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!”

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

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 109 : 1, 2, 3, 4

The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand till I make Your foes Your footstool.”

From Zion the Lord will extend Your mighty sceptre and You will rule in the midst of Your enemies.

Yours is royal dignity from the day You were born in holy majesty. Like dew from the womb of the dawn, I have begotten You.

The Lord has sworn, and He will not take back His word : “You are a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

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

Liturgical Colour : Red

Hebrews 5 : 1-10

Every High Priest is taken from among mortals and appointed to be their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. He is able to understand the ignorant and erring for he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he is bound to offer sacrifices for his sins as well as for the sins of the people.

Besides, one does not presume to take this dignity, but takes it only when called by God, as Aaron was. Nor did Christ become High Priest in taking upon Himself this dignity, but it was given to Him by the One Who says : You are My Son, I have begotten You today. And in another place : You are a Priest forever in the priestly order of Melchizedek.

Christ, in the days of His mortal life, offered His sacrifice with tears and cries. He prayed to Him Who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His humble submission. Although He was Son, He learnt through suffering what obedience was, and once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for those who obey Him. This is how God proclaimed Him Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Saturday, 21 January 2017 : 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 heard about the sacrifice of Christ our Lord, our High Priest, which He had made for our sake. He is the Lamb of God, the Lamb of sacrifice, Who had offered none other than His own Blood, His own Flesh for our sake. In order to understand this fully, the whole significance of it, we need to understand what is the meaning of sacrifice which is offered for the sake of someone’s sins.

In the Sacred Scriptures, ever since the beginning of time, the people of God, mankind had offered sacrifices to God, from the offerings of Abel and Cain, to thw offering of Noah after the Great Flood, to the offering of Abraham our father in faith, to the offering of Melchizedek, the King of Salem, to the offering of the prophets from the days of Moses to the days of the kings of Israel and Judah. All of these sacrifices are meant to honour and glorify the Lord, to offer Him worship and praise, and at the same time also for the forgiveness of one’s sins.

In the days of old, the priests were instructed by the laws which God passed down to Moses, to sprinkle some of the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the people. The blood therefore represents cleansing, the purification of one from his or her sins, and at the same time, also a renewal of the covenant which they had made with the Lord their God. The sacrifice to God is the sign of the formalisation of the covenant between God and His people, as what Abraham had done when God made the covenant with him, and which Moses then renewed as he led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

But as mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the power of the blood of goats, lambs and heifers, the offering of worldly and earthly sacrifices are limited. Such was the great extent, weight and consequences of our sins, the whole sum of the sins of all mankind, both past, present and the future, that no amount of animal sacrifices and offerings can replace them, save that of the worthy Lamb of God.

Nothing is more perfect than God, and therefore since God Himself had descended into this world as a Man, Jesus Christ, He has Himself become the Lamb of sacrifice and the High Priest at the same time, as the One Who purifies the people of God, not by other blood or sacrifices, but by His very own Blood, the perfect offering of Himself. It was the ultimate and selfless sacrifice, which overcome the sins caused by the selfishness and greed of our ancestors.

It was God’s love that made all of them possible. Otherwise, what God had done would have been incomprehensible to us. But indeed, God’s ways are not like our ways, and while we think that something is impossible for us to do, for God nothing is impossible. All things are possible for Him, including our salvation, our liberation and freedom from our sinfulness.

And yet, despite this great love shown to us by our God, there are still those who have not accepted that love, and even rejected Him, those who refused to open their hearts to welcome the Lord. Even Jesus was rejected by His own disciples and His own relatives, as we witnessed in the Gospel passage today, when His own relatives said that He was out of His mind because of what He was doing with the people.

The same therefore will happen to us, even as Jesus Himself had prophesied on how everything will turn out to be for us, all those who follow Him and walk in His ways. The world will reject that love which God had poured on it, and there will be many people who do not walk in His ways. But how do we then react to this? How do we face the challenges that will come our way? Then we really should look up the example of St. Agnes the Great, the holy martyr of the faith, whose feast we are celebrating today.

St. Agnes lived during the time of great difficulty for the Christian faith, where the Church and the faithful came under constant attacks from the Roman authorities, who were decidedly against the faith, and who persecuted many of those who profess their faith to God. It was during the reign of one of the most hostile Emperors that St. Agnes lived in, during the time of the Emperor Diocletian, infamous for his brutal persecution of Christians.

St. Agnes was born into a Roman noble family, and because of her family’s background, had had many suitors since her very young age. But she would not give in to their pursuits and evaded them, determined to maintain her virginity and purity, which she offered and dedicated to the Lord. But those men who wanted to have her were not happy being rejected, and therefore, they accused her before the authorities and reported that she was a Christian.

Later on she was persecuted, tortured and made to endure many humiliations at the hands of those who hated and rejected her. But St. Agnes did not give up and neither did she fight back, instead putting her complete trust in the Lord through prayer, she gave up her life, knowing that by doing so, she was doing the will of God, and also at the same time showing many others the inspiration and the way forward in their faith towards God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we look upon the examples of St. Agnes the holy martyr, let us all from now on devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord in the same manner as she had done in the past. Let us be genuine in our faith, and be ready to defend it against the opposition and challenges from the world, which will surely come our way in the future, if not already happening at the present.

May the Lord help us all to remain committed to Him, and may He empower each and every one of us to live in faith, and to give ourselves to Him, that in all the things we say, we do and we act, we will always bring glory to Him and be found worthy of Him. Let us appreciate what the Lord had done for us, because He has loved us, and by that love, He has saved us by His own death on the cross. May God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 21 January 2017 : 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 : 20-21

At that time, Jesus and His disciples went home. The crowd began to gather again and they could not even have a meal. Knowing what was happening, His relatives came to take charge of Him, “He is out of His mind,” they said.