Friday, 13 August 2021 : 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, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the need for us all to remain faithful and to be obedient to God in all things. He has called on all of us to be truly faithful in Him and not be easily swayed by worldly temptations and desires that will end up misleading us down the wrong path, as we should heed from past examples of our predecessors on how we should be vigilant and careful in living our lives.

In our first reading today, we heard about the story of how Joshua gathered all the Israelites not long before he was to pass away, and as their leader, he reminded all of them of all the wonderful things that God had done for them and their ancestors, as he spoke to them and exhorted them to remain faithful to God. He reminded them to keep their faith in Him and to obey the Law and the commandments which God had placed in their midst. Joshua detailed all the things that God had done for the people He loved so much, and therefore, they ought to love Him in the same way as well.

As we heard from that passage, the Lord had repeatedly again and again cared for His people, showed His love and concern for all of them. He never abandoned them in their hour of need. He has always blessed them and helped them in their journey, even when those same people had wandered off, disobeyed and abandoned Him. He brought the Israelites themselves out of the land of Egypt, and in the Exodus, took care of them for the entire forty years of their journey before giving them all the lands that they now possessed. Hence, Joshua wanted to remind all of the people not to forget the love and deeds of the Lord for them.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the Lord speaking to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law when some of them questioned Him regarding His teachings and also wanted to test Him with regards to the Law of God as revealed through Moses. They asked the Lord regarding the matter of divorce, which according to their practice and ways, was allowed as long as a writ of divorce was produced, and in reality, the practice was very common, as the people and the Temple authorities used ways and even monetary incentives to accommodate the allowance of divorce, among other rules that had been modified and broken.

What is significant about this is that as the Lord Himself mentioned is, how mankind had twisted and changed the meaning of the Law and the commandments of God, that in their practice and application, they had forgotten the fundamental purpose and idea behind those guidance and path which God had given and revealed to His people, so that through those laws and commandments, the people of God might find their way back to their loving God and Father. Instead, after centuries and more years of misunderstanding and mismanaging the Law, the people had ended up losing sight of the true intention of the Law, and made loopholes and excuses to try and suit the Law of God to their own needs.

That included the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who often made the Law of God as an excuse to impose their desires and thoughts on the other people, and to gain popularity, power and influence through them. That was why the Lord often criticised those people for their lack of true and genuine faith for the Lord and His Law, and why He revealed to the people the true meaning, intention and significance of God’s Law, so that they may come to understand and appreciate what God wants from each one of them.

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to reject these wayward paths and entrust ourselves to the Lord and His commandments. We ought to seek the Lord with new spirit of love and devotion, with renewed zeal and conviction, to love Him wholeheartedly and to commit ourselves thoroughly on His path. Let us all then, look upon the good examples of the two saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus. For those who were knowledgeable about the history of the Church, they would have known that these two saints had a long history between them, as they were rival candidates for the seat of the Bishop of Rome at that time.

St. Hippolytus opposed the efforts and views of the earlier Popes who had been more lenient in allowing pagan converts and others who had lapsed from the faith in returning to the Christian faith, belonging to the faction of those who saw themselves as embracing the purer aspect of Christianity. However, the Popes resisted the pressure from these segments, and kept the Church open towards those brethren who had repented their sins and wanting to return after having lapsed from the faith or away for a moment.

Pope St. Pontian was the succeeding Bishop of Rome, of whom St. Hippolytus went up against, as the story went that he was made an antipope against the authority of Pope St. Pontian by his efforts and the support of those who sided and agreed with him. Nonetheless, Pope St. Pontian acted in love and charity, and continued to do his best to bridge the divisions and overcome the misunderstandings within the Church. He led the faithful people of God during the difficult period of external persecution and internal divisions.

Eventually, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus would both be arrested by the authorities and sent into exile, to do hard labour and eventually perished as martyrs both in their exile. But before he died, St. Hippolytus was known to reject his past ideas and opposition against the Popes and the Church attitude, and was reconciled to Pope St. Pontian, dying as a true Christian and defender of the faith together with his former rival and enemy, Pope St. Pontian.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all heed the great examples set by these two saints, that we may emulate them in our own lives. We are all called to seek Him wholeheartedly and commit ourselves anew, to be the faithful, righteous and worthy bearers of His truth and love, His light and hope in our world today. Let us all remember God’s love for us, and learn to love Him and our fellow brothers and sisters ever more in our daily living, now and always. May God be with us all and bless us, forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 13 August 2021 : 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 19 : 3-12

At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus. They wanted to test Him and asked, “Is a man allowed to divorce his wife for any reason he wants?”

Jesus replied, “Have you not read that, in the beginning, the Creator made them male and female? And the Creator said : Therefore, a man shall leave father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body. So, they are no longer two, but one body. Let no one separate what God has joined.”

They asked him, “Then why did Moses command us to write a bill of dismissal in order to divorce?” Jesus replied, “Moses knew the hardness of your hearts, so he allowed you to divorce your wives; but it was not so in the beginning. Therefore, I say to you : whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said, “If that is the condition of a married man, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said to them, “Not everybody can accept what you have just said, but only those who have received this gift. There are eunuchs born so, from their mother’s womb. Some have been made that way by others. But there are some who have given up the possibility of marriage, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who can accept it, accept it.”

Friday, 13 August 2021 : 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)

Psalm 135 : 1, 2, 3, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 24

Alleluia! Give thanks to YHVH, for He is good, His kindness endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods, His kindness endures forever.

Give thanks to YHVH of Lords, His kindness endures forever.

He led His people through the desert, His kindness endures forever.

He struck down great kings, His kindness endures forever.

And He killed mighty kings, His kindness endures forever.

He gave their land as an inheritance, His kindness endures forever.

A heritage to Israel His servant, His kindness endures forever.

And He freed us from our oppressors, His kindness endures forever.

Friday, 13 August 2021 : 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)

Joshua 24 : 1-13

Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel in Shechem, and assembled the elders, leaders, judges and secretaries. And together they presented themselves before God.

Addressing the people, Joshua said to them : “YHVH, the God of Israel, commands me to say to you : Your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River – Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor – serving other gods. But I brought Abraham your father from beyond the Euphrates and led him through the whole land of Canaan.”

“Then I gave him a son Isaac, that he might have numerous descendants. And to Isaac, I gave two sons : Esau and Jacob. Esau received the mountains of Seir as his inheritance, while Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron to punish Egypt in the way that you know, that you might leave.”

“Then I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and you came to the sea. The Egyptians pursued you with chariots and horses as far as the Red Sea. Then you cried to YHVH, and He put immense darkness between you and the Egyptians. He made the sea go back on them and they were drowned. You have witnessed all the things He did in Egypt, and then you lived in the desert for a long time.”

“Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites who were on the east of the Jordan. You fought them but it was I Who gave them into your hand; you destroyed them and you seized their lands. Balak, the son of Zippor, king of Moab, declared war on Israel and commanded Balaam son of Beor to curse you. But I would not listen to him, so Balaam blessed you and I saved you from the hands of Balak.”

“Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the landlords of Jericho fought against you : the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites declared war on you, but I gave them to you. The two Amorite kings fled from you because of the swarm of hornets that attacked them and not because of your sword and bow.”

“I gave you lands which you have not tilled, cities which you did not build but in which you now live. I gave you vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant but from which you now eat.”

Wednesday, 21 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture reminding us that God has sowed the seeds of faith in all of us, and through what He has sown and nurtured in us, He hopes to see all of us to grow wonderfully and to bear fruits, rich and plentiful, and not being barren or unproductive. This is what we are being reminded of as we recall the Scripture readings that we have just heard being proclaimed earlier on.

In our first reading today, we heard the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt, as they began their journey through the desert towards the Promised Land of Canaan, the lands of their ancestors, and a land overflowing in much riches, in milk and honey, in food and prosperity. Yet, at that time, in the desert, where the Israelites were journeying through, there were no food or provisions, in a place where life can scarcely persevere or survive. They were grumbling and complaining against the Lord because they did not have much to eat.

That was where the Lord showed His love and His might before all of His people. Through Moses He told them all that He would provide for them and for all their needs, that they would indeed know who it is that really cared for them, and how He remained with them and would journey with them together to the promised land. He gave them the manna, the bread from heaven, for them to eat on every single day. When the Israelites complained that while they were enslaved yet they enjoyed good and enough food to eat in Egypt, the Lord ‘sowed’ the very desert with the manna.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are to link what we heard from the Book of Exodus to the Gospel passage today, the manner in which the manna appeared before the people of Israel was almost like that of seeds being sown, as the manna were collected from the ground as the morning mist and dew settled, on every single day save for the Sabbath day. Hence, in a way we can see how even the desert itself bore fruits as the Lord sowed the manna there, and through that, the Israelites had food to eat for the entirety of their journey, which lasted a whole forty years long.

In our Gospel passage today, then we have heard the famous parable of the sower, which many of surely have heard and known about. The parable of the sower was used by the Lord to teach the people and reveal to them how He has given them the gift of faith, to each and every one of them, and how He then expects each and every one of them to nurture those gifts. The sower spread his seeds in many places, and the various seeds ended up and landed in different types of soils.

In all those different conditions where the seeds landed in, only the seeds that landed on the rich and fertile soil managed to grow and produce rich and bountiful products, while those seeds that fell by the roadside, or among the thistles and brambles, or on the rocky grounds, all failed to germinate and grow, or failed to stay alive, and were eliminated as a result. This represents all those, according to the Lord’s own explanation, who have received the gift of faith, and yet failed to fully internalise those gifts and failed to do what they ought to do to make those gifts of faith bear fruit.

Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because too often we depended on our own strength and on our own way of thinking, rather than entrusting ourselves to the Lord and putting our faith in Him. Like the Israelites of old, they were easily swayed by the temptations of hunger and worldly desires, by pleasures and other comforts to abandon and even betray the Lord, for pagan idols like that of the renowned golden calf idol that they made as god over themselves despite having seen and known what God had done for them.

This is why we need to trust in the Lord, as if God was able to provide food and ample sustenance to the whole multitude of over six hundred thousand Israelites through the desert for over forty years without fail, then everything is also possible for us. If we live with God as the centre and focus of our lives, and with Him as our God and our source of strength, then we shall not find ourselves failing in the end. We may indeed struggle and face challenges and temptations to give up and to abandon our faith, but if we remain firmly focused on the Lord, we shall be able to persevere, just as how our many predecessors had done.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, one of those predecessors of ours whose life and dedication can become great inspiration and guide for us on how we ourselves can lead a life that is dedicated and committed to God. St. Lawrence of Brindisi was a great priest and missionary, who as a Capuchin priest reached out to many of the Jews and the Protestants during the height of the then Counter-Reformation, which through his great piety and charism, managed to lead a great number of people to the true faith and the Church.

He dedicated much of his life and efforts to advance the cause of the Lord, and was renowned for his writings and works, his works on theology and the nature of faith which inspired many others through the subsequent years and centuries. St. Lawrence of Brindisi showed us all how as Christians we can walk in the path of the Lord and remained faithful to Him, and through our examples, we can even inspire many others, our fellow brothers and sisters, to lead a holy Christian life and help many more people in their journey towards God and His salvation.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen our faith, that we may always be ever courageous and committed to Him, to live our lives as Christians to the fullest and to bear rich fruits of our faith, in the manner that the Lord had described in the parable of the sower. Through our efforts, we may inspire so many others to turn towards the Lord, and hence, by those efforts, we bear many multitudes of rich and genuine fruits of the faith, for the greater glory of God. May God bless us all in our every efforts and good endeavours. Amen.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Matthew 13 : 1-9

At that time, that same day, Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. Many people gathered around Him. So He got into a boat, and sat down, while the crowds stood on the shore; and He spoke to them in parables about many things.

Jesus said, “The sower went out to sow; and, as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path; and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly, because the soil was not deep. But as soon as the sun rose, the plants were scorched; and they withered, because they had no roots.”

“Again, other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. Still, other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop : some a hundredfold, others sixty, and others thirty. If you have ears, then hear!”

Wednesday, 21 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Psalm 77 : 18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28

The people of God tested Him, demanding the food they craved. They blasphemed against God, saying : “Can God spread a table in the desert?”

Yet, He commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; He rained down manna upon them, and fed them with the heavenly grain.

They ate and had more than their fill of the bread of Angels. Then, from heaven He stirred the east wind, and, by His power, let loose the south wind.

To rain down meat on them like dust. Birds as thick as the sand on the seashore fell inside their camp, lying all around their tents.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Exodus 16 : 1-5, 9-15

The Israelites left Elim and the entire community reached the desert of Sin, between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after leaving Egypt. In the desert the whole community of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of YHVH in Egypt when we sat down to caldrons of meat and ate all the bread we wanted, whereas you have brought us to this desert to let the whole assembly die of starvation!”

YHVH then said to Moses, “Now I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to gather what is needed for that day. In this way I will test them to see if they will follow My Teaching or not. On the sixth day when they prepare what they have brought in, they will find that there is twice as much as they gather each day.”

Then Moses directed Aaron to say to the whole community of Israel, “Draw near to YHVH for He has heard your complaints.” It happened that as Aaron was speaking to the full assembly of Israel, they turned towards the desert and saw the Glory of YHVH in the midst of the cloud.

Then YHVH spoke to Moses, “I have heard the complaints of Israel. Speak to them and say : Between the two evenings you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have bread to your heart’s content; then you shall know that I am YHVH, your God!”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp. And in the morning, dew had fallen around the camp. When the dew lifted, there was on the surface of the desert a thin crust like hoarfrost. The people of Israel upon seeing it said to one another, “What is it?” for they did not know what it was. Moses told them, “It is the bread that YHVH has given you to eat.”

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.