Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings remind us that all of us are beloved and precious to God, and we should not be afraid to seek Him for help, and trust in Him. For God alone can be trusted and depended on, and when other worldly and human ways and methods fail, we often will have only the Lord and nothing else left. This is a reminder for us to turn towards God and to be ever faithful to the Covenant which He has made with each and every one of us.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael from the Book of Genesis. While Ishmael was born of a slave woman named Hagar, the slave of Abraham’s wife Sarah, Isaac was the lawful and legal son and heir of Abraham, as the long awaited son of his wife Sarah. God has promised Abraham that he would have countless descendants and that they would be blessed just as God had blessed Abraham.

However, Abraham slipped in his trust in the Lord and he listened to the suggestion of his wife Sarah to take the slave Hagar as the one to bear a child for him. In the custom of the time, the child born to a slave owned by a man’s wife was considered to be the child between the man and his wife, and not of the slave, as the slave belonged to the wife. And that was how Ishmael was therefore conceived and born, before Isaac, the promised child and son was born later as God fulfilled His wondrous promise to Abraham.

And this created friction between Ishmael and Isaac, as while Ishmael was older and the supposed heir before Isaac was born, he had been superseded by Isaac, the true heir. Hence, in our reading today we heard how Abraham sent both Hagar and her son Ishmael away after providing them with some food and water. They both wandered in the desert and in places without food and sustenance, and Hagar cried out to the Lord for mercy and compassion, which the Lord heard and He sent His Angels to help Hagar and Ishmael.

We can see therefore God’s love for His people here, for Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, as He has promised them, and even for Hagar and Ishmael, although the latter’s conception and birth had been against the will of God. He was still the child of Abraham nonetheless, and God took care of Ishmael and blessed him too, and he would go on to become the father of many nations just as his half-brother Isaac would. God fulfilled His promises and showed His love and compassion to His beloved ones.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord and His action in Gadara as He met two men tormented and possessed by the evil spirits, from whom many others had fled in fear, and those men had been ostracised and sent off to live in the wilderness away from the rest of the society. But the Lord showed His love and compassionate mercy, and just how precious and beloved they were, by commanding the evil spirits that dwelled in them to get out and by His power and authority, He sent those evil spirits instead to the flock of pigs nearby.

Again, through this example and story, all of us are reminded how God had cared for each and every one of us, and how He has loved us so wonderfully since the very beginning without cease. The Lord has always had us in His mind, and He will always seek us and wait on us to return to Him. Such is the love and the patience with which God has lovingly cared for us, that He gave everything for our sake, even to suffer and to die in His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross.

Today, we recall the memory of those who have devoted themselves to the Lord and placed their trust in Him, the very first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, celebrated this day on the day following the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Holy Apostles. These were our fellow brothers and sisters in faith, who had endured bitter and intense persecution from the Roman authorities as part of the great persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero, who falsely accused the Christians in Rome for the Great Fire of Rome.

The Emperor Nero was likely to be the one who started the fire himself, in order to clear the lands for his grandiose projects. This is a fact which had been corroborated by historical and archaeological evidences by experts. Yet, the Emperor conveniently assigned the blame on the Christian population in Rome in order to shift the blame and to dissuade the people from focusing on his increasingly unpopular reign and actions. Many Christians were put to death and numerous others suffered during this first great wave of persecutions.

Yet, they remained firm and resolute in faith, staying committed and dedicated as Christians, no matter what threats and sufferings that they had to go through. They entrusted themselves in the Lord and did not let fear to rule over them. And this is why we should make them our sources of inspiration, in how we ourselves should live our lives, seeking the Lord and always entrusting ourselves to Him, no matter what happens. Let us all seek the Lord from now on, and let us devote ourselves to the greater glory of the Lord from now on.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen each and every one of us with faith, that we may always live ever more faithfully in His path. May God bless each and every one of us, in every one of our good works, efforts and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 8 : 28-34

At that time, when Jesus reached Gadara, on the other side, He was met by two men, possessed by devils, who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way. They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

Some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. So the demons begged Him, “If You drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” Jesus ordered them, “Go!” So the demons left the men and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and was drowned.

The men in charge of the pigs ran off to the town, where they told the whole story; and also what had happened to the men possessed with the demons. The whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they begged Him to leave their region.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 33 : 7-8, 10-11, 12-13

When the poor cry out, YHVH hears and saves them from distress. YHVH’s Angel encamps and patrols, to keep safe those who fear Him.

Revere YHVH, all you, His saints, for those who fear Him do not live in want. The mighty may be hungry and in need; but those who seek YHVH lack nothing.

Come, listen to me, my children; I will show you how to fear YHVH. If you desire long life; if you want to enjoy prosperity.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Genesis 21 : 5, 8-20

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. The child grew and on the day Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a great feast. Sarah saw the child that Hagar, the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, mocking her son and she said to Abraham, “Send this slave girl and her son away; the child of this slave must not share the inheritance with my son, Isaac.”

This matter distressed Abraham because it concerned his son, but God said to him, “Do not be worried about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to Sarah and do whatever she says, because the race which is called by your name will spring from Isaac. But from the son of your servant I will also form a nation, for he too is your offspring.”

Abraham rose early next morning and gave bread and a skin bag of water to Hagar. He put the child on her back and sent her away. She went off and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When there was no more water in the skin, she pushed the boy under one of the bushes, and then went and sat down about a hundred yards away, for she thought, “I cannot bear to see my son die.”

But as she sat there, the child began to wail. God heard him and the Angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy crying. Get up, pick the boy up and hold him safely, for I will make him into a great nation.”

God then opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy. He grew up and made his home in the wilderness and became an expert archer.

Monday, 28 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the love and mercy of God, as well as what it truly means to be a follower and believer of God, to be genuine Christians in all things. We have to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and with all of our strength, and we have to put our trust in Him always, no matter what challenges and trials may come our way.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the story of the Book of Genesis in our first reading today, we heard the interesting exchange between God and Abraham with regards to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God revealed to Abraham that He was about to lay waste to Sodom and Gomorrah, and destroy both cities for the great sins and wickedness that they had committed. Yet at the same time, Lot, the cousin and relative of Abraham was living in that place with his family.

Therefore, Abraham, knowing how the Lord’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah might harm his relative, he tried to reason with the Lord and dissuade Him from such a plan, as destroying the whole entire two cities might indeed bring death even to the righteous who were perhaps still living in them, including that of Lot and his own family members. It was likely that Abraham believed in Lot and his family, and trusted that they were still faithful and righteous even when living amongst the wicked.

Abraham tried to reason with the Lord and tried to persuade Him not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but in the end, although he might have genuinely hoped that there were just a few of the righteous in the two cities, be it just fifty, forty-five, thirty, twenty or even just ten of them in the cities, that the Lord would spare the entire two cities for their sake. Yet, in truth there were not even ten who could have been saved. It seemed that only Lot and his immediate family alone were righteous and good.

But God still cared for them, and He sent two of His Angels to warn and lead Lot and his family out of harm’s way before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was to happen. Except for Lot’s wife, who hesitated and looked back when the Angels had told them explicitly not to do so, the whole family of Lot was saved, when the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were wiped out of the face of the whole world.

Then we heard in our Gospel passage today, of the Lord’s words and encounter with one of the teachers of the Law, who wanted to follow the Lord and believed in Him, and the Lord told him frankly that He did not even have any place to stay or lay His head in, when the teacher of the Law asked to see His place, and He also told another disciple, who wanted to turn back and bury his family members first, metaphorically, that those who did so, did not have their hearts and minds fully focused on the Lord.

Linking what we have heard in our Scripture passages today and how the story of Lot’s wife and the disciple who wanted to go back to bury his dead family, and the Lord saying to the teacher of the Law that He had no place to even lay His head, we are all reminded that to be Christians, more often than not we have to make great sacrifices and abandon various desires we have, and resist the many worldly temptations present all around us.

Are we able to do so, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we able to walk righteously in the path of the Lord, Who loves us and cherishes us, and reminding ourselves that while the Lord’s love for us is ever great and wonderful, but the effects and consequences for our unrepented sins, wickedness and evils prevent us from truly receiving the fullness of His love and grace? What we heard today from the Scripture passages remind us that as Christians, we are all called to a new life and existence in faith.

Today, we all celebrate the feast of one of the renowned saints of antiquity, namely that of St. Irenaeus, holy bishop and servant of God, and martyr of the Church. He was remembered well for his great piety and many important works on theology and various other aspects of the faith, and especially his efforts in countering and opposing the corrupting influence of heresies such as gnosticism. He dedicated himself to his flock as the bishop of Lyons, in defending the faithful from heresies and in caring for their spiritual needs.

St. Irenaeus defended the true faith, Apostolic tradition and Church teachings from those who sought to undermine and destroy them, and also from those who wished to subvert and alter those faithful traditions and truths for their own selfish and misguided purposes and ambitions. At the same time he also protected and helped to lead his flock through a difficult time of oppression and persecution from the Roman authorities.

He remained firm and faithful to the end, as he was most likely persecuted and put to death as part of one of the persecutions of Christians in the region by the Roman authorities. Nonetheless, the courage, faith and the many good works that St. Irenaeus had done for the sake of all of God’s faithful people had indeed inspired countless others to follow in his footsteps.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Have we been inspired by St. Irenaeus and our other holy predecessors by their action and faith? Let us all turn towards the Lord therefore with a new heart and with a new faith, and let us commit ourselves anew to Him, not turning back anymore and resist the temptations that distract us from our sole focus on Him. May God be with us all in this journey of faith, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 28 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 8 : 18-22

At that time, when Jesus saw the crowd pressing around Him, He gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. A teacher of the Law approached Him; and said, “Master, I will follow You wherever You go.”

Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another disciple said to Him, “Lord, let me go and bury my father first.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

Monday, 28 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 102 : 1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 10-11

Praise YHVH, my soul; all my being, praise His Holy Name! Praise YHVH, my soul, and do not forget all His kindness.

He forgives all your sins and heals all your sickness; He redeems your life from destruction and crowns you with love and compassion.

YHVH is gracious and merciful, abounding in love and slow to anger; He will not always scold nor will He be angry forever.

He does not treat us according to our sins, nor does He punish us as we deserve. As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His love for those fearing Him.

Monday, 28 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Genesis 18 : 16-33

The men went away and turned towards Sodom. Abraham walked with them to set them on their way. And YHVH said, “Can I conceal from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham, in fact, is going to become a great and powerful nation and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed, for I have chosen him to command his sons and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that YHVH may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.”

Then YHVH said, “How great is the cry for justice against Sodom and Gomorrah! And how grievous is their sin! I am going down to see if they have done all that they are charged with in the outcry that has reached Me. If it is not so, I will know.” The men with Him turned away and went towards Sodom, but YHVH remained standing before Abraham.

Abraham went forward and said, “Will You really let the just perish with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty good people in the town. Are You really going to let them perish? Would You not spare the place for the sake of these fifty righteous people? It would not be at all like You to do such a thing and You cannot let the good perish with the wicked, nor treat the good and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth be just?” YHVH said, “If I find fifty good people in Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham spoke up again, “I know that I am very bold to speak like this to my Lord, I who am only dust and ashes! But perhaps the number of the good is five less than fifty. Will You destroy the town because of the five?” YHVH replied, “I will not destroy the town if I find forty-five good people there.” Again Abraham said to him, “Perhaps there will be only forty.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”

Abraham went on, saying, “May my Lord not be angry, but let me speak. Maybe only thirty good people will be found in the town.” YHVH answered, “I will not destroy it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to my Lord, what if only twenty can be found?” He said, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy the place.”

But Abraham insisted, “May my Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found?” And YHVH answered, “For the sake of ten good people, I will not destroy Sodom.” When YHVH had finished speaking with Abraham, He left and Abraham went home.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of the Scripture through which we are reminded of the powerful deeds of the Lord in saving His people as He heard the prayers of His faithful ones in distress, that of Tobit the righteous Israelite who suffered from blindness and other personal matters as well as Sara, the distressed daughter who was beset by a powerful demon. Both Tobit and Sara prayed to the Lord and sought His help in their most vulnerable moments.

And God answered them by sending one of His Archangels, Raphael into the world to help both of them and to show all of us the love He has for each and every one of us, as well as the guidance and providence that He has shown to us all along the way. Through the Archangel Raphael, God eventually rescued Tobit and healed his eyesight, while sending his son Tobias with Raphael to visit the family of Sara, who was the daughter of Tobit’s friend, Raguel. Raphael would then free Sara from the bondage by the evil spirit and deliver her from her troubles.

Then in our Gospel passage today, we listened to the story of the Lord and His confrontation with the Sadducees, who tried to question Him on the matter of the resurrection of the dead, which they staunchly refused to believe in, as part of their beliefs. The Sadducees were the powerful members of the Jewish community who held positions of great influence and belonging to the more secular and irreligious segments of the community. They were especially at odds with the Pharisees who were the spiritual guides of the community.

To a great extent, the Sadducees and their aversion to anything spiritual extended to their refusal to accept any form of life or existence after death, that there can be no resurrection of the dead, and they also refused to believe in spiritual beings such as Angels and spirits, which means that they really saw the worldly life and existence they had there and then as the only sole existence. As such, many of them tended to live in a hedonistic and worldly manner, swayed by their desires and temptations.

And they probably also referred to the case of Sara in the Scriptures, when they asked the Lord regarding the matter of resurrection from the dead, as Sara was already married to seven husbands before she met Tobias and Raphael, and all of the seven husbands had been killed by the demon Asmodeus who made her suffer. They used this example to highlight the question on who then the woman would have been legally married to in the afterlife, in the life after the resurrection since she had been married to all the seven husbands in the world, and then later on would also marry Tobias, the son of Tobit after she was freed from the demon.

Instead, the Lord said to all of them that their understanding of the Lord and the faith was flawed, and they were too fixated on worldly matters that they failed to understand what the life that is to come is all about. Indeed, in truth, they had also failed to appreciate what life is all about. They saw life from the perspective of worldly desires and wants, of human ambition and pride. This is why they failed to realise that their lives were not just about themselves or their own desires, but instead all are for the sake of glorifying God. In the world that is to come, everyone will be free of their corruption of sin, and will be in perfect harmony in God, where little desires for pleasures and worldly things no longer have meaning.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all realise that without Christ and without the Lord’s guidance and providence, without His strength and grace, we are really nothing. We are great and wonderful because we have God by our side, and all that we are, we owe it to the Lord, Who is always constantly by our side, as He constantly sends out His Angels and Archangels, all of His forces to be by our side and to safeguard and protect us, even when we cannot see them directly. The example of how the Archangel Raphael appeared to Tobias and helped him and Tobit and Sara showed us that God is always with us, and the views of the Sadducees were wrong.

Today, all of us celebrate the feast of the holy saints and martyrs, St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, both of whom according to the Church and martyr tradition were servants of God, a priest and an exorcist who were beheaded for their faith during the intense anti-Christian persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. They remained faithful to the Lord and were committed to the mission that they had been entrusted with as servants of God, which was likely also how they ended up in martyrdom, arrested and then put to death because they refused to abandon or reject their faith in God.

Had they not believed in the Lord, in the resurrection from the dead and eternal glory that they have been assured with through their faith, they would not have been willing to suffer so grievously and to die for their faith. The Sadducees would have viewed their suffering and death as stupidity and folly, but that was because they themselves failed to see the truth and they were too engrossed in their own selfish desires to understand God’s truth and His intentions. St. Marcellinus and St. Peter through their courageous lives and martyrdom strengthened the faith of many of their fellow brothers and sisters, and many others afterwards.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how about us then? Do we trust in the Lord as our holy predecessors had done? Do we have the faith and are we able to commit ourselves knowing that God is always with us and He will always provide for us, for His faithful ones. If we are suffering now and are in difficulty, as Tobit and Sara had suffered, then we should seek the Lord and bring up our prayers to Him. God knows what we need, and sometimes we have to be patient, and persevere, as in the end, no matter what happens, God’s will shall be done, and we will triumph with Him. The outcome may not be according to what we want, but that is because God has a better plan for us.

Let us all turn towards the Lord with a renewed faith, and let us all seek Him with ever greater conviction and love Him more and more with each and every passing moments. May the Lord empower us with hope and strength, that we may always hold onto Him and remain strong in our devotion, regardless of the challenges we face through life. St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, holy martyrs and servants of God, pray for us! Amen.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021 : 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 12 : 18-27

At that time, the Sadducees also came to Jesus. Since they claim that there is no resurrection, they questioned Him in this way, “Master, in the Scriptures Moses gave us this law : if anyone dies and leaves a wife but no children, his brother must take the woman, and with her have a baby, who will be considered the child of his deceased brother.”

“Now, there were seven brothers. The first married a wife, but he died without leaving any children. The second took the wife, and he also died leaving no children. The same thing happened to the third. In fact, all seven brothers died, leaving no children. Last of all the women died. Now, in the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife? For all seven brothers had her as wife.”

Jesus replied, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry, but are like the Angels in heaven. Now, about the resurrection of the dead, have you never had thoughts about the burning bush in the book of Moses?”

“God said to Moses : I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He is the God not of the dead but of the living. You are totally wrong.”