Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are called by God to leave behind our past lives of sin, of disobedience against God, of rebelliousness and waywardness in life, of all sorts of temptations and things that have separated us from the fullness of God’s love among other things. We are called to embrace instead the fullness of God’s love and mercy as we continue to progress through this blessed season and time of Lent.

The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity through His Church in the institution of the time of Lent to precede the glorious season of Easter as a reminder that all of us are sinners and are in need of purification and change in our way of life. God will guide us in this journey of reconciliation and forgiveness, if we allow Him to guide our path and open our hearts and minds to welcome Him into our midst. On the other hand, if we are stubborn and refuse to change or be open to God, then we will not have any progress in this regard.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us now take a closer look at what we have just heard in our Gospel passage today. In that occasion, the Lord Jesus called a tax collector named Levi to follow Him, and Levi readily obeyed, leaving everything behind, his work and all, and followed Jesus. Then, before he was to proceed, Levi’s fellow tax collectors had a dinner with the Lord, which was frowned upon by the Pharisees who considered the tax collectors as traitors and sinners.

Tax collectors had always been reviled and hated during the time of Jesus because not only that they were the ones who collected the much hated taxes that saw people’s incomes being diminished due to the tax for the state, but even more so because at that time the Roman Empire reigned supreme in the Mediterranean region and including over Judea, Galilee and all the lands of the Israelites, those taxes were levied by the Romans and the tax collectors were seen as traitors to the nation and as collaborators of the Romans.

To that extent, the tax collectors faced not just intense hatred and dislike but also plenty of prejudice and bias against them. They were seen as dirty, unworthy, wicked, corrupt and evil and were generally shunned by the rest of the society. And this is precisely the sentiment made popular and spread by the Pharisees, who saw themselves as the antithesis of those tax collectors, being pious, good and obedient to the Law, as role models for the people and worthy inheritors of God’s promise.

The Pharisees looked down on the tax collectors and they severely criticised the Lord for His willingness to eat in the house of the tax collector and with those tax collectors no less. But they forgot a very important fact, that just like the tax collectors, they themselves were sinners, but unlike the tax collectors who were willing to listen to the Lord Jesus and accepted His truth, the Pharisees instead hardened their hearts and minds and refused to believe in Jesus.

In what the Lord Jesus then spoke before all of them, that He came into this world seeking those who are sick and troubled, as sins are truly the sickness of our deepest beings, corruptions upon our souls, thus, comparing the attitudes of the tax collectors and the Pharisees, we can easily see which of the two would in the end reap the benefit and wonders of God’s mercy and love. The tax collectors though sinners, they wanted to be healed by God and opened themselves to God’s mercy. And one of their own number, Levi, later to be known as Matthew, became a great saint, one of the Lord’s own Twelve Apostles and one of the Four Evangelists.

Meanwhile, the Pharisees, though also sinners, they did not see the depth of their sins and refused the healing that God has offered them. They kept themselves in their pride and refused to allow God’s healing to work in them. Nonetheless, the Lord continued to be patient with them, and we can see how He even forgave them all at the moment of His ultimate suffering on the Cross, asking His heavenly Father to forgive them their sins.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what can we learn from all these? It is the fact that all of us are sinners who have been privileged to have such a loving, caring, compassionate and merciful God, willing to embrace us and to heal us from our afflictions of sin. And we are sinners who have been called to a new existence with God, to embrace a new life filled with God’s grace and free from the corruption of sin. God despises our sins, but not us sinners, and therefore, we should make use of this opportunity especially during this season of Lent, we should draw ourselves closer to God.

May the Lord continue to be with us and watch over us as we journey through life and through this penitential season of Lent. May the Lord bless us and our many good endeavours of faith, and may He strengthen our faith and help us to love Him more and more with each passing moment. Amen.

Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it, that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o YHVH, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life, for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 9b-14

If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist and the wicked word. If you share your food with the hungry and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.

YHVH will guide you always and give you relief in desert places. He will strengthen your bones; He will make you as a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fall. Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, the age-old foundations will be raised. You will be called the Breach-mender, and the Restorer of ruined houses.

If you stop profaning the Sabbath and doing as you please on the holy day, if you call the Sabbath a day of delight and keep sacred YHVH’s holy day, if you honour it by not going your own way, not doing as you please and not speaking with malice, then you will find happiness in YHVH, over the heights you will ride triumphantly, and feast joyfully on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of YHVH has spoken.

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are all reminded that God is so full of love and mercy towards us, that He is willing to forgive us all our sins and to give us once again the wondrous graces and love, the promise of inheritance that we have once been entitled to, through the forgiveness of our sins. Although our sins may have indeed been very great, but God’s love for each one of us is even greater.

That is why He was willing to give it all to us, for our sake, that He willingly carried the heavy burden of the cross, so that by His suffering on the cross and by His death, He frees us all from the bondage of sin and death. The cross of Christ is the perfect symbol and evidence of His love for each one of us, of the great desire which Our Lord has for our salvation and for our turnaround from the path towards damnation, into reconciliation with Him.

God is calling on all of us to repent from our sins, and to turn away from our wicked paths, calling on us to abandon our past ways of disobedience and waywardness, our refusal to listen to Him and our stubbornness in following our own prideful and ambitious ways. God gives us opportunities, one after another, chances after chances, for us to turn back to Him, and to seek Him and His mercy before it is too late for us.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of how the Lord Jesus confronted the Pharisees who criticised Him for His interactions with those whom they deemed to be sinners and to be unworthy of God’s grace and love. The tax collectors were among those who were at the bottom of the society’s regards and status, as they were widely viewed as betrayers and traitors to the nation for having apparently colluded with the Roman overlords.

But the Lord showed pity and mercy towards them, even when the Pharisees were criticising Him before the people for doing so. And the Lord made it clear that He came into the world seeking the healing and forgiveness of sinners, and those whose sins were greater, were those whom the Lord sought first, as He hoped to rescue them from the fate of eternal damnation. And many of the tax collectors were sorrowful and repentant of their sins, and they were forgiven.

And we heard how one among the tax collectors left everything behind and followed the Lord, the man who was known as Levi, later known as St. Matthew the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles and also one of the Four Evangelists. This example shows us how even great sinners can become great saints, as long as they turn away from their sinful ways and sincerely repented from their wickedness. Those who turn towards God and placed their trust in Him will indeed not be disappointed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must realise that none of us are perfect in our ways, and in some way or another, we have not been fully obedient and good, and therefore, sins have corrupted us and caused us to fall deeper and deeper into this trap, and being led further and further away in estrangement from the Lord. We should not follow the examples of the Pharisees, who took great pride in their supposed piety and righteousness.

Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because it does not matter how small or how great our sins are, as the fact remains that we are all sinners in need of healing and forgiveness. And it does not give any one of us the right to condemn or look down on others just because we think that our sins are lighter and smaller than others’ sins. It is not right for us to be judgmental on others just because we think that we are better than them.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Frances of Rome, a holy woman and religious Benedictine oblate who was remembered for her devotion and piety, despite her noble and privileged upbringing. St. Frances of Rome often took care of the sick and the poor that she encountered, and despite the various challenges that she and her family had to experience, she continued to live a holy life that is dedicated to the service of God, and in her charitable love for her brethren who were in need.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we are called to follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, in how they lived their lives with holiness, turning away from sins and wickedness. God is calling each and every one of us to holiness, to be forgiven from our sins, that we may be redeemed from our bondage to that great obstacle which prevented us from being able to be reunited with our God.

Let us all dedicate ourselves anew to the Lord, our time, effort and attention, to love the Lord our God and to serve our fellow brethren, to care for those who are in need. May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us all in our love and dedication for Him. May God bless us all and our good works. Amen.

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 5 : 27-32

At that time, after Jesus healed a paralytic man, He went out, and noticing a tax collector named Levi, sitting in the tax office, He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Levi, leaving everything, got up and followed Jesus.

Levi gave a great feast for Jesus, and many tax collectors came to his house, and took their places at the table with the other people. Then the Pharisees and their followers complained to Jesus’ disciples, “How is it, that you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

But Jesus spoke up, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to a change of heart.”

Saturday, 9 March 2019 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Frances of Rome, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 85 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Listen, o YHVH, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my life, for I am God-fearing; save Your servant who trusts in You.

Have mercy on me, o YHVH, for I cry to You all day. Bring joy to the soul of Your servant; for You, o YHVH, I lift up my soul.

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.