Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard of the exchange between both the prophet Samuel and the people of Israel on the matter of kingship in our first reading today, and then the well-known story of how the Lord Jesus healed a paralytic man brought to Him through the roof in our Gospel today and also how the Pharisees in the crowd immediately criticised Him for His actions.

In what we have heard through our Scripture readings today, we can see then how we mankind often preferred to follow our own path and refuse to listen to God and His reminders for us. That is quite evident in what we have heard in our passages today, as the Israelites hardened their hearts and continued to insist to have a king over themselves just as their neighbours did, when the prophet Samuel had spent quite a considerable effort in trying to persuade them to rethink their choice.

The prophet Samuel presented to the people such a convincing argument, stating how God Himself was their one and only true King, and thus it was unnecessary for them to have a man as a king over them like their neighbours did. God has appointed the Judges to be His intermediaries and as the ones through whom God would act to lead His people, but it was those same people who constantly disobeyed and refused to believe in God and preferred to walk their own paths.

And they wanted to have a king over them most likely because they wanted someone who could make their country to be more prestigious and respected, to be an equal and like those of their neighbours, a king who could lead them to war and win against their enemies. More importantly, some of them probably wanted to benefit from having a king over them, as they could probably work to be in favour of the king for their own desires and benefits.

That was why they ignored all of Samuel’s warnings and advices in saying how those kings they wanted could abuse their power and authority to oppress them and make their lives difficult for the selfishness and ego of those same kings mentioned. And that was how the kings led the people down the path of sin and disobedience which eventually caused the downfall of Israel and its people, although there were indeed quite a few kings who were great and faithful too, like David and Solomon for most of the latter’s reign.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard yet another, related example of how we mankind preferred our own judgment and selfish desires rather than to listen to God. I am referring to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were there when the Lord Jesus healed the paralytic man. They criticised Jesus when they heard the Lord healing the paralytic by saying that his sins had been forgiven. They refused to believe that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah despite all the signs and the wonders they had seen before their own eyes.

They preferred to trust in their own way of thinking and prejudices, seeing the Lord as an upstart and even a heretic by saying that He could forgive sins. They thought that only God alone could forgive sins and not the Man they saw healing the paralytic before them. If only that they opened their eyes, not just their physical eyes but also the eyes of their hearts and minds; and see the truth that Jesus is none other than God Himself, incarnate in the flesh as Man, as He has mentioned but they refused to believe, and as the prophets had said, but again they refused to listen to.

And there was the King Himself, as I said earlier how God is the true King of Israel, and thus, Jesus is indeed King over His people, not just because He is God incarnate, but also even more so because He was born into the House of David as his descendant, fulfilling the promise that God Himself made to David that his house will remain on the throne and as kings forever. It is in Jesus Christ that the Lord has once again fully reclaimed His right to be the inviolable and true King of His people.

But the people refused to believe even in their King and again preferred to believe in their own judgment and strength, in their own intellect and power. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were concerned about maintaining their reach and influence, their prestige and honourable position within the community, and that was why they viewed the Lord Jesus as well as His disciples as rivals and threats to their own security and status, and they allowed these concerns and desires to cloud their judgment.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are all called to reflect on our lives based on what we have heard in our Scripture passages today. Indeed, we can see just how we mankind easily succumb to the temptations of this world, the temptations of wealth, power, influence, fame, pleasure and many others that we crave and want. And in the process we lose ourselves and our direction in life and fall into the trap set by the devil and all seeking our ruination and defeat.

Today, we should therefore look upon the examples of faith set by St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as St. Anthony the Great, a renowned monk and ascetic who was remembered as among the first of those who dedicated themselves so completely and wholeheartedly to the Lord in the unique calling of monkhood and contemplative lifestyle in the desert. St. Anthony the Abbot left behind everything in the world early on in his life after his parents passed away, and went to the wilderness.

There in the wilderness, St. Anthony sought God and focused his attention on Him, while being constantly tempted by the demons and evil spirits who sought to turn him away from the path towards God. He led a very strict ascetic lifestyle and resisted the temptation of worldliness and although the demons tried to dissuade him by many means, they eventually failed to do so. The example of St. Anthony became well-known and quite a few others came to join in his way of life as well.

What St. Anthony taught us all is that, contrary to how our many predecessors have behaved, in turning their backs against God and betraying Him for the comfort of this world, succumbing to the temptations of pride, power, desire, wealth and glory, we can indeed be faithful to God and stay on the path that He has shown us. We do not need to follow exactly what St. Anthony had done in abandoning everything and becoming an ascetic. Instead, what we are called to do is for us to trust in God more and to truly honour Him as how we should honour our Lord and King.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore strive to serve the Lord from now on to the best of our abilities, by placing Him once again at the very centre of our lives and existence, as the King of our hearts, our minds and indeed, our entire beings. Let us no longer be deceived by the devil and be distracted by the many temptations with which he tried to persuade us to abandon God and trap us into our downfall.

May the Lord our loving God, our mighty King, through the intercession of St. Anthony the Abbot continue to bless us and guide us all in our respective journeys of faith. May He be with us always now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 2 : 1-12

At that time, after some days, Jesus returned to Capernaum. As the news spread that He was in the house, so many people gathered, that there was no longer room even outside the door. While Jesus was preaching the word to them, some people brought to Him a paralysed man.

The four men who carried him could not get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they opened the roof above the room where Jesus was and, through the hole, lowered the man on his mat. When Jesus saw the faith of these people, He said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, some teachers of the Law, who were sitting there, wondered within themselves, “How can He speak like this, insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?” At once, Jesus knew in His Spirit what they were thinking, and asked, “Why do you wonder? Is it easier to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk?’ But now you shall know, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

And He said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take up your mat and go home.” The man rose and, in the sight of all those people, he took up his mat and went out. All of them were astonished and praised God, saying, “Never have we seen anything like this!”

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 88 : 16-17, 18-19

Blessed is the people who know Your praise. They walk in the light of Your face. They celebrate all day, Your Name and Your protection lifts them up.

You give us glory and power; and Your favour gives us victory. Our king is in the hands of YHVH; the God of Israel is our shield.

Friday, 17 January 2020 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Samuel 8 : 4-7, 10-22a

Because of this, all the chiefs of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel in Ramah. They said to him, “You are already old and your sons are not following your ways. Give us a king to rule over us as in all the other nations.”

Samuel was very displeased with what they said, “Give us a king to rule us,” and he prayed to YHVH. And YHVH told him, “Give to this people all that they ask for.” So Samuel answered those who were asking him for a king. He told them all that YHVH said to him, “Look, these will be the demands of your king : he will take your sons and assign them to his chariot and his horses and have them run before his chariot.”

“Some he will assign as commanders over a thousand men and commanders over fifty. Others will till his ground and reap his harvest, make his implements of war and the equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as well to prepare perfumes, to cook and to bake for him. He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards and your olive orchards and give them to his officials.”

“He will take a tenth portion of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, the best of your cattle and your asses for his own work. He will take the tenth of your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When these things happen, you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen for yourselves. But by then, YHVH will not answer you.”

The people paid no attention to all that Samuel said. They insisted, “No! We want a king to govern us as in all the other nations. Our king shall govern us, lead us and go ahead of us in our battles.” Upon hearing all that his people said, Samuel repeated it to YHVH. But YHVH said to him, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Thursday, 17 January 2019 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture telling us about the the healing which the Lord Jesus performed on a person who suffered from leprosy. The leper came up to Him and begged Him to heal his afflictions. The Lord was moved by the faith and the effort showed by the leper, and He healed him from the leprosy, allowing the leper to return to the larger community from where he had been exiled from.

And this is linked to what we have heard in the first reading today, the Epistle that St. Paul wrote to the people and the faithful among the Jewish community, reminding them of the need for conversion of hearts and minds, to turn away from their past sinful ways and actions. It was mentioned how sin is the fruit of rebelliousness of man, who disobeyed God and refused to listen to His will. And the reason for this link, is because sin is also a form of sickness.

If leprosy is a disease that strikes at the flesh, damaging the muscles and the tissues of our body, which eventually can cause death unless it is treated and managed, then sin is also a disease that is far more serious, as it affects very deeply within our beings, corrupting and attacking at the very souls and cores of our whole beings. This corruption will end up causing us, our whole being, to fall deeper and deeper in the trap of sin, and eventually, may fall into eternal damnation.

In order to be healed, it is often that we cannot heal ourselves just by waiting and doing nothing at all. We will need to actively seek for healing, by coming to those who are able to heal us. That was how many of us managed to be healed, because we got our conditions diagnosed properly and then received the right medicine to help us to recover from the illness or sickness as quickly as possible.

In the same way, we also need healing for our sins, to be touched by God Who is able to forgive us from our sins. It is by God’s grace and forgiveness alone that we can be healed from our sins. Unless we humble ourselves before God and seek His love and mercy, it may be very difficult for us to overcome this great obstacle of sin, which prevented us from being fully loved and embraced by God.

And unfortunately, the reason for why it is often difficult for us to seek God’s mercy is because of our own ego and pride, which became a major obstacle in the journey towards our forgiveness. In our ego and pride, we often think that we cannot go wrong, that we know what is best for us. And we are often reluctant to acknowledge our sins because we fear God’s anger, or because we are not sure how we should proceed to settle those sins.

This is caused by our own ignorance and failure to understand and to appreciate the love which God has for each and every one of us. If only we can try to know more about His love and mercy being constantly present in our midst, and accept that generous offer of forgiveness and reconciliation that He had offered to us. Today, we celebrate the feast of a holy man and devout servant of God, whose life can probably be an inspiration for us on how we should become closer in love for God.

St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as St. Anthony the Great lived during the mid fourth century after the birth of Christ, as one of the famous early Christian monks, who helped to popularise the concept of monasticism among the faithful. He lived in then the Roman province of Egypt, born to a wealthy landowning family but then chose to leave everything behind and sold his properties to feed the poor, and went to the desert to be a monk.

St. Anthony lived a life totally devoted to the Lord in seclusion and prayer, and wandered the desert and the caves for many years, leading a very holy and exemplary life. However, the devil did not remain passive amidst all of those years, and actively tried to attack and tempt St. Anthony by various means. It was told that many evil spirits and demons physically and spiritually struck at the holy man, with many temptations. But St. Anthony overcame all of them with prayer.

The holiness and dedication that St. Anthony the Great had shown all of us should become an inspiration on how we should live our own lives in this world. There are indeed plenty of temptations and pressures for us to follow the ways of the world, that is the way of Satan, and not the way of the Lord. And it is indeed difficult to resist those temptations, which will come at any time and from various sources, just as those evil spirits and tempters that attacked St. Anthony had done.

However, we can follow the example shown by St. Anthony, in his prayerful dedication to the Lord, that is his constant and ever-fervent connection with his God, Who is his anchor, strength and protection. With the Lord by his side, St. Anthony was able to resist the temptations of the devil and all of his wicked forces, and became a light of inspiration for countless others among the faithful throughout the subsequent centuries and millennia, to this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to walk in the footsteps of this holy man of God? We are called in our own respective capacities, in whatever we do in life, to bring glory to God by aligning ourselves closer to Him, and not to succumb to the many temptations of life. We are called to love the Lord ever more, and open ourselves to receive His love and mercy, and not to harden our hearts and minds against Him. That is why we need to pray more, and have good quality of prayerful life from now on, each and every days of our life.

May God, our loving Father, continue to love us and bless us in all of our deeds, and may He continue to guide us in our journey of life, so that in everything we say and do, we will always glorify His Name, and walk in His ways. St. Anthony the Great, holy Abbot and servant of God, pray for us sinners. Amen.

Thursday, 17 January 2019 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 1 : 40-45

At that time, a leper came to Jesus and begged Him, “If You want to, You can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to; be clean.”

The leprosy left the man at once and he was made clean. As Jesus sent the man away, He sternly warned him, “Do not tell anyone about this, but go and show yourself to the priest, and for the cleansing bring the offering ordered by Moses; in this way you will give to them your testimony.”

However, as soon as the man went out, he began spreading the news everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter any town. But even though He stayed in the rural areas, people came to Him from everywhere.

Thursday, 17 January 2019 : 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 94 : 6-7, 8-9, 10-11

Come and worship; let us bow down, kneel before the Lord, our Maker. He is our God, and we His people; the flock He leads and pastures. Would that today you heard His voice!

Do not be stubborn, as at Meribah, in the desert, on that day at Massah, when your ancestors challenged Me, and they put Me to the test.

For forty years they wearied Me and I said, “They are a people of inconsistent heart; they have not known My ways.” So I declared an oath in My anger, “Never shall they enter My rest.”