Friday, 5 February 2021 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us as Christians are reminded to be holy and pure in all things, in our dealings and in our relationships. In particular today we are called to focus on the nature of marriage and family that is truly sacred in the eyes of the Lord. Then we are also called to reflect on the courage that St. John the Baptist in upholding the sanctity of this marriage against even the powerful ruler of his time when he disobeyed the Law and committed adultery.

In our first reading today from the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminded the faithful to keep up their faith and to continue showing the love as they had been instructed and commanded to by the Lord. The author wanted all the faithful especially among the Jewish populations not to be afraid of the opposition and challenges from the community at large and in particular from the authorities who might be trying to prevent them from practicing their faith.

The author reminded all of the people that God was with them and that they would not walk the journey all alone, as God would be journeying with them. The Lord was by their side and walked with them even against the world, and therefore they should not be afraid. In the same way, their predecessor in faith, namely St. John the Baptist himself had suffered and endured bitter struggles for his commitment and faith in the Lord.

St. John the Baptist had been arrested and imprisoned for having rebuked the king, Herod Antipas for his adulterous and sinful behaviour in taking the lawfully wedded wife of his own brother, Herod Philip, as his own wife, when Philip was very much still alive. Such an action was tantamount to adultery and wicked, and a very immoral act for someone who ruled as the king over the land.

Hence, just as St. John the Baptist had earlier on rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their hypocrisy and lack of faith in doubting his work and authentic ministry, thus he did the same against even king Herod, earning especially the wrath and enmity from Herodias, the wife of Herod, the one with whom Herod committed adultery with. Yet, as we can see, St. John the Baptist was not afraid to do so.

Even in prison, he would continue to speak out against the king and his immoral actions, being faithful to the very end. When he was eventually martyred after Herodias tricked king Herod into killing the man of God by using her own daughter as a pawn in the process, St. John the Baptist showed us all what it truly means for us to be a follower of God and to be faithful to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all respond to God’s call to be His faithful servants, and let us all be inspired by the faith that had been shown by St. John the Baptist. Let us all not be deterred by the challenges and trials that we may face throughout our journey, all the temptations and pressures that may persuade or force us to abandon the faith and the efforts to live a genuine Christian living.

Today we also commemorate the feast of St. Agatha, a renowned saint and martyr of the faith, who have died defending her faith and purity in commitment to God. Also known as St. Agatha of Sicily, she lived a virtuous Christian life throughout her youth, and despite the efforts of a pagan Roman prefect who desired her, she resisted the temptations and efforts, and this led to her arrest and torture.

But St. Agatha remained firm and resolute in her faith, and not even all the sufferings and trials could dim her dedication and zeal to the Lord. Despite all the sufferings she experienced, tortured and struck with iron hooks, burnt with torches and even had her breasts cut out with iron pincers, she remained true to her faith, to the very end, as the perfect example of dedication and commitment of a true Christian, one that we can be inspired by and follow.

The Lord has called us all to be His faithful servants and followers. He has called us to be exemplary in our lives and to be inspiration in our way of life such that so many others could be inspired to follow in our footsteps and be saved as well. Let us all pray for the grace of faith and strength, of courage and the ability to dedicate our lives and actions daily for the Lord, in keeping ourselves true to our faith. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Friday, 5 February 2021 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 14-29

At that time, king Herod also heard about Jesus, because His Name had become well-known. Some people said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in Him.” Others thought, “He is a prophet like the prophets of times past.” When Herod was told of this, he thought, “I had John beheaded, yet he has risen from the dead!”

For this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested, and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her, and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John; and wanted to kill him, but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed, whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.”

And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.”

The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of his bodyguards with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother.

When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

Friday, 5 February 2021 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 26 : 1, 3, 5, 8b-9abc

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the rampart of my life; I will not be afraid.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fail; though war break out against me, I will still be confident.

For He will keep me safe in His shelter in times of misfortune; He will hide me beneath His roof, and set me high upon a rock.

I seek Your face, o Lord. Do not hide Your face from me nor turn away Your servant in anger. You are my Protector, do not reject me.

Friday, 5 February 2021 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Hebrews 13 : 1-8

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to offer hospitality; you know that some people have entertained Angels without knowing it. Remember prisoners as if you were with them in chains, and the same for those who are suffering. Remember that you also have a body.

Marriage must be respected by all and husband and wife faithful to each other. God will punish the immoral and the adulterous. Do not depend on money. Be content with having enough for today for God has said : I will never forsake you or abandon you, and we shall confidently answer : The Lord is my Helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Consider their end and imitate their faith. Christ Jesus is the same today as yesterday and forever.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are told first of all, of another occurrence when king David of Israel sinned against God besides his adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of his captain Uriah. King David wanted to know the might of his power and the glory of his kingdom and thus, he asked Joab his commander to conduct a great census over all of Israel and Judah, which was abhorred by God because it implied that David had fallen into pride.

And David only realised his folly later on, when the Lord rebuked and reminded him of how futile his pursuits had been. For even if God were to grant him more people to rule over and even a greater kingdom to rule over, it was by the grace of God that David has enjoyed all the wonders and glory, and not by his own strength and power. At that moment, David gave in to his momentary weakness and allowed the devil to tempt him with the temptation of grandeur and worldly glory.

How is this then related to what we heard in our Gospel passage today? In that Gospel passage today we heard of how the Lord Jesus went to His own hometown, that is Nazareth, and began teaching and performing His works among His own townspeople, many of whom had known Him since He was still very young. Almost immediately they doubted and judged Him, wondering how the Son of a simple village carpenter could have spoken so well and performed so many wonders and miracles.

They questioned the Lord in that manner, and because of their lack of faith, the Lord could not do much work and progress in that area, a fact that He Himself lamented and He also mentioned how the prophets of old also devoted their time and efforts to bring God’s truth and guide the people into the right paths, and yet it was the same people who rejected the prophets and persecuted them. The people of Israel and Judah to whom the prophets belonged to refused to listen to them, although those prophets were known to them.

It was the people considered as pagans and idolaters that listened to the prophets, like the widow of Zarephath in Sidon who gave the prophet Elijah a lodging and food during his time away from the land of Israel. It was also Rahab the prostitute in Jericho who helped the scouts of the Israelites to hide from those who wanted to look for them. It was the Samaritans who welcomed the Lord Jesus when He was rejected by His own countrymen and even those from His own village.

All of these show us that when we mankind become proud and allow ourselves to be swayed by the temptations of the devil, we will end up falling into his trap and we may be like those Israelites who failed to welcome and accept the truth of God through the prophets because they were too engrossed with themselves and their pursuits for worldly happiness and glory. The devil knows this very well and he will do whatever he can to prevent us from opening ourselves to God and allowing Him to touch our lives.

Are we willing and able to welcome the Lord into our hearts and open them for Him to enter? His own townspeople and countrymen rejected Him out of their pride and existing prejudices, their reluctance to listen and change according to what the Lord has revealed to them. But we can be better than them, and we are called to follow the Lord and be attuned to His truth and love. Today, we have a great example in St. Agatha, a great holy woman and martyr of the faith, who can inspire us through her life and faith how we should live our lives with faith.

St. Agatha, also known as St. Agatha of Sicily was one of the most highly venerated and famous saint of the early Church for her great courage in defending her faith. She was born into a noble family and encountered great trouble when a Roman prefect made advances on her and she rejected it because she dedicated herself in a holy vow of virginity to God. The Roman prefect, angered by her rejection, brought St. Agatha to be arrested and persecuted under the then vicious persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Decius.

Despite all the persecution and suffering that she had to face, St. Agatha refused to renounce her faith in God and she also was remembered for her prayer for courage before Lord, asking Him to guide and protect her as she was led like a lamb into the midst of wolves. She suffered all sorts of terrible torture and assault, humiliation and actions that would have made any other people to give up, but St. Agatha remained firm in her faith until she died in martyrdom eventually in prison. She remained true to her faith in God till the very end, and her example inspired many others through the centuries and more afterwards.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Agatha has shown us what it means to truly have faith in God and to be faithful to Him, with a living and genuine faith that allow God to enter into our lives so that our lives and actions may be transformed by His grace and love. Are we able to devote ourselves to God in this manner? Are we able to spend our time and commit ourselves to God as St. Agatha and many other of our holy predecessors had done? Let us not allow the devil from penetrating into our hearts and minds, and definitely we must not allow him to tempt us into sin.

Let us all discern carefully the path that we will take in life so that we may truly serve God with all of our hearts and minds from now on with faith, as St. Agatha and innumerable other saints and holy men and women of God had done. May the Lord help and guide us through this journey, and help us to resist the temptations of pride and desire, and love Him with ever greater devotion and sincerity from now on. Amen.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 1-6

At that time, leaving the place where He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus returned to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and most of those who heard Him were astonished.

But they said, “How did this come to Him? What kind of wisdom has been given to Him, that He also performs such miracles? Who is He but the Carpenter, the Son of Mary, and the Brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here among us?” So they took offence at Him.

And Jesus said to them, “Prophets are despised only in their own country, among their relatives, and in their own family.” And He could work no miracles there, but only healed a few sick people, by laying His hands on them. Jesus Himself was astounded at their unbelief. Jesus then went around the villages, teaching.”

Wednesday, 5 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 31 : 1-2, 5, 6, 7

Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is wiped away. Blessed are those in whom YHVH sees no guilt and in whose spirit is found no deceit.

Then I made known to You my sin and uncovered before You my fault, saying to myself, “To YHVH I will now confess my wrong.” And You, You forgave my sin; You removed my guilt.

So let the faithful ones pray to You in time of distress; the overflowing waters will not reach them.

You are my Refuge; You protect me from distress and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020 : 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

2 Samuel 24 : 2, 9-17

The king said to Joab and the commanders of the army who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and count the people that I may know how many they are.”

Joab gave the total count of the people to the king : eight hundred thousand warriors in Israel and five hundred thousand men in Judah. But after he had the people counted, David felt remorse and said to YHVH, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, o YHVH, I ask You to forgive my sin for I have acted foolishly.”

The following day, before David awoke, YHVH’s word had come to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, “Go, and give David this message : I offer you three things and I will let one of them befall you according to your own choice.”

So Gad went to David and asked him, “Do you want three years of famine in your land? Or do you want to be pursued for three months by your foes while you flee from them? Or do you want three days’ pestilence in your land? Now, think and decide what answer I shall give Him Who sent me.”

David answered Gad, “I am greatly troubled. Let me fall into the hands of YHVH Whose mercy is abundant; but let me not fall into human hands.” So YHVH sent a pestilence on Israel from morning until the appointed time, causing the death of seventy thousand men from Dan to Beersheba. When the Angel stretched forth his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, YHVH would punish no more and said to the Angel who was causing destruction among the people, “It is enough, hold back your hand.”

The Angel of YHVH was already at the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite. When David saw the Angel striking the people, he spoke to YHVH and said, “I have sinned and acted wickedly, but these are only the sheep; what have they done? Let Your hand strike me and my father’s family.”

Monday, 5 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the moment when the House of God, the magnificent Temple built by Solomon, the king of Israel, was completed and consecrated to the Lord. The Temple was meant to be the dwelling of God among His people, as the Ark of the Covenant bearing the Tablets of the Law was placed in the holiest part of that edifice, and as we heard in the passage today, God Himself came down to dwell among His people.

The grand celebration that followed the completion and consecration of the Temple was truly amazing, as we were told how thousands upon thousands of sacrificial offerings were made, and many days of celebrations followed after the main celebration, with feast, revelry and rejoicing among the people. Such was the grand spectacle of the celebrations that came with the opening of the House of God. And God Himself came to dwell among His people.

However, unfortunately, for all of its amazing architecture and grandeur, the people of God did not remain faithful to Him. Even king Solomon himself would fall into sin and led the people into the worship of the pagan gods and idols. And many successive kings of Judah would continue to sin against God, and doing what were wicked in God’s sight. The Temple was defiled in multiple occasions, and eventually, it was destroyed by the Babylonians at the end of the kingdom of Judah.

But God did not give up on His people, despite having punished them for their lack of faith and waywardness. He gave them opportunity after opportunity to repent from their sins, and He sent them prophets after prophets to call them to turn away from their wickedness. In the end, He fulfilled His promise to us, by sending us the Saviour, in Jesus Christ His Son, Whose works and exploits we heard in our Gospel passage today.

If God once came down to dwell in a House made from gold and finest timber wood, to dwell among His people, then, He had come by Himself in the flesh, in the Real Presence, as the Divine Himself has become tangible and real, no longer hidden from our sight, but revealed to all the people who witnessed His coming, and to many others who knew Him because of the testimony made by all those who saw His coming.

God loves each and every one of us, His beloved children. He has not abandoned us when we are in need, and He always provided for us through His love. However, many of us have not realised that we have been receiving this generous love all these while. And we continue to sin before God, rebelling against Him and by our disobedience we defiled the Temple of His Holy Presence, our bodies, minds, hearts and souls.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, through the Sacrament of Baptism we have been made nothing less than God’s own adopted sons and daughters. And by receiving the Eucharist, we have received the Real Presence of Our Lord in His Most Precious Body and Blood into our bodies, and therefore we have become God’s holy Temple, the Houses in which He dwells.

Yet, many of us defiled this House by our sins and wickedness, by our refusal to listen to the Lord and to His ways. Instead, we rather chose to continue down the path of sin, and immerse ourselves deeper and deeper into the trap laid unto our path by Satan. There are all sorts of defilements and wicked things we have done, by indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, immoral behaviour, corruption and collusion, by our allowance of the devil to come into our lives.

If we continue to do so, we will be destroyed because of our great sin of having defiled the Temple and House of God that is our body, our heart, our mind, our soul, and indeed, our whole being. Is it what we want to happen to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? Surely we do not want it to happen. I am sure that we want to be forgiven our sins instead and want to be reconciled with God.

However, all these will not come to us easily and without challenges. There will be plenty of opposition, difficulties and suffering, and without perseverance and strong courage and commitment, many of us will falter along the way. Many of our holy and devoted predecessors have suffered similarly, even to the point of suffering death. St. Agatha, the saint whose memory we celebrate today, is one of them.

St. Agatha was a native of Sicily and one of the most venerated martyrs of the Roman Empire. She lived during particularly difficult time in the history of the Church, as the Roman state and the authorities actively persecuted Christians and destroyed many of the churches established throughout the Empire, especially under the Emperor Decius. It was told that St. Agatha devoted herself completely to God, living a life of holy virginity consecrated to God.

She rejected the amorous advances of a corrupt and pagan official who was enamoured by her beauty, and the official in his anger, reported St. Agatha to the authorities, who arrested her and tortured her. Despite all that they had done, and all the pains inflicted upon her, she remained strong in her convictions and she refused to abandon her faith in her God. She was martyred defending her faith, and her commitment and courage to the very end inspired many of the Christians generations after her.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on these which we have just discussed and remember the examples of St. Agatha, her courage and determination to remain true to her faith and obey the Lord despite the temptations and pressures to do otherwise. May the Lord give us the strength to persevere in our own faith journey, that we may draw ever closer to Him. May God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 5 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 53-56

At that time, having crossed the lake, Jesus and His disciples came ashore at Gennesaret, where they tied up the boat. As soon as they landed, people recognised Jesus, and ran to spread the news throughout the countryside.

Wherever He was, they brought to Him the sick lying on their mats; and wherever He went, to villages, towns or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplace, and begged Him to let them touch just the fringe of His cloak. And all who touched Him were cured.