Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures we are brought to focus our attention to the commandments and Law of God. The Lord has given us His laws and commandments, revealing to us and teaching us how we ought to live our lives in this world so that we may walk faithfully in His path and be righteous as we should have as Christians, God’s faithful ones.

From the Book of Deuteronomy, we are all reminded that the Law of God must be an important part of life which we obey, follow and practice in all aspects of our lives so that by our actions we may indeed prove that we truly belong to God and God really is the centre and focus of our lives and existence. And we are also reminded that obeying the Law and following the commandments of God must be centred on one very fundamental aspect, that is love. Without love, one cannot claim to be obedient to the Law of God.

It is the same sentiment and idea that our Gospel passage has shown us, as in that passage we heard the Lord Jesus Himself teaching His disciples and the people on the importance of love, and in fact not just any kind of love, but love that is pure, selfless, unbiased and non-judgmental or prejudiced, love that does not discriminate against anyone but one that is established and anchored on the wonderful love of God. This is what the Lord wants us to know and implement in our own lives.

In that Gospel passage the Lord said how as Christians all of us are challenged not just to love those who have already loved us, but also to love even those who have not loved us, those who hated us, those who persecuted us and are prejudiced and biased against us. He asked us all to show love even to all these people who have not been kind to us and who will likely not respond to our love in kind. That is what true love is all about, the love that expects no returns and love that is genuine and not because of desire for returns and reciprocity.

The reality is that many of us treat love as something that we expect things in return, even to the point of being transactional in nature. We often love because we feel happy because of it and we seek to gain satisfaction, joy and pleasure out of that love. The moment that challenges, trials and disagreements begin to appear, then our love fades and turns into bickering and even hatred. This was also why so many marriages ended in failure, relationships ended up being broken and divorces and broken families soared, all because of our selfish love.

Now, all of us are called to embrace God’s love, which is selfless and giving rather than selfish and receiving or expecting. And the Lord Himself had shown us this love by His own example, as He laid hung on the Cross, selflessly bearing for our sake all of our sins and their punishments, to suffer instead of us so that by His loving sacrifice, He may deliver us all from our sins and therefore bring us into salvation and eternal life.

It is what He meant when He said that God loves us all, and show His love even to those who are wicked and evil, by giving them His blessings and wonders even though those people have sinned against Him. Let us all not forget that the Lord Jesus Himself forgave all of His enemies and all those who persecuted Him and condemned Him to die on the Cross, praying that they were not to be held accountable for what they had done to Him on that day.

That is what we are all called to do, brothers and sisters in Christ, to show our pure, selfless and genuine love to one another, even to those who have made our lives difficult or even those who hated us and were prejudiced against us. Indeed, this is easier said that done, and it is important that we realise how we will definitely encounter challenges and difficulties, as well as temptations to hate and to be selfish, but as Christians, are we able to strive to be more loving as Our Lord Himself had done?

Today we also celebrate the feast of two famous saints and martyrs of the Church, two holy women, St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. St. Perpetua was a Roman young woman who became a Christian, but faced opposition from his own father who wanted her to recant her faith. Despite her persecution and being put in prison, St. Perpetua remained faithful to God and refused to recant her faith. In prison, St. Perpetua encountered a slave woman, a Christian named St. Felicity. St. Felicity gave birth to a daughter just before her martyrdom with St. Perpetua and some other Christians.

In the end, both St. Perpetua and St. Felicity remained faithful to the very end, and together with several other Christians, were thrown into the Colosseum and died in martyrdom against the terrible beasts used in the gladiatorial fights by the Romans. And we can see how both St. Perpetua and St. Felicity were filled with God’s love, love that is both selfless and giving, for they did not expect anything in return for their love towards God. Had they expected things in return for their faith, they would have abandoned their faith easily in the face of trials, persecutions and certain death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, inspired by the good faith and loving examples of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, and even more so, Our Lord Himself Who died for us on the Cross, let us all devote ourselves anew to God from now on, and make use of the wonderful opportunities and time given to us, especially in this season of Lent, to learn to love more selflessly and to be more faithful to God, to draw ever closer to Him and to be more righteous in His presence. May God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 43-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You have heard that it was said : Love your neighbour and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you : love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.”

“If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect.”

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 118 : 1-2, 4-5, 7-8

Blessed are they whose ways are upright, who follow the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they who treasure His word and seek Him with all their heart.

You have laid down precepts to be obeyed. O, that my ways were steadfast in observing Your statutes!

I will praise You with an upright spirit when I learn Your just precepts by heart. I mean to observe Your commandments. O, never abandon me.

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 26 : 16-19

On this day, YHVH, your God, commands you to fulfil these norms and these commandments. Obey them now and put them into practice with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today YHVH has declared to you that He will be your God, and so you shall follow His ways, observing His norms, His commandments and His laws, and listening to His voice. Today YHVH has declared that you will be His very own people even as He had promised you, and you must obey all His commandments.

He, for His part, will give you honour, renown and glory, and set you high above all the nations He has made, and you will become a nation consecrated to YHVH, your God, as He has declared.

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.