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.”

Thursday, 23 February 2017 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard a very clear call through the Sacred Scripture passages, for us to repent from our sinfulness, reject our wayward path of life, and make a turnaround to follow the Lord our God with all our heart and strength, following Him with all sincerity and commitment. This is what the Lord had called us all to do, and we really should go and listen to what He had said.

Sin is something that had become a difficult and persistent stumbling block on our path, which is due to our disobedience and refusal to obey to the Lord and His ways. And all of these were born from our own human sense of pride, of arrogance and greed, as the prophet Sirach mentioned in our first reading today, as a series of warnings for us, not to be haughty and be overconfident, thinking that nothing can harm us.

Indeed, while God loves each and every one of us, but sin is one thing that God does not love from us. Truly, sin is an abomination in His sight, and it is because of our sins that we have suffered the consequences of those sins. We have been sundered from the grace of God, and because of that, we should have fallen into hell, and we should have faced the consequences for sin, that is death and eternal suffering, an eternity of suffering and despair out of which their is no hope for escape.

That is why the Lord sent His many messengers, prophets and servants to help guide His people, that is all of us, so that as many as possible among them might be saved. And we know just so much that God loves us to the point that He did the most extraordinary thing of all, that is to give His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Divine Word of God, to us as our Saviour and our Hope.

Through Jesus His Son, God had revealed to us the importance for us to reject sin, as we heard it in the Gospel passage today. Jesus was speaking about maintaining the purity of our beings, our hearts, minds and all things, also in our physical bodies and flesh alike. But we must be careful not to misunderstand and misinterpret what He had said, as we cannot take things literally as He had said.

Why is that so? That is because certainly each and every one of us have been tempted through our various senses and parts of our bodies, and if we really literally follow through what Jesus had said, then just imagine how many people out there would be blinded or with just one eye, disabled and debilitated, with no arms or with no legs, just because we misunderstood the true intention of the Lord.

What the Lord wanted from us is for us to resist the temptations to sin, to restrain ourselves and not to give in to the pressure either from the outside or from the inside to sin. It is part of our nature to experience that desire and the temptation to sin and commit things that are not in accordance with what the Lord had taught us, but we ourselves are also able to consciously reject the advances of those temptations, and rebuke Satan and all of his attempts to subvert us to sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is where we really need to be prepared and we cannot be lax in our spiritual discipline. We cannot be like those who think that they have all the time in the world, and that they are free to enjoy the world and all of its goodness in whatever ways they like, even if in the process they fall into debauchery and wickedness.

We need to prepare ourselves, as when the Lord comes to seek the reckoning for each one of us, at the timing that He alone knows, then we must be prepared. Certainly, I am sure that we do not want to regret when the time of reckoning comes, and we end up among those whom God will condemn and reject, as sinners and wicked people.

Perhaps, it would be good for us to follow in the footsteps of St. Polycarp, the holy saint whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Polycarp was one of the disciples of the Apostles St. John who was one of the bishops of the early Church, whose contributions was crucial for the foundation and the strengthening of the early Church and the early Christian communities.

It was told that he was a convert to the faith, and he devoted his whole life to the service of the Church and God’s people, even though there were many difficulties facing the faithful people of God, due to the opposition and persecution by the state against the Christian faith. Eventually he was arrested and tortured, given a choice between betraying his faith and living, and standing by his faith and dying in painful agony.

St. Polycarp was not deterred by that temptation to abandon the Lord and preserve himself. Rather, he proclaimed courageously his faith in God before all those who were present at his trial, and stood by his faith among all the other people who had been arrested with him for their faith. As the shepherd of the flock, he had shown good examples for his people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should emulate the good examples of St. Polycarp in our own daily life. Let us all commit ourselves to the Lord, reject all forms of sin and temptations, so that we may grow ever closer to God and find our way to Him. May all of us draw closer to God and be reconciled with Him, through our actions and deeds that show our faith to Him at all times. May God be with us all, and may St. Polycarp intercede for us sinners. Amen.

Thursday, 23 February 2017 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Mark 9 : 41-50

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone gives you a drink of water because you belong to Christ and bear His Name, truly, I say to you, he will not go without reward. If anyone should cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble and sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a great millstone around his neck.”

“If your hand makes you fall into sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life without a hand, than with two hands to go to hell, to the fire that never goes out. And if your foot makes you fall into sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life without a foot, than with both feet to be thrown into hell.”

“And if your eye makes you fall into sin, tear it out! It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, keeping both eyes, to be thrown into hell, where the worms that eat them never die, and the fire never goes out. The fire itself will preserve them.”

“Salt is a good thing; but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.”

Thursday, 23 February 2017 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the one who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the law of the Lord and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.