Thursday, 8 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Dominic, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture by which each and every one of us are reminded to put our trust in God and have complete faith in Him, the One Who alone is the source of our strength and our lives, and also the one and true firm foundation of our lives. We must not allow the forces of those who seek our downfall to have their way with us.

What do I mean by this, brothers and sisters in Christ? The reality of our world is that there are plenty of forces out there seeking our destruction, namely Satan and his fallen angels, all those who have rebelled against God and planted the same seeds of disobedience and rebellion that we too will end up falling into the same damnation and suffering that they are to suffer for eternity for having rejected God.

In our first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we heard of the rebellion of Israel against God at the place called Meribah, when they complained and grumbled against God for having led them through the desert to such a desolate and undesirable place, arguing that they would have been better had they remained in Egypt even though they would have remained under slavery there.

And all of these happened despite God having cared for them, protected them, guided them and blessed them each and every days of their entire journey, providing them with food and drink, even in the middle of the barren desert. But the people of Israel were not satisfied, and they craved and desired for more. They wanted more things to satisfy their own greed and desire for earthly satisfaction, and thus they complained and grumbled without end.

The people would not believe because they did not have true faith in God, and this caused frustration in Moses and Aaron who were the leaders of the people. And in a moment of anger and frustration, Moses actually disobeyed the Lord Who commanded him to speak to the rock to provide water to the people, and instead struck it with his rod. Moses must have been truly frustrated with the endless complaints and grumblings from the people and as a result, Satan managed to enter into his heart and mind, and made him to falter.

In the Gospel passage today, there is also a parallel in which St. Peter the Apostle tried to prevent the Lord and persuade Him not to follow through the sufferings that He had to endure in His Passion as part of the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. But the Lord quickly brushed St. Peter’s comments and rebuked Satan who had spoken through him. As the Lord Himself said that His Apostle was thinking as how man thinks and not as how God thinks, thus, Satan was trying to tempt Him to turn away from the work of salvation He was to do.

In all of these we have seen how the desires and greed for this world, the desire for the satisfaction of our bodies, our stomachs and other form of desires can lead us into temptation and Satan and all of his wicked allies are fully aware of this. They will do their best to try to turn us into the path of sin and therefore bring about our downfall. The Lord warned us all to be vigilant and to be strong in our faith, lest we fall into the temptations and sin.

In the same Scripture passages, we hear the allusion of a rock in both the Old Testament and New Testament passages. It was told that in the time of the Exodus, according to Scriptural tradition, there is a rock that always followed the Israelites wherever they go, and it was this rock that provided the people of Israel with the much needed water for them to drink. It was this same rock that Moses hit with the rod in today’s passage.

And then, in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus uttered His famous words, entrusting the Church that He has established on the ‘Rock’ of faith, and this rock is referring to St. Peter himself, to whom God has entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, for the name Petros of St. Peter means ‘Rock’, and as the appointed Vicar of Christ, he is the direct representative of the True Head of the Church, none other than the Lord Himself.

Thus, the Rock of faith is ultimately a reference to the faith in God, that rock-solid and firm faith in God’s providence and strength, which will never fail, that even the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church because of this very reason. If we are to resist the temptations of Satan and all of his persuasions and coercions, and not to fall into the temptations just like what Moses, St. Peter and the people of Israel had experienced, then we must adhere strongly to the ‘Rock’ of our salvation, that is Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today also marks the feast of a great saint whose life will become an inspiration for each and every one of us on how we can be truly faithful to God and be firm in our commitment to Him. St. Dominic was the founder of the Order of Preachers, also known after their founder as the Dominicans. He was renowned for his great piety and zeal, for his missionary efforts in reaching out to the people of God.

He performed many works and helped to make firm the foundations of his rapidly growing Dominican order, travelling from place to place, preaching and doing the work of God, while leading a very holy personal life and practice. St. Dominic truly devoted himself to the Lord and gave his whole being to the service and to the greater glory of God. His exemplary life should be an inspiration to all of us in how we should live out our own lives as well.

May the Lord continue to guide us in our journey of faith, and may through the intercession of St. Dominic, the Lord may continue to strengthen us and encourage us to live with strong and genuine faith from now on, that we will draw ever closer to God and be ever more devoted. May God bless us all in everything we do, for the greater glory of His Name. Amen.

Thursday, 8 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Dominic, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 16 : 13-23

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them, You are John the Baptist; for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter; and on this Rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”

Then He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. From that day, Jesus began to make it clear to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem; that He would suffer many things from the Jewish authorities, the chief priests and the teachers of the Law; and that He would be killed and be raised on the third day.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to reproach Him, “Never, Lord! No, this must never happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an obstacle in My path. You are thinking not as God does, but as people do.”

Thursday, 8 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Dominic, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 94 : 1-2, 6-7, 8-9

Come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful sound to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him giving thanks, with music and songs of praise.

Come and worship; let us bow down, kneel before the Lord, our Maker. He is our God, and we His people; the flock He leads and pastures. Would that today you heard His voice!

Do not be stubborn, as at Meribah, in the desert, on that day at Massah, when your ancestors challenged Me, and they put Me to the test.

Thursday, 8 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Dominic, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Numbers 20 : 1-13

The whole congregation of Israel came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died and was buried there.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered together against Moses and Aaron. They disputed with Moses saying, “Would that we had perished with our kinsmen in the presence of YHVH! Why have you led YHVH’s community to this desert to die here with our cattle? And why did you bring us out of Egypt to this wretched place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates and there is not even water for drinking.”

Moses and Aaron fled from the assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of YHVH appeared and YHVH spoke to Moses, “Take your rod and assemble the community, you and Aaron, your brother. In their presence command the rock to give forth water and you will make water gush from the rock for the community and their livestock to drink.”

So Moses took the rod from before YHVH as he had been ordered. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock and said to them, “Listen, you rebels. Shall we bring water for you from this rock?” Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. And then water in abundance gushed out for the community and their livestock to drink.

But YHVH said to Moses and Aaron, “You did not trust Me nor treat Me as the Holy One in the sight of the Israelites; because of that you shall not lead this community into the land that I am giving you.” It was at the waters of Meribah that the sons of Israel quarrelled with YHVH and where He showed His holiness to them.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we began our Scripture reflections with the story from the Book of Kings, telling us about how Solomon, the mighty and great king of Israel and son of king David, another famous king of Israel, fell from grace and fell into sin, due to his weakness and submission to the many demands of his wives and concubines, giving in to the temptations of the flesh, as well as the temptations of human pride and worldly greed.

He turned away from God and became enslaved to sin, and therefore, God withdrew from Solomon and from his descendants, the promise of glory and well-being which He has promised them. That is because they had not been faithful to their part of the Covenant which they made with God Himself. Rather than putting their trust in God, they had allowed Satan to enslave them and to rule over them through sin.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of a different story, about a woman who came to Jesus begging for Him to heal her daughter who was beset by demons and evil spirits. The woman’s daughter suffered terribly under the enslavement of the evil spirits, and as such, the mother also suffered greatly as well. Knowing and indeed, believing that the Lord Jesus alone was able to help her and her daughter, the woman came to Him.

But the Lord was reluctant to help her, telling her that it was not right for Him to throw the bread intended for the children to eat, to the dogs to be eaten by them. What did He mean by this? It means that as at that time, the common belief was that the Messiah came only to save the people of Israel, then Jesus Who is the Messiah should not have dealt with non-Jewish people, including the woman who was a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Yet the woman persevered in her faith and commitment to see her daughter healed from her condition, and humbled herself such before God that she did not mind to accept what the Lord said to her, even though it might have sounded very insulting and demeaning to her. But in truth, the Lord did not mean to disrespect her, rather to show to all the people, having known what she would say to Him, that even among the non-Jewish people there was such a great faith.

We can see the contrast here, firstly of the famous king of Israel, Solomon, who willingly embraced the devil and his temptations to sin, going from a free state of being a son of God in good graces, into a state of slavery, because sin is indeed the enslavement of our souls under the forces of sin and evil. Then we see the contrast between that and the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, whose daughter was enslaved and wanted her to be freed from such slavery, and thus, begged the Lord to do so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to reflect on ourselves and our lives as we internalise what we have heard from the Scripture passages today. We mankind have fallen into sin because of our failure to obey the Lord and His commandments, and we preferred to follow the rebellious ways of the devil, who thus enslaved us through sin and death ruled over us because of those sins.

Yet, throughout history, many of us have ended up like Solomon, failing to resist the temptations and the urges to sin, which are the stumbling blocks put in place by the devil, meant to be our downfall. We voluntarily enslave ourselves once again to sin, even though as we know, the Lord has liberated us all from sin, by His death on the cross. I am sure we can see just how ironic our actions sound like, when we come to think of it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be free, and indeed, desire strongly to be free, for unless our souls and our whole being are free from sin, we will still be enslaved to sin, and thus, in danger of eternal damnation. We need to take the concrete steps and make the conscious efforts to actively seek the Lord, just as the Syro-Phoenician woman had done, and beg the Lord to heal us and save us from our predicament.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, whose life and story truly fits into our narrative and theme today on humanity’s enslavement to sin and the need for liberation. St. Josephine Bakhita herself was a longtime slave during the early years of her life, living in the area now known as Sudan. From her young age, she had experienced slavery firsthand, having been snatched and abducted by slavers, sold as slave to the highest bidder in the slave market.

St. Josephine Bakhita went from master to master, and she suffered great indignities during her years of slavery, suffering and pain were her daily cup. Eventually, she came to be under the patronage of an Italian, who brought her away from the land of her suffering into Italy, where she eventually managed to obtain her freedom and she also came to accept the Catholic faith through faithful instruction, and eventually became a religious nun renowned for her great faith and piety.

St. Josephine Bakhita and her amazing story of conversion and liberation, not just from physical slavery of the body but also spiritual and mental slavery of sin is truly a very real and relevant example for us, as we reflect on what we have heard in today’s Scripture passage. Her experiences, together with that of the other saint we celebrate today, St. Jerome Emiliani, the patron saint of orphans renowned for his commitment to alleviating the sufferings of the poor and those who were orphaned, serve as reminders for us Christians.

All of us should first of all strive to be free from our enslavement to sin, by actively practicing our faith and shunning all that is wicked and evil from our own respective lives. And then, we should also help one another, especially when we see that some among us are in the danger of falling and slipping away into sin, that we should encourage one another to live faithfully and remind ourselves that we should resist the falsehoods and lies done by Satan to trap us.

Let us all pray, brothers and sisters, that all of us Christians may be truly free, free from all the chains and bonds of sin, which have prevented us from being able to be with God in all of our hearts, minds, souls and our whole beings. May the Lord be with us always, and through the intercession of the holy saints, particularly St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Jerome Emiliani, may we as sinners, come to seek the Lord’s most abundant mercy and receive His forgiveness. Amen.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Mark 7 : 24-30

At that time, when Jesus went to the border of the Tyrian country. There, He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know He was there; but He could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet.

Now this woman was a pagan, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.”

But she replied, “Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.” Then Jesus said to her, “You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Psalm 105 : 3-4, 35-36, 37 and 40

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.

They mingled with these nations and learnt to do as they did. In serving the idols of the pagans, they were trapped.

Into sacrificing children to demons. The anger of YHVH grew intense and He abhorred His inheritance.