Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard of the exchange between both the prophet Samuel and the people of Israel on the matter of kingship in our first reading today, and then the well-known story of how the Lord Jesus healed a paralytic man brought to Him through the roof in our Gospel today and also how the Pharisees in the crowd immediately criticised Him for His actions.

In what we have heard through our Scripture readings today, we can see then how we mankind often preferred to follow our own path and refuse to listen to God and His reminders for us. That is quite evident in what we have heard in our passages today, as the Israelites hardened their hearts and continued to insist to have a king over themselves just as their neighbours did, when the prophet Samuel had spent quite a considerable effort in trying to persuade them to rethink their choice.

The prophet Samuel presented to the people such a convincing argument, stating how God Himself was their one and only true King, and thus it was unnecessary for them to have a man as a king over them like their neighbours did. God has appointed the Judges to be His intermediaries and as the ones through whom God would act to lead His people, but it was those same people who constantly disobeyed and refused to believe in God and preferred to walk their own paths.

And they wanted to have a king over them most likely because they wanted someone who could make their country to be more prestigious and respected, to be an equal and like those of their neighbours, a king who could lead them to war and win against their enemies. More importantly, some of them probably wanted to benefit from having a king over them, as they could probably work to be in favour of the king for their own desires and benefits.

That was why they ignored all of Samuel’s warnings and advices in saying how those kings they wanted could abuse their power and authority to oppress them and make their lives difficult for the selfishness and ego of those same kings mentioned. And that was how the kings led the people down the path of sin and disobedience which eventually caused the downfall of Israel and its people, although there were indeed quite a few kings who were great and faithful too, like David and Solomon for most of the latter’s reign.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard yet another, related example of how we mankind preferred our own judgment and selfish desires rather than to listen to God. I am referring to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were there when the Lord Jesus healed the paralytic man. They criticised Jesus when they heard the Lord healing the paralytic by saying that his sins had been forgiven. They refused to believe that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah despite all the signs and the wonders they had seen before their own eyes.

They preferred to trust in their own way of thinking and prejudices, seeing the Lord as an upstart and even a heretic by saying that He could forgive sins. They thought that only God alone could forgive sins and not the Man they saw healing the paralytic before them. If only that they opened their eyes, not just their physical eyes but also the eyes of their hearts and minds; and see the truth that Jesus is none other than God Himself, incarnate in the flesh as Man, as He has mentioned but they refused to believe, and as the prophets had said, but again they refused to listen to.

And there was the King Himself, as I said earlier how God is the true King of Israel, and thus, Jesus is indeed King over His people, not just because He is God incarnate, but also even more so because He was born into the House of David as his descendant, fulfilling the promise that God Himself made to David that his house will remain on the throne and as kings forever. It is in Jesus Christ that the Lord has once again fully reclaimed His right to be the inviolable and true King of His people.

But the people refused to believe even in their King and again preferred to believe in their own judgment and strength, in their own intellect and power. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were concerned about maintaining their reach and influence, their prestige and honourable position within the community, and that was why they viewed the Lord Jesus as well as His disciples as rivals and threats to their own security and status, and they allowed these concerns and desires to cloud their judgment.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are all called to reflect on our lives based on what we have heard in our Scripture passages today. Indeed, we can see just how we mankind easily succumb to the temptations of this world, the temptations of wealth, power, influence, fame, pleasure and many others that we crave and want. And in the process we lose ourselves and our direction in life and fall into the trap set by the devil and all seeking our ruination and defeat.

Today, we should therefore look upon the examples of faith set by St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as St. Anthony the Great, a renowned monk and ascetic who was remembered as among the first of those who dedicated themselves so completely and wholeheartedly to the Lord in the unique calling of monkhood and contemplative lifestyle in the desert. St. Anthony the Abbot left behind everything in the world early on in his life after his parents passed away, and went to the wilderness.

There in the wilderness, St. Anthony sought God and focused his attention on Him, while being constantly tempted by the demons and evil spirits who sought to turn him away from the path towards God. He led a very strict ascetic lifestyle and resisted the temptation of worldliness and although the demons tried to dissuade him by many means, they eventually failed to do so. The example of St. Anthony became well-known and quite a few others came to join in his way of life as well.

What St. Anthony taught us all is that, contrary to how our many predecessors have behaved, in turning their backs against God and betraying Him for the comfort of this world, succumbing to the temptations of pride, power, desire, wealth and glory, we can indeed be faithful to God and stay on the path that He has shown us. We do not need to follow exactly what St. Anthony had done in abandoning everything and becoming an ascetic. Instead, what we are called to do is for us to trust in God more and to truly honour Him as how we should honour our Lord and King.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore strive to serve the Lord from now on to the best of our abilities, by placing Him once again at the very centre of our lives and existence, as the King of our hearts, our minds and indeed, our entire beings. Let us no longer be deceived by the devil and be distracted by the many temptations with which he tried to persuade us to abandon God and trap us into our downfall.

May the Lord our loving God, our mighty King, through the intercession of St. Anthony the Abbot continue to bless us and guide us all in our respective journeys of faith. May He be with us always now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 2 : 1-12

At that time, after some days, Jesus returned to Capernaum. As the news spread that He was in the house, so many people gathered, that there was no longer room even outside the door. While Jesus was preaching the word to them, some people brought to Him a paralysed man.

The four men who carried him could not get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they opened the roof above the room where Jesus was and, through the hole, lowered the man on his mat. When Jesus saw the faith of these people, He said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, some teachers of the Law, who were sitting there, wondered within themselves, “How can He speak like this, insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?” At once, Jesus knew in His Spirit what they were thinking, and asked, “Why do you wonder? Is it easier to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk?’ But now you shall know, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

And He said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take up your mat and go home.” The man rose and, in the sight of all those people, he took up his mat and went out. All of them were astonished and praised God, saying, “Never have we seen anything like this!”

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 88 : 16-17, 18-19

Blessed is the people who know Your praise. They walk in the light of Your face. They celebrate all day, Your Name and Your protection lifts them up.

You give us glory and power; and Your favour gives us victory. Our king is in the hands of YHVH; the God of Israel is our shield.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Samuel 8 : 4-7, 10-22a

Because of this, all the chiefs of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel in Ramah. They said to him, “You are already old and your sons are not following your ways. Give us a king to rule over us as in all the other nations.”

Samuel was very displeased with what they said, “Give us a king to rule us,” and he prayed to YHVH. And YHVH told him, “Give to this people all that they ask for.” So Samuel answered those who were asking him for a king. He told them all that YHVH said to him, “Look, these will be the demands of your king : he will take your sons and assign them to his chariot and his horses and have them run before his chariot.”

“Some he will assign as commanders over a thousand men and commanders over fifty. Others will till his ground and reap his harvest, make his implements of war and the equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as well to prepare perfumes, to cook and to bake for him. He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards and your olive orchards and give them to his officials.”

“He will take a tenth portion of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, the best of your cattle and your asses for his own work. He will take the tenth of your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When these things happen, you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen for yourselves. But by then, YHVH will not answer you.”

The people paid no attention to all that Samuel said. They insisted, “No! We want a king to govern us as in all the other nations. Our king shall govern us, lead us and go ahead of us in our battles.” Upon hearing all that his people said, Samuel repeated it to YHVH. But YHVH said to him, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Tuesday, 27 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture which continues to remind us of the dangers of having this faith in God and not understanding what our faith is truly about. In the Gospel passage, we heard therefore the continuation of yesterday’s rebuke made by the Lord Jesus against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who had persistently opposed His good works among the people and misled the people with the way they observed and enforced the Law of God.

For the context, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often focused on the external appearances and external applications of rules, laws, customs and rituals pertaining to the customs of the people of Israel as handed down from Moses and through many generations, being modified and adjusted, and changed to the point that the laws and customs as how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law practiced them were no longer reflecting the true intention and purpose of the original and true Law of God.

They practiced the Law and observed the precepts and customs with the intention of being honoured and praised for their piety and devotion, and the Lord rebuked them for being superficial and shallow, because they focused on appearances and external applications of the Law, which means that they took on the literal meaning and understanding of the Law rather than the true spirit and meaning of the Law of God.

They focused on the wrong things and instead of leading the people to become ever closer to God and to turn away from their sinful ways and love God more, they ended up turning inwards into their own worst enemies, their own pride and ego, their ambitions and worldly desires, wanting to be glorified and honoured for their obedience to the Law and for their exemplary faith, and their faith became one for show rather than genuine faith.

This is what the Lord rebuked them for, to remind them and also all of us not to follow that same path towards sin, and deeper into sin still. Rather, He has called us to break away from these wrong paths and to resist the temptations of worldly glory, from the pull and allure of our ego and pride, from our greed and the desires of our body and the flesh, for worldly pleasure, for acclaim, fame and adulation, for honour and glory.

Today, we celebrate the feast day of one renowned servant of God, whose story and life together with that of her son can encourage us all to be more courageous in living our lives with faith. St. Monica is a Roman Christian woman who was married to a pagan, and together they had a son, named Augustine, later to be known as St. Augustine of Hippo. Tomorrow we shall celebrate the feast of this saint, the son of St. Monica.

The two saints were celebrated side by side during two days because through the dedication which St. Monica had for her son, it was what made her son turn away from the path of sin and into the glory of heaven as a saint. For St. Augustine once led a debauched and sinful life, following pagan gods of Manichaeism and even had an adulterous relationship with a woman, before eventually, through the ceaseless prayers made by St. Monica, his mother, not only that St. Augustine was converted, but even her husband also turned to the faith before he passed on.

St. Monica lived her whole life virtuously and she dedicated herself just to two, first and foremost to God, of course, and then to her son, St. Augustine of Hippo. She showed us all what it truly means to be faithful to God, to show love first and foremost to God and then to her fellow men. She was known as a charitable and generous person in life, and her examples should inspire us to do the same in our own lives.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to live our lives in the same manner as St. Monica has lived hers? Are we able to live our lives with genuine faith and not just for appearances or for formality as what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done? We are challenged to rethink the way we have lived our lives thus far, and realign them with God’s way. He is showing us the way forward and we should trust Him to lead us on this journey of faith.

May the Lord through the intercession of His faithful servant, St. Monica help us all to turn away from our many temptations in life, and be more faithful to Him from now on. May He strengthen us all to live in faith more courageously, and be genuine in our love that in our every words, deeds and actions, we will glorify God and do everything out of love for Him and not for our own selfish gains and personal desires. May God bless us all and our every good works in His Name. Amen.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 23 : 23-26

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You do not forget the mint, anise and cumin seeds when you demand the tenth of everything; but then, you forget what is most fundamental in the Law : justice, mercy and faith! You should have done these things without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a mosquito, but swallow a camel.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You fill the plate and the cup, with theft and violence, and then pronounce a blessing over them. Blind Pharisee! Purify the inside first, then the outside, too, will be purified.”

Tuesday, 27 August 2019 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Monica (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 138 : 1-3, 4-6

O YHVH, You know me : You have scrutinised me. You know when I sit and when I rise; beforehand, You discern my thoughts. You observe my activities and times of rest; You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is formed in my mouth, You know what it is all about, o YHVH. From front to back You hedge me round, shielding me with Your protecting hand. Your knowledge leaves me astounded, it is too high for me to reach.