the earth.”

“Give ear, YHVH, and hear! Open Your eyes and see! Listen to all the words of Sennacherib who has sent men to insult the living God! It is true, YHVH, that the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the countries of the earth. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not true gods but gods made of wood and stone by human hands. Now, o YHVH, our God, save us from his hand and let all the kingdoms of the earth know that You alone, YHVH, are God.”

Then Isaiah, son of Amoz, sent word to Hezekiah : “You have called upon YHVH and He has heard your prayer regarding Sennacherib, king of Assyria. This is what YHVH has spoken against him : The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises and scorns you; the Daughter of Jerusalem shakes her head behind you.”

“For a remnant will come from Jerusalem and survivors from Mount Zion. The zeal of YHVH of hosts will accomplish this. That is why YHVH has said this concerning the king of Assyria : He shall not enter this city nor shoot his arrows. He shall not raise a shield to oppose it nor build a siege ramp against it. He shall leave by the way he came and he shall not enter the city, word of YHVH. I will protect this city and so save it for My own sake and for the sake of David, My servant.”

It happened that the Angel of YHVH went out that night and struck one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed, returned home and lived in Nineveh.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the story from the prophet Jonah, where he was sent to the city and to the people of Nineveh, the great city and capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire, the world superpower at the time. The Assyrians conquered many nations, and they enslaved many of the peoples around them, and they grew mighty and proud with their achievements.

But the Lord knew of their pride and haughtiness, and he sent Jonah to them to warn them of their impending destruction because of whatever sins and wickedness that they have committed. And the prophet Jonah did just as what he was told to do, and preached the word of God to the people of Nineveh. He told them that catastrophe and destruction would soon come to claim the whole city and all who dwelled in it.

What was remarkable and noteworthy was how the people of Nineveh, from the king and the greatest nobles, to the humblest and the smallest of the people, all turned from their evil ways and repented, hoping that God would spare them the destruction He had intended for them. And so sincere was their desire to repent and to change their wicked ways, that God had mercy on them, forgave them and gave them a new chance.

God did not carry out the sentence which had been intended for them, and He spared them from the destruction which He had designed on them because of their repentance, and He had mercy on them. God forgave them their sins as an example to all mankind, that if they too, are to turn their back to the sins and wickedness of their past, they have a chance at salvation and redemption in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the people in our Gospel today, and chided particularly the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law because of their refusal to believe in what the Lord Jesus Himself had come into this world to reveal to them, and despite all the good things and the miraculous wonders He had performed before their very own eyes.

And the people of Nineveh who did not even see what Jesus or what God Himself had done, and they neither saw anything performed by Jonah, as it was not mentioned that Jonah performed any miraculous deeds in that city, and yet they all believed, repented and changed their ways. They did not see and yet they believed, and for their faith, they were justified by God.

Remember what Jesus told one of His disciples, Thomas, who initially did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, when He appeared to him on one occasion? Thomas had not believed until Jesus had risen from the dead and Jesus said that while his faith was indeed good, as he believed, unlike those who had seen all the miracles Jesus had performed and refused to believe, but better still are those who have not seen and yet believed.

And the people whom Jesus rebuked did not believe, no matter what, and they asked for signs from Him. And Jesus replied that the only sign He would show is the sign of Jonah, and we knew how Jonah was swallowed by a whale for three days and three nights, before he was then released at the seashore. In the same way therefore, Jesus had died and then was buried in the earth for three days before on the third day He rose from the dead.

And how is this significant for us, brethren? This Lent, we are all called to be believers, and not just any believers, but true believers of our Lord in faith and in action. Let us be inspired by the examples of the holy saints whose feast we celebrate today, namely that of the seven Holy Founders of the Servite order, who were faithful servants of God, who devoted themselves to the service of God and of His people.

The seven holy founders were once merchants of the city of Florence, during the height of the medieval era, who left everything they had, that they might discover the Lord, and they led a new life of poverty and penance, withdrawing and turning their backs completely against the sins and wickedness of their past lives. They led a life of virtue and purity justified by God.

Many people followed their examples, and they helped establish what would be known as the Servite order. They obeyed the Lord and served Him faithfully, helping to lead the people of God back to Himself. They did not have a smooth journey however, as challenges and rejections came their way, but they remained faithful and they met the challenges with full faith in the Lord.

Through these examples, the dedication and commitment of the founders of the Servite order, let us all also follow in their footsteps, and let us all renew our own commitment to God, and let us all in this season of Lent be ever filled more and more with the righteousness and justified actions, that we will draw ever closer to God and to His mercy and love. God bless us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 11 : 29-32

At that time, as the crowd increased, Jesus began to speak in this way, “People of the present time are troubled people. They ask for a sign, but no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah became a sign for the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be a sign for this generation.”

“The Queen of the South will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and here there is greater than Solomon.”

“The people of Nineveh will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for Jonah’s preaching made them turn from their sins, and here there is greater than Jonah.”