Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard about the salvation of God’s people and how it all depends not on how a person’s current standing or status, but on what the person has done and committed in life. The prophet Ezekiel made it clear through the example of a holy and devout man who sinned, and by whose sins the man would be judged and condemned, as well as sinners who would be redeemed if they would turn away from their sins.

This is related to what we heard in the Gospel passage, regarding the Lord’s teaching to the people about being faithful to God in the right way. The Lord mentioned how the people must be faithful more than how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been faithful in their ways or else they would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God.

In order to appreciate and understand the fullness of the meaning of these Scripture passages, we have to understand the context in which the Lord made such a comment about the two groups of people He mentioned. Otherwise we may end up failing to understand just how important they are to our own salvation and life.

The Pharisees were influential group of people who were highly educated by the standard of the time, as were the teachers of the Law, where the Pharisees were a political grouping of those who favour strict interpretation and enforcement of the laws of Moses among the people. Meanwhile the teachers of the Law taught those laws among the people and interpreted them in accordance to their beliefs.

These two groups of people were often considered pious and authoritative in terms of religion. And they basked in the praise and adulation they received from the people, even expecting them to follow what they were doing. But many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not observe the Law for the right reasons. They did them to garner support and praise, and to advance their prestige and status rather than any genuine faith in God.

That was why the Lord often rebuked them for their hypocrisy in faith, saying to the people one thing and yet doing it in an entirely different manner and for different purpose. They expect the people to obey their strict interpretation of the laws of Moses, and yet, they did not perform their observances for the right reasons as mentioned. Is this what we have also done with our own lives? Remember what the prophet Ezekiel said, that even those who were considered pious will be judged should they fall into sin, exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to be true disciples of the Lord, following and obeying what the Lord had taught us to do. We should not become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who did not follow the laws and commandments for the right reasons. When we follow the laws and the teachings of the Church, we must first and foremost do them with God first and foremost in our hearts and minds.

Otherwise, it is easy for us to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into. God calls everyone to be faithful to Him, in their hearts, minds and whole beings. What He told the prophet Ezekiel is a reminder for us that no one is beyond God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Even sinners, as all of us are, will be made and considered righteous for whatever good deeds we do in our lives, done with the right purpose and intention, that is with the intention of the greater glory of God.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Polycarp, holy bishop and martyr of the Faith. He was a bishop of the early Church, who led the faithful and God’s flock in the region of Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was a faithful successor of the Apostles, who converted many to the faith by his teachings and exemplary faith. He helped the spiritual growth of many people, and was martyred in his old age after many years of service, having refused to offer incense to the Roman Emperor who was then worshipped like a god.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to do what the faithful St. Polycarp and our holy predecessors, the saints and martyrs had done. We have to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, without being distracted by our worldly concerns and desires. We must learn to let go of our pride, our human desires and greed, and learn to put God first and ourselves second. Otherwise, we will end up like those who put their own interests ahead of God’s interests, and thus likely to fall into sin.

Let us all renew our faith, that we may live ever more faithfully day after day, in accordance with the way that the Lord has shown us, following in the footsteps of the saints, particularly remembering the memory of the good and faithful St. Polycarp the bishop and martyr. May the Lord strengthen our faith, and give us the courage to live our lives ever more in accordance with His will. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 20-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you then, if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to our people in the past : Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you : whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial.”

“Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or a sister, ‘Fool!’ deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell. So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”

“Do not forget this : be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.”

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8

Out of the depths I cry to You, o Lord, o Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness.

For that You are revered. I waited for the Lord, my soul waits, and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects the Lord more than watchmen the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with Him is unfailing love and with Him full deliverance. He will deliver Israel from all its sins.

Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Ezekiel 18 : 21-28

If the sinner turns from his sin, observes My decrees and practices what is right and just, he will live, he will not die. None of the sins he committed will be charged against him, he will live as a consequence of his righteous deeds. Do I want the death of the sinner? – word of YHVH. Do I not rather want him to turn from his ways and live?

But if the righteous man turns away from what is good and commits sins as the wicked do, will he live? His righteous deeds will no longer be credited to him, but he will die because of his infidelity and his sins. But you say : YHVH’s way is not just! Why, Israel! Is My position wrong? Is it not rather that yours is wrong?”

“If the righteous man dies after turning from his righteous deeds and sinning, he dies because of his sins. And if the wicked man does what is good and right, after turning from the sins he committed, he will save his life. He will live and not die, because he has opened his eyes and turned from the sins he had committed.”

Monday, 5 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the moment when the House of God, the magnificent Temple built by Solomon, the king of Israel, was completed and consecrated to the Lord. The Temple was meant to be the dwelling of God among His people, as the Ark of the Covenant bearing the Tablets of the Law was placed in the holiest part of that edifice, and as we heard in the passage today, God Himself came down to dwell among His people.

The grand celebration that followed the completion and consecration of the Temple was truly amazing, as we were told how thousands upon thousands of sacrificial offerings were made, and many days of celebrations followed after the main celebration, with feast, revelry and rejoicing among the people. Such was the grand spectacle of the celebrations that came with the opening of the House of God. And God Himself came to dwell among His people.

However, unfortunately, for all of its amazing architecture and grandeur, the people of God did not remain faithful to Him. Even king Solomon himself would fall into sin and led the people into the worship of the pagan gods and idols. And many successive kings of Judah would continue to sin against God, and doing what were wicked in God’s sight. The Temple was defiled in multiple occasions, and eventually, it was destroyed by the Babylonians at the end of the kingdom of Judah.

But God did not give up on His people, despite having punished them for their lack of faith and waywardness. He gave them opportunity after opportunity to repent from their sins, and He sent them prophets after prophets to call them to turn away from their wickedness. In the end, He fulfilled His promise to us, by sending us the Saviour, in Jesus Christ His Son, Whose works and exploits we heard in our Gospel passage today.

If God once came down to dwell in a House made from gold and finest timber wood, to dwell among His people, then, He had come by Himself in the flesh, in the Real Presence, as the Divine Himself has become tangible and real, no longer hidden from our sight, but revealed to all the people who witnessed His coming, and to many others who knew Him because of the testimony made by all those who saw His coming.

God loves each and every one of us, His beloved children. He has not abandoned us when we are in need, and He always provided for us through His love. However, many of us have not realised that we have been receiving this generous love all these while. And we continue to sin before God, rebelling against Him and by our disobedience we defiled the Temple of His Holy Presence, our bodies, minds, hearts and souls.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, through the Sacrament of Baptism we have been made nothing less than God’s own adopted sons and daughters. And by receiving the Eucharist, we have received the Real Presence of Our Lord in His Most Precious Body and Blood into our bodies, and therefore we have become God’s holy Temple, the Houses in which He dwells.

Yet, many of us defiled this House by our sins and wickedness, by our refusal to listen to the Lord and to His ways. Instead, we rather chose to continue down the path of sin, and immerse ourselves deeper and deeper into the trap laid unto our path by Satan. There are all sorts of defilements and wicked things we have done, by indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, immoral behaviour, corruption and collusion, by our allowance of the devil to come into our lives.

If we continue to do so, we will be destroyed because of our great sin of having defiled the Temple and House of God that is our body, our heart, our mind, our soul, and indeed, our whole being. Is it what we want to happen to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Surely we do not want it to happen. I am sure that we want to be forgiven our sins instead and want to be reconciled with God.

However, all these will not come to us easily and without challenges. There will be plenty of opposition, difficulties and suffering, and without perseverance and strong courage and commitment, many of us will falter along the way. Many of our holy and devoted predecessors have suffered similarly, even to the point of suffering death. St. Agatha, the saint whose memory we celebrate today, is one of them.

St. Agatha was a native of Sicily and one of the most venerated martyrs of the Roman Empire. She lived during particularly difficult time in the history of the Church, as the Roman state and the authorities actively persecuted Christians and destroyed many of the churches established throughout the Empire, especially under the Emperor Decius. It was told that St. Agatha devoted herself completely to God, living a life of holy virginity consecrated to God.

She rejected the amorous advances of a corrupt and pagan official who was enamoured by her beauty, and the official in his anger, reported St. Agatha to the authorities, who arrested her and tortured her. Despite all that they had done, and all the pains inflicted upon her, she remained strong in her convictions and she refused to abandon her faith in her God. She was martyred defending her faith, and her commitment and courage to the very end inspired many of the Christians generations after her.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on these which we have just discussed and remember the examples of St. Agatha, her courage and determination to remain true to her faith and obey the Lord despite the temptations and pressures to do otherwise. May the Lord give us the strength to persevere in our own faith journey, that we may draw ever closer to Him. May God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 5 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 53-56

At that time, having crossed the lake, Jesus and His disciples came ashore at Gennesaret, where they tied up the boat. As soon as they landed, people recognised Jesus, and ran to spread the news throughout the countryside.

Wherever He was, they brought to Him the sick lying on their mats; and wherever He went, to villages, towns or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplace, and begged Him to let them touch just the fringe of His cloak. And all who touched Him were cured.

Monday, 5 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 131 : 6-7, 8-10

The Ark is in Ephrata, we found it in the fields of Jaar. Let us go to where He dwells and worship at His footstool!

Arise, o YHVH, and come to Your rest; You, and the Ark of Your might. May Your priests be arrayed in glorious mantle; may Your faithful ones shout in gladness. For the sake of Your servant, David, do not turn away the face of Your Anointed.