Friday, 21 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are called to reflect on what the Lord had told us through the accounts of David and how he spared Saul, the King of Israel, and not killing or harming him despite having the perfect opportunity to do so. Then we also heard the calling of the Twelve Apostles as those whom the Lord had chosen as the ones to be His chief helpers in spreading the Good News and in reaching out to as many people as possible.

First of all, as we heard from the first reading from the Book of Samuel, we heard how David who was pursued by King Saul had to go into hiding from place to place, and had to go into the cave in which they were cornered. But Saul and his men were not aware that David was just within their reach. At that moment, when Saul was sleeping, it was the perfect opportunity for David to strike at Saul and claim the Kingship of Israel for himself. After all, he had been made the rightful king and the chosen, anointed one of God through the prophet Samuel.

Yet, David did not do so, and only cut a part of the king’s robe, and even that was regretted by him. He knew that Saul himself was anointed by God like himself. Although God had indeed chosen him as the new King over all Israel to replace Saul, but David still acted with honour and recognised him still as king, and he did not want harm to come either to Saul or any of his men. If David had wanted it, he could have grabbed the opportunity and ended his own suffering and trials, seizing the power that was rightfully his. But he did not do so.

That is where we see what kind of man David was. He was truly filled with love for God, a true and genuine love for his Lord and Master. He did everything to serve the Lord and to glorify His Name, and because of that, he put himself in the righteous way of the Lord. For although he has been chosen as the new King of Israel, but that should not have given him the justification to murder a person in the time of his weakness, and less still to do so for the pursuit of power and personal glory. He chose to entrust himself and his fate to the Lord, and made his peace with Saul. It was at that very same occasion in which Saul recognised David as the next, rightful King or Israel.

In the Gospel passage today, we then heard from the story of the calling of the Twelve Apostles, whom God chose from among all of His disciples. The Lord called His Apostles to be the ones to do His works and to bring forth the Good News of salvation to more people, as they did in those years after He has ascended into Heaven. The Apostles went to many places, doing the Lord’s works and establishing the foundations of the Church and building the Christian communities in those places.

They led the faithful through their righteous and just leadership, and through all that they had done in putting God’s works before everything else. They sacrificed a lot in their efforts, suffering persecutions and even having to shed blood and die for the glory of God. They had to endure exile and other forms of difficulties, and yet, they remained virtuous and patient, full of faith in the Lord and they did not allow the temptations and pressures from the world around them to sway them otherwise.

Today, all of us are also presented with the good faith and examples as set by St. Agnes, a renowned Roman martyr from the time of intense persecutions of Christians and the Church. St. Agnes was born into a noble family in Rome, and she was also born as a Christian. At that time, the Roman state and the Emperor were very much against the Christian faith and the Church, and in one last brutal attempt to eradicate them and destroy the threat that Christianity posed to the traditional Roman beliefs and religion.

St. Agnes as a young Roman noblewoman had many suitors and those who were interested in her. Many of those suitors were rejected by St. Agnes as she had dedicated herself to the purity of her dedication to God. She consecrated herself and her virginity, not allowing any of those men to desecrate her virginity and sanctity. This led to some among her suitors to be angry at her, and reported her to the authorities as a suspected Christian, which was a crime then punishable by death.

The Roman prefect, named Sempronius condemned her to death and attempted to kill her by various methods. However, the attempts by several men to defile her virginity failed because they were immediately struck blind before the deed. The attempts to hurt her by other means such as burning on a stake also failed when the flames refused to burn the wood. Eventually, it was by beheading or being stabbed in the throat that St. Agnes met her end through martyrdom, and yet her reward in God is glorious.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have just discussed and through the life of St. Agnes of Rome, we can see how God was always with us and He has always guided us and protected us just as how He prevented those men from defiling the sacred virginity of St. Agnes. The Lord has always been with us and He will guard us against those that intend to harm us. We must have faith in Him and believe in His providence.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore put ourselves in the hands of the Lord and commit ourselves to His embrace, knowing that in Him alone lies our hope and our salvation. May the Lord be with us all and may He give us the strength to follow Him wholeheartedly rom now on, and always, without fear or worry. Amen.

Friday, 21 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 3 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus went up into the hill country, and called those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed Twelve to be with Him, and He called them ‘Apostles.’ He wanted to send them out to preach; and He gave them authority to drive out demons.

These are the Twelve : Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John his brother, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘men of thunder’; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Friday, 21 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 56 : 2, 3-4, 6 and 11

Have mercy on me, o God, have mercy; for my soul takes refuge in You; I will find shelter in the shadow of Your wings, till the disaster has passed.

I call on God the Most High; on God, Who has done everything for me : may He send from heaven, a Saviour, and put my oppressors to shame. May God send me His love and faithfulness.

Be exalted, o God, above the heavens! Your glory be over all the earth! For Your love reaches to the heavens, and Your faithfulness, to the clouds.

Friday, 21 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Samuel 24 : 3-21

So Saul took three thousand picked men from all Israel and went in search of David and his men to the east of the Wild Goat crags. When he came to the sheepfolds along the way, he entered a cave to relieve himself.

Now David and his men were far back in the cave. David’s men said to him, “This is the day which YHVH spoke of : ‘Look I will deliver your enemy into your hands and you will do with him as you see fit.’” So David moved up and stealthily cut off an end of Saul’s robe. But afterward, David regretted having cut off an end of Saul’s robe, and he said to his men, “Let me not lay my hands on my master, for he is YHVH’s anointed.”

With these words, David restrained his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. Saul then left the cave and went on his way. Then David himself stepped out of the cave and called after Saul, “My master, the king!” When Saul looked back, David knelt and then bowed to the ground in homage and asked him, “Why do you listen to those who say that I want to harm you?”

“Look, today you have seen that YHVH delivered you into my hands in the cave. I was told to kill you but I held myself back and said : ‘I will not lift my hands against my master who is YHVH’s anointed.’ My father, look at this end of your robe which I am holding! I cut off the end of your robe but did not kill you.”

“Now you may know that I mean you no harm or treason. I have done you no wrong and yet you are hunting me down to kill me. May YHVH be judge between you and me; and may He exact justice from you in my case. But I shall do you no harm. As the saying goes, ‘From the wicked comes wickedness’; as for me, my hand shall not harm you.”

“But who is it you are after, o king of Israel? Are you pursuing a dead dog? A flea? May YHVH be Judge between you and me. May He see and uphold my cause and deliver me from your hands.”

After David had spoken these words, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, my son David?” He wept aloud and said to David, “You are right and I am wrong, for you have repaid with kindness the harm I have inflicted on you. This day you have shown your righteousness to me by not taking my life when YHVH put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go unharmed?”

“May YHVH reward you for what you have done for me today. Now I know for certain that you shall reign and the kingdom of Israel will be firm in your hand.”

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, 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 Scripture we are all reminded of the need for us to be truly faithful to God in everything and not just having superficial and empty faith. God wants us to love Him and to be focused on Him in our lives and not to be distracted by worldly temptations and desires, and what we heard in our Scripture passages today are a great reminder to that fact.

In our first reading today, we heard of the moment when the prophet Samuel was sent by the Lord to pick one of the seven sons of Jesse to become the new king of Israel succeeding Saul, the previous and first king of Israel who had disobeyed God and led Israel into sin. This brought Samuel to the land of Judah to find Jesse and he met six of his sons whom Jesse presented all before the prophet to find the one with whom God was pleased and had chosen.

Samuel thought that the first son was handsome and great in the sight of man, as was the other elder sons, with intellect, appearance and charisma that seemed to make them acceptable and likely to be God’s chosen one. But God told Samuel that despite what he had seen and thought, God had not chosen any one of them at all. Instead, it was David, the youngest and seventh son of Jesse, a young man still in his early youth, a shepherd of the field whom God had chosen to become the king over His people Israel.

What this passage is telling us is that God chose the one whom He deemed to be worthy and not the one who made himself or herself to be worthy of God. No one is truly worthy of God and the more pride, greed and ambition there are in our hearts and in our minds, the further we will end up being from God. Saul, the first king was overcome by his pride and greed, in wanting to do things in his own way and probably in wanting to gain worldly benefits that he ended up disobeying God and therefore was replaced as king by David.

In our Gospel passage, we heard something that is quite similar in nature as we heard of the exchanges between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees who complained about the behaviour of His disciples as they picked the grains of wheat in the field on the Sabbath day, something that the Pharisees interpreted to be a grave sin and mistake to be done on the sacred day dedicated to God.

But the Lord then told the Pharisees the story of how king David and his followers when they were exhausted and completely hungry as they fled from their enemies, namely king Saul and his soldiers who wanted David dead, David and his followers went to the house of God and the High Priest gave them the bread that was normally reserved only for the priests. They ate and they had their fill and they then continued on their journey, eventually by God’s grace, succeeded in surviving and David succeeded Saul as king of Israel when the latter was killed in the battle with the Philistines.

Through that story, the Lord again wanted not just the Pharisees but also all of us to understand and to realise that the Law of God cannot be understood just superficially, and this also then requires us to have a faith that is deeper than just the superficial appearances. If outwardly we are good but inside our hearts and minds we are conflicted and not united with God, then we do not truly have genuine faith in God and can even be considered as hypocrites like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

What God wants us to know is that we do not just obey the Law and fulfil its requirements just for the sake of doing it or for appearances. We must truly love God and have that love for God within our hearts underlying all of our actions and deeds. David was chosen not because of the superior nature of his physical build or appearances but rather because he truly had a genuine love for God. Although as a man he was not perfect and sinned, but as can see throughout his life, he remained faithful to the Lord and devoted his life and reign to His glory.

In the same manner, all of us as Christians we are all called to be truly faithful to God in all things and not to be merely superficial in our obedience to the Lord and to His Law. We are all called to love God with all of our strength and with all of our heart. And today, we can also look upon the examples set by the faithful St. Agnes, a holy martyr of the faith renowned to the whole Church.

St. Agnes was a beautiful Roman noble woman who was a Christian at the time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She was chased after by many men whom she declined because she wanted to dedicate herself out of purity and maintain the sanctity of her holy virginity to God. As a result, those men who were rejected reported her to the authorities for her supposed Christian faith, and the prefect in charge at the time subjected her to arrest and suffering.

She was dragged naked through the streets to a brothel and made to be raped by men, but miraculously by God’s intervention, all those who attempted to do so were struck blind. It was told that the son of the prefect was struck dead and through the prayers of St. Agnes, he was revived, and the prefect, visibly touched by this, had to pass on the judgment to another person, who then condemned St. Agnes to die by burning at the stake.

Again, the flames would not burn her and she was completely unharmed. It was only when an officer stabbed her and beheaded her with his sword that St. Agnes was finally martyred for her faith. Despite all the sufferings she had to go through, she remained completely faithful to God, because she truly had faith and genuine love for God from her heart, and her faith was not just merely superficial or only for appearances. This is why all of us should also be inspired by the faith that St. Agnes had and strive to live our lives faithfully from now on as she once had lived hers.

May the Lord always be with us and may He continue to strengthen us all in our journey of faith. May He through the intercessions of St. Agnes, holy virgin and martyr, continue to guide us all and bless us in everything we do, that we may be courageous in faith and in loving God with all of our heart from now on. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 2 : 23-28

At that time, on one Sabbath Jesus was walking through grain fields. As His disciples walked along with Him, they began to pick the heads of grain and crush them in their hands. Then the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! They are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath!”

And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did in his time of need; when he and his men were very hungry? He went into the House of God, when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate; the bread of offering, which only the priests are allowed to eat, and he also gave some to the men who were with him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Master even of the Sabbath.”

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 88 : 20, 21-22, 27-28

In the past, You spoke in a vision; You said of Your faithful servant : “I have set the crown upon a mighty one; on one chosen from the people.”

I have found David My servant, and, with My holy oil, I have anointed him. My hand will be ever with him; and My arm will sustain him.

He will call on Me, “You are my Father, my God, my Rock, my Saviour.” I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Samuel 16 : 1-13

YHVH asked Samuel, “How long will you be grieving over Saul whom I have rejected as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have chosen My king from among his sons.”

Samuel asked, “How can I go? If Saul hears of this, he will kill me!” YHVH replied, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to YHVH.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice and I will let you know what to do next. You shall anoint for Me the one I point out to you.”

Samuel did what YHVH commanded and left for Bethlehem. When he appeared, the elders of the city came to him asking, fearfully, “Do you bring us peace?” Samuel replied, “I come in peace; I am here to sacrifice to YHVH. Cleanse yourselves and join me in the sacrifice.” He also had Jesse and his sons cleansed and invited them to the sacrifice.

As they came, Samuel looked at Eliab the older and thought, “This must be YHVH’s anointed.” But YHVH told Samuel, “Do not judge by his looks or his stature for I have rejected him. YHVH does not judge as man judges; humans see with the eyes; YHVH sees the heart.”

Jesse called his son Abinadab and presented him to Samuel who said, “YHVH has not chosen this one either.” Jesse presented Shammah and Samuel said, “Nor has YHVH chosen this one.” Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel who said, “YHVH has chosen none of them. But are all your sons here?”

Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, tending the flock just now.” Samuel said to him, “Send for him and bring him to me; we shall not sit down to eat until he arrives.” So Jesse sent for his youngest son and brought him to Samuel. He was a handsome lad with a ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes. And YHVH spoke, “Go, anoint him for he is the one.”

Samuel then took the horn of oil and anointed him in his brothers’ presence. From that day onwards, YHVH’s Spirit took hold of David. Then Samuel left for Ramah.

Monday, 21 January 2019 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded by the Scriptures of the path and the way which the Lord, our God has shown us, calling upon us to follow Him, and to walk in His footsteps. As St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus is our Eternal and True High Priest, the One Who has offered the perfect offering beyond any other offerings, that is His own Most Precious Body and Blood, for the sake of our salvation.

He has come upon this world, willingly in the form and in the full body of Man, that He could accomplish what He Himself has promised to us all through His many prophets, that He would save us all, His beloved ones, from the consequences of our sins and our unfaithfulness, that should have landed us into eternal damnation and eternal death in hell. God did not want this to happen to us, as He still loves us after all, and He wants us to have the chance to be saved.

But salvation cannot come just very easily, as the obstacles presented by none other than sin, are truly very, very great indeed. It is not just the obstacles presented by sin itself, but also the temptations that are ever present around us that keep pulling us into sinning even more and more, causing us to fall even deeper into the trap which the devil and his forces have prepared for us. Unless we make the conscious effort to resist those temptations, we will easily be dragged again and again into sin.

And this is where the Lord came into this world bearing His truth and the revelation about His saving grace. He explained to us in detail through His disciples, by means of parables which He later explained and by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, of what each and every one of us will need to do as a member of God’s Church. He presented the stark reality before us, that many of us may have to suffer persecution and difficulties just because we are siding with the Lord and walking in His path.

That is, in essence the meaning of what He had mentioned in the Gospel passage today, by the means of the parable of the new and old cloth, and the new and old wineskins with the new and old wine. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised the Lord and His disciples because they did not practice fasting as often done at that time according to the Jewish customs and traditions of the laws of Moses. But the Lord, using the two parables explained why His disciples did not do so.

The reason is because of the incompatibility of the old ways of the world and the new ways of the Lord, which was represented by the incompatible pairing between the old wineskin with the new wine, or vice versa between new wineskin and the old wine, or the old cloth that is incompatible with new cloth that is patched onto it when there is a tear on the old cloth. This incompatibility comes about because of the misunderstanding of the intentions and meanings of the Law of God.

God’s people had forgotten what it means to love God, and in many of their customs and practices, their faith had become empty, meaningless and nominal only, as they did not have God at the centre and as the focus of their lives. God had been sidelined for many worldly temptations, of the sins of pride, ambition, greed, gluttony and many others, where even many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law became hypocrites, professing to believe in God and yet not doing what they had to do, that is to love God with all of their hearts and strength.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord brought with Him a new way, one that is leading us directly towards the salvation in Him. This is the only way by which we can be saved, and that is through the true obedience and adherence to the Law of God. This is done by turning away completely from sin, by humbling oneself and focusing our whole lives on God, Who then becomes the centre of our lives and the focus of everything that we say and do in our respective lives.

But at the same time, we must also be aware that following this path that Christ has shown us will be filled with obstacles and challenges, not least from the same temptations that we have to face each and every days of our life, but also even opposition from the world and even from those who are close and dear to us. And this is what St. Agnes the holy virgin and martyr had shown us, whose feast is celebrated on this day every year.

St. Agnes was a young woman and virgin, who dedicated her life to God and also her virginity. She was born into a noble and wealthy family during the years of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She had many suitors who tried to get her to marry them, but she refused their advances, because she wanted to keep herself chaste and pure, especially as many of those who sought her were pagans. But her Christian faith got the attention of the authorities, who at that time under the Emperor’s orders, carried out a particularly brutal persecution of the faithful.

St. Agnes was tortured and had to endure great sufferings throughout her period in incarceration and prison, and yet she did not give up her faith and remained strong in her conviction to love and serve the Lord through her life. When those who opposed her tried to have people to defile her, it was told that God protected her and all who wanted to defile her virginity were immediately struck blind.

Eventually, St. Agnes was martyred by the sword when she was not even harmed by the flames as her opponents tried to burn her on the stake. But her courageous faith and commitment to the Lord remained as a great inspiration to the faithful for many ages afterwards. She showed us how although there will indeed be likely many challenges that we have to face as faithful followers of Christ, but it is possible for us to commit ourselves to Him and remain upright despite those challenges.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore imitate the examples of St. Agnes and the many other holy men and women of God, from now on in our own lives. May the Lord be with us always, and may He give us the strength to follow Him and to commit ourselves to Him, each and every days of our life, following Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Monday, 21 January 2019 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 2 : 18-22

At that time, one day, when the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting, some people asked Jesus, “Why is it that both the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast, but Yours do not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the wedding guests fast while the Bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the day will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”

“No one sews a piece of new cloth on an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear away from the old cloth, making a worse tear. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, for the wine would burst the skins, and then both the wine and the skins would be lost. But new wine, new skins!”