Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the passages from the Scripture, speaking to us about obeying the laws and commandments set by God and which He has revealed to us, His beloved people. God has set those laws and commandments that we may walk in the right paths and do what is pleasing to Him, and as we have been made God’s own people, and adopted as His own children, we must do what God, Our Lord and Our Father, has done and taught us.

But what does it mean for us to obey God’s laws and commandments? What is it like for us to be truly faithful to Him? Is it that we have to follow the rules and regulations as set by the Church and all of the teachings passed down unto us through the bishops and the priests? Is it that we have to attend and participate in the Mass every Sundays and also on the days of obligation as set by the Church?

If we have done all of these and nothing else, then I am afraid that we may not have gotten the essence of what it truly means to be Christians. It does not mean that we should not have done what we have done. In fact, it is absolutely necessary that we fulfil our obligations to the rules and the requirements that the Church has clearly stated for us. However, have we done our duty as Christians and fulfilled our obligations with the right purpose and intention in mind?

If we did not do all our actions with the right purpose and intention, even if we obey the Lord’s laws and commandments, it is likely that we will end up getting no better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, those whom the Lord Jesus rebuked and condemned for their hypocrisy and lack fo faith, as they obeyed the laws and commandments, and in fact, strictly enforced a rigid and excessive obedience to the laws as taught by Moses and preserved by the elders of Israel.

But they have not done these for the greater glory of God, or because they truly love God or His people. They did not have God or His people in their minds, and they even misused their authority to gain more prestige, power and approval for themselves. Whatever they have done, have not been considered to be righteous in the sight of God, but instead wicked and sinful, as God is not at the forefront of their minds.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that we need to do, with our lives, that we may be faithful to the Lord in all the things that we do? We have to realise that the Law of God is not mere formality or empty without meaning. Instead, God gave us the Law and the commandments, because He wants each and every one of us to know about love, that is first and foremost, the love which He has for each and every one of us, His beloved children.

The Law of God is not about all the rules and regulations which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often enforced on the people, without understanding, realising and appreciating the true meaning and purpose of those laws. The Law of God is about love, loving God, the One Who created us and loved us, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and indeed our entire being and effort. That is the essence of the first three commandments of the Ten Commandments.

And then, after having loved God sincerely and tenderly, then we should also show the same love to our brothers and sisters, to those who we encounter in our lives, our friends and neighbours, our relatives and family members. But the Lord in the Gospel passage today challenged us even further, calling on us to also love those who have wronged us and considered us as enemies. He called on us to forgive those who have wronged us and trespassed against us, and show them love, mercy and compassion.

That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is the true essence of discipleship, that is Christian discipleship, following the Lord with all of our strength, and doing our best to love our brethren, in the same way, with all of our hearts, and pray for the sake of and forgive our enemies, in the footsteps of Our Lord Himself, Who forgave all of those who have condemned Him to death on the cross, and prayed for the sake of those who cried out for His death.

Let us all strive, that in this blessed season of Lent, a season of forgiveness and realisation of God’s most abundant mercy, we may come ever closer to the Lord, and reexamine our life’s actions, so that in everything we do, in everything we say and act, we may come ever closer to God’s ways and be ever more worthy of Him, day after day, as we turn away from our sinful past, and embrace God’s love ever more, and share that love with one another.

May the Lord bless us all, and may He empower each and every one of us to live ever more faithfully and appreciate the love with which Our God has shown us every day and every moment of our lives. May we be able to find our way to Him and to His redemption, that all of us as Christians may be worthy of His saving grace, at the end of time. Amen.

Saturday, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (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, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (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, 24 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent (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.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the messages of the Scripture, reminding us of the need for conversion and change of heart, especially in this blessed and holy season of Lent, during which time we take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and actions. It is a time for us to contemplate on what we have gone through this far in our lives on our journey towards full reconciliation and returning to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the essence of the words of the Scripture which we have heard today is the fact that we mankind have disobeyed the Lord, Our God, and by that disobedience, we have fallen into sin. But we must not be discouraged, because God is our loving Father, Who knows all that need to be done in order for us to be reconciled with Him in perfect and new love.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard about the moment when the Lord called one of His disciples from among the tax collectors, a man named Levi, who answered the Lord’s call and followed Him, leaving everything behind and became Christ’s disciple. He discarded all that was his, and took for himself a greater possession in becoming one who followed and obeyed the Lord, eventually known as St. Matthew, the Apostle and one of the Four Evangelists.

At that time, tax collectors did not have a good standing in the society. In fact, they were reviled and hated because of their role in collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman rulers and governors who took over the rulership over the Jews and the people of Israel at that time. And as the taxations were heavy and became burdens for the people, they hated the taxes and by extension, those who worked to collect the taxes for the Romans.

Hence, the tax collectors were often considered as sinners and people unworthy of the Lord’s grace. They were often looked down by the society, particularly the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who had high esteem and view of themselves in the matters of piety and faith. To the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they alone had the most perfect observance and obedience to the laws of Moses, and therefore, others had to respect them and obey their teaching authority.

Yet, they failed to see that they themselves were sinners in need of God’s mercy. In all of their supposed righteousness and external forms of piety, they did them not for the glorification of God or because they truly loved God, instead, they loved themselves and wanted to look good before the people. They failed to see that God did not desire their sacrifices and prayers, but their total commitment and desire to repent instead.

The tax collectors readily welcomed the Lord Jesus into their midst, as He sat down at Levi’s house for a meal with them. They listened to His teachings and believed in Him, something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law refused to do. In that sense, the tax collectors were much further ahead than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law on their way towards salvation in God.

In the same Gospel passage today, the Lord made it clear to all of us that He is seeking for the conversion and healing of sinners. That is because ultimately we cannot forget the very important fact that God loves every single one of us, all those whom He had created and to whom He had given the grace of life. He does not discriminate between any one of us, and all of us are equally important to him, from the greatest among us to the poorest and to the least.

And because of sin, due to our disobedience and refusal to walk in His ways, we have fallen away from God’s grace and became separated from Him. Our fate would have been eternal damnation and disgrace in hell, in the eternal fire, because that is what our sins would have merited us. But God had mercy on us, because He did love us greatly, and would not have wanted us to fall into such a terrible fate.

That is why He went all the way to save us, sparing nothing less than the very best effort to help and rescue us from our predicament. He gave us His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour, through Whose death on the cross, we receive the ultimate healing and reconciliation. He Who is sinless and without fault had willingly embraced punishment and suffering in our place, so that all of us may have a new hope in Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord offers us this healing and reconciliation freely and generously. However, the question is, are we willing to take up the offer of forgiveness and love which He has presented to us? Many of us refuse to repent from our sins, and we continue to live in a state of sin, preferring to do what is right according to us, but not what is right according to God.

The problem lies with our inability to resist the temptations of our human pride, our refusal to listen to advice and feedback, because we think that we are always right. And we find it hard to turn to the Lord, because the devil is always active, trying to persuade us, to bring us into a lull, to tempt us, and even to force us to do what is sinful and wicked in the sight of God. And unless we put a strong and conscious effort to resist those temptations, and desire to repent from our sins, we may fail in our endeavour of faith.

Today the Church commemorates the memory of the seven holy saints who were the founders of the religious order of the Servites, formally known as the Order of Friar Servants of Mary. These seven holy and devout men were remembered for their commitment to God, having been cloth merchants of the city of Florence during the Middle Ages era of what is now Italy, being very rich and influential, and yet, voluntarily chose to leave everything they had behind in order to serve the Lord.

They lived a life of poverty and also penance, filled with prayers and devotions, works of charity among the poor and the underprivileged. Through hard work, persistence and perseverance, they inspired many others to follow in their footsteps and lead a life of holiness and purity, no longer chained by the sins of their past. They devoted their time, effort and attention to the Lord, and did their best to advance His good works among His people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be inspired by the examples of these holy predecessors, who have gone before us to the glory of heaven. We should spend more time in prayer and contemplation before God, especially during this time of Lent, when we are called to a renewed relationship and connection with God. Let us allow the Lord to speak to us, in the silence of our hearts, that we may know what His will is for us.

May the Lord be with us always, that throughout our journey of faith during this Lenten season and beyond, we may grow ever stronger in faith, and we may draw closer to God, and eventually find full and complete reconciliation in Him. May God bless us all and all of our endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (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, 17 February 2018 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (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.