Monday, 2 June 2014 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, Martyrs (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we indeed believe in God and we put our trust in Him. However, as we all witnessed in our own lives, and in today’s Scripture readings, we know that things are not always good and nice to us all the time. There will be moments of difficulties and challenges that we will need to overcome, and opposition and resistance will always be a part and parcel of our lives.

Today we celebrate the feasts of two saints and martyrs of the faith, who are truly renowned in the Church, that of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, both of whom received their martyrdom in the early fourth century, three hundred years after the birth of Christ. They went through one of the most intense period of persecution of the faithful, done by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the last of the systematic and thorough persecution of the faithful people of God.

Although not much informations from their era remained to tell us greater and more about their tales and life stories, but through the Church, which preserved the knowledge about them, the two saints and martyrs were faithful servants of God, as both a preacher and for the case of St. Peter, an exorcist who cast out demons and evil spirits. They went around proclaiming the Good News through words, deeds and actions.

However, at that time, the Roman Empire had not yet accepted Christianity, and to live as a Christian at that time, and in many of the preceding years, decades and centuries, it was best to keep it secret and well-hidden the fact that someone was a Christian, or else from various quarters, persecutions and oppositions against them, often ending in violent deaths, would happen.

These martyrs lived at a time when the most infamous and destructive of the persecutions happened, the Diocletian persecution, when Christians were literally hunted throughout the Empire for maintaining their faith. These persecutions occurred in waves of intensive and efficient hunt for the faithful, destroying their Scriptures wherever they can be found.

That was indeed a tough and trying time to be faithful and to be identified as such, but St. Marcellinus and St. Peter remained true to their calling, and continued to serve the people of God despite the obvious threats to their lives. They did not fear death or persecution, because they know that God is with them and ultimately that their lives belong to God.

They did not fear death or evil, also because the Lord through His Holy Spirit is in them. They received the Holy Spirit through baptism and the laying of the hands on their heads by the successors of the Apostles of Christ, and this empowered them to go on with their arduous and challenging ministry. Yet they did not give up because the Spirit gave them strength.

We too, brothers and sisters in Christ, have received the Holy Spirit and the grace of God through our baptism and our confirmation in the faith, and we therefore have been similarly empowered to be ministers of the Gospel and His servants in this world much like St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, who had ministered without fear and doubt, even when faced with persecution and certain death.

Brethren, the devil hates us all, and he will certainly do everything within his power to strike at us, just as he had once done to the holy martyrs both in Rome and in other places where the faithful faced grievous persecutions. Let us all be strong and be inspired by the examples of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, who had courageously defended their faith before God and before His people.

May God strengthen us, guide us, and be with us always, that we may bring glory to Him and save many souls from the darkness of the evil one in this world and together reach out to salvation in the Lord. God bless us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard the famous story of David versus Goliath, the well known biblical story based on how the young David, before he was made the king of Israel, fought against the giant Philistinian warrior Goliath, much larger than David himself, and he won a surprising victory.

Many did not believe at first that David would even have any remote chance of winning the encounter, and they ridiculed David for his attempt. The King of Israel and his advisors and servants ridiculed him, and his enemies mad fun of him. They did not know that the Lord God was with David, and guided Him with His strength.

Mankind could not rely on their own power and hope to win. Many do not know that strength or power alone could not save them, that is because true strength lie only in God. The giant Philistine warrior Goliath certainly made use of his huge size to physically intimidate his enemies and boast over them. But he was powerless when David with the wisdom and strength of God humbled him and killed him with mere sling and stones.

There are many lessons that we can learn from the story of David versus Goliath. One is that we should not fear any thing or any challenges that face us, no matter how daunting or challenging they may be. If we acknowledge defeat before we even try, then indeed we have already been defeated. We have to always keep up faith in all things, because the Lord is indeed with us.

Yes, that is another lesson we should learn, that without God we are nothing, but with God, everything is possible. We should not put our trust in our own strength alone, but we should rather put our trust in God. That is because as Goliath’s defeat had shown us, that the power of men may fail, but the power of God never fails.

And finally, just as King David had been faithful and righteous, true to his calling as the servant of God, we too should be faithful in God as he was. Follow the Lord, understand His ways and obey Him. Do not trust in the fallibility and the vulnerabilities of men, as Jesus had shown in the Gospel today, as He rebuked the Pharisees who criticised Him and tried to block His good works for mankind.

The Pharisees were the learnt ones, those who supposedly were knowledgeable about the Lord and His laws. Yet, they have given in to their pride and arrogance, thinking of themselves as the judges and arbiters of God’s people, imposing on them strict rules and regulations that were based not on true understanding of the meaning behind the Law, but based on their human interpretation of it.

They were hell bent on maintaining their superiority and position, as well as teaching authority, of their version of the Law, that they openly confronted Jesus and blocked Him at every possible opportunity, including what they did as covered in today’s Gospel. They failed to see, through their veil of pride and ignorance, the truth about Christ, and how true His teachings were.

Indeed, the laws and the rules especially regarding Sabbath did not make the people of God slaves to the law. The law was given to them to guide them, so that they may understand the Lord and His ways better, and not to burden them unnecessarily with punishments and censures, as the Pharisees tried to do in their flawed understanding of the law.

What Jesus said is true, while it is definitely not permissible to do evil or harm on Sabbath, and indeed not just on Sabbath but also at any other time, it is not right to prevent or block any attempts to do good on that day. For doing something good towards others is equivalent to doing it for God, and for His glory. To deny someone from doing good, even on Sabbath is tantamount to denying God the glory He is to obtain from those actions.

Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate the feast day of St. Vincent, a deacon of the early Church and a martyr of the faith. He was also known as St. Vincent of Saragossa, who lived in the Roman Hispania during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, the infamous Emperor who was the last great persecutor of the faith. St. Vincent was a deacon of the city he was known with, and he was arrested together with his bishop by the governor of Hispania.

St. Vincent spoke both for himself and for his bishop due to the latter’s speech impediment. St. Vincent spoke so bravely and courageously in the defense of his faith, that he was tortured and put to death by the governor, with punishment even greater and more severe than that dealt to his bishop and the other prisoners. Yet, he never gave up and persevered for his faith until the end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the example of St. Vincent showed us that it is important for us to understand the true meaning of our faith. Our faith is not just about following the laws and precepts of the Lord, but we have to really devote ourselves to God in the same way that St. Vincent had done. Maybe not in facing martyrdom and death in the same way as St. Vincent, but in our life, that we show concretely the zeal and the faith we have in us.

How to do so? Simply by making ourselves available to others who need us. Love one another genuinely, and show forgiveness for those who have done us wrong. Be loving and be genuine in that love. Through that, God will see our faith in Him, a genuine faith based in love, and He will reward us.

Let us therefore understand our faith better, and devote ourselves ever more deeply in God. Let us not be distracted by the concerns of this world. May the Lord our God strengthen our faith and empower the love we have in ourselves. God be with us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 3 : 1-6

Again Jesus entered the synagogue. A man, who had a paralysed hand, was there and some people watched Jesus : would He heal the man on the sabbath? If He did, they could accuse Him.

Jesus said to the man with the paralysed hand, “Stand there in the centre.” Then He asked them, “What does the Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm? To save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

Then Jesus looked around at them with anger and deep sadness, because they had closed their minds. And He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was healed.

As soon as the Pharisees left, they met with Herod’s supporters, looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 143 : 1, 2, 9-10

Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.

My loving God, my Fortress; my Protector and Deliverer, my Shield where I take refuge, who conquers nations and subjects them to my rule.

I will sing a new song to You, o God, I will make music on the ten-stringed harp, for You who give victory to kings and deliver David, Your servant.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

1 Samuel 17 : 32-33, 37, 40-51

David said to Saul, “Let no one be discouraged on account of this Philistine, for your servant will engage him in battle.”

Saul told David, “You cannot fight with this Philistine for you are still young, whereas this man has been a warrior from his youth.”

David continued, “YHVH, who delivered me from the paws of lions and bears, will deliver me from the hands of the Philistine.” Saul then told David, “Go and may YHVH be with you!”

David took his staff, picked up five smooth stones from the brook and dropped them inside his shepherd’s bag. And with his sling in hand, he drew near to the Philistine.

The Philistine moved forward, closing in on David, his shield-bearer in front of him. When he saw that David was only a lad, and he was of fresh complexion and handsome, he despised him and said, “Am I a dog that you should approach me with a stick?”

Cursing David by his gods, he continued, “Come and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field!”

David answered the Philistine, “You have come against me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come against you with YHVH, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. YHVH will deliver you this day into my hands and I will strike you down and cut off your head.”

“I will give the corpses of the Philistine army today to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, and all the earth shall know that there is a God of Israel. All the people gathered here shall know that YHVH saves not by sword or spear; the battle belongs to YHVH, and He will deliver you into our hands.”

No sooner had the Philistine moved to attack him, than David rushed to the battleground. Putting his hand into his bag, he took out a stone, slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead; it penetrated his forehead and he fell on his face to the ground.

David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, felling him without using a sword. He rushed forward, stood over him, took the Philistine’s sword and slew him by cutting off his head.

When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they scattered in all directions.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red (Martyrs)

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard how God made a wonderful choice in the one whom He has blessing for, in the one whom the Lord is Himself pleased with, that is David, to be His vicar in the world, to govern His people as their king and ruler, and therefore lead them in the worship of Himself.

David was chosen, not because of his strength, abilities, or wonderful appearance. As the Lord made it clear to Samuel, that He did not see just with the eyes, but He sees also the hearts inside mankind. He chose David because He saw in him the true heart of devotion, which had great love for God and His ways.

As we all should well know, that good appearance does not equate good hearts inside. Appearance can often be deceiving, and it is important for us to be able to see what is inside and what truly makes up a person. And therefore, we should also not be quick to judge on others, especially if they do not behave in the same way as we do things, as the Pharisees had done.

Continuing from my theme on the true meaning of the Law of God from yesterday’s Scripture readings, it is important for us to note that superficial obedience of the law is no good, compared to the true understanding of the purpose of God’s laws that is to bring mankind closer to God, instead of giving them a great burden.

God wished that through His laws, mankind can be turned, and changed, and transformed to be more like Him. Yes, for all mankind to follow God’s laws in good faith and understanding means to be profoundly changed in our way of life and behaviour, that we become truly children of God. God wants from us our love, and sincere dedication, as well as full attention. He does not want from us blind obedience or self-praise.

God sees the heart and He knows everything, just as He saw into the hearts of the people of Israel and the sons of Jesse, discovering David, in whom He found true faith and dedication, one worthy to be the shepherd of His people. Therefore God also sees into our hearts, inside each one of us, that He sees whether we are truly faithful to Him or just paying lip service to Him, or worse, to self-glorify oneself that their ‘piety’ may be praised by those who see them.

The Sabbath is the holy day in the faith of the Israelites, according to the laws of Moses, where God ordered the people to keep the day holy, and to honour Him on that day. Yet, over time, until the time of Jesus, the true meaning of the Sabbath had been subverted by the people, and in the Pharisees, the Sabbath become a dreadful day, where nobody may work or do anything, violation of which was condemned by the rabbis of Israel.

But Jesus made it clear to them, as well as to His disciples and to the people of God, what the purpose of the law, that it was made to serve mankind, that is to help them on their way to reach the Lord. Yes, it is to help and serve them, rather than to punish them or burden them unnecessarily. The sabbath is made for mankind and not mankind for the Sabbath. To do otherwise would mean the idolisation of the sabbath, which was meant for mankind to spend precious time with their beloved God.

The purpose of the Sabbath was so that, mankind, ever vulnerable to the temptations of evil and the corruptions of the world, would find time to spend with their God. A day of rest indeed, dedicated to prayers and communications between oneself and their Lord, not unlike what we have today with Sundays, on which day we go for Mass, and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

On the holy day, we spend our time with God, and we listen to Him. We should not rush it to return to our worldly dealings and businesses, but instead patiently and lovingly spend that time with God, that He may speak to us in the silence of our hearts, and we may get to learn what is His will for us, a way for us to follow. On that day, we do things for the Lord and dedicate ourselves to Him.

And in order to do this, it does not always mean through prayer and inaction. Doing good and doing things in accordance with the Lord’s will is also something that should be done on that day. Remember that Christ stressed the importance of doing good for our brethren and loving them. He stressed that doing good things is not forbidden on Sabbath, because doing good is tantamount to serving the Lord and glorifying Him, which is precisely what the Lord wants from each of His beloved people.

The Lord sees the truth in the hearts of all mankind. Again, blind obedience and lip-service does not do one good, and instead they bring mankind to condemnation. The Pharisees purposely tried during many Sabbath days to trap Jesus in His works, and did everything in their power to protest, complain, and resist the good works of Jesus, which was done for the greater glory of God. Their sins were truly great and numerous, despite their outward piety and actions, which supposedly done to draw praise and glorification from mankind.

Will we follow their path? Or will we do as Jesus had done? Jesus taught us that what the Lord wants from us is our love, and to show that love in our words, actions, and deeds. God has given us much love, and indeed had given us great capacity to love. It is now our chance to prove our love and dedication to Him, by showing it in what we do everyday. Let us no longer just see our faith, particularly that of the Mass, as something empty, and that we should also no longer just go for Mass because we are obliged to do so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the feast of St. Agnes, a well known virgin and martyr who lived at the time of the Roman Empire. She came from Rome, the heart of the Empire and therefore was also known as St. Agnes of Rome. St. Agnes was a secret Christian who was hiding from the persecutions of the pagan Roman Empire.

She was courted by a pagan centurion who tried many times without success to get her, and there were also many other suitors who did not succeed to get her attention. St. Agnes had devoted her life to a life of virginity and total devotion to the Lord. Thus, she refused to give in to the temptations of the centurion, who then reported her Christianity to the authorities, and had her imprisoned because of that. She was tortured and asked to renounce her faith by her prison masters.

St. Agnes suffered tremendously in prison, and reputedly she was even tortured greatly by the painful torture she had to go through, and even was dragged across the street naked without any clothing. She was then martyred for her faith, but unto the end, she would not recant her faith in God, and she remained faithful to the end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Agnes showed us a way to follow the Lord, that is through total dedication and devotion of oneself. She loved God so much, that she did not hesitate to give up even her life to maintain her purity and faith in God. Some followed her way, and they became as we know, our priests, brothers and sisters, the nuns and monks, the friars, those who dedicated their lives wholly to God. Nevertheless, that does not mean that we cannot do the same too.

St. Agnes showed us that our faith cannot be an empty or dead one, or one of mere lip-service. Such faith would waver at times of great persecutions, one which our Faith is increasingly facing these days. We have to show our faith through concrete action, but one based on love. We do not have to go through martyrdom as St. Agnes had, but we certainly have to be ready to defend our faith, not by violence, but through love.

Yes, love one another, our brethren, and even those who hate and persecute us for our faith. Let us show the love of God to everyone, and may God who sees our love then love us back with His infinite love, and grant us peace, grace, and rich blessings! God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red (Martyrs)

Mark 2 : 23-28

One Sabbath Jesus was walking through grainfields. As His disciples walked along with Him, they began to pick on the heads of grain and crush them in their hands. Then the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! They are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath!”

And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did in his time of need, when he and his men were very hungry? He went into the house of God, when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate the bread of offering, which only the priests were allowed to eat, and he also gave some to the men who were with him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Master even of the Sabbath.”