Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd 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 as we listened to the words from the Sacred Scriptures, we are all presented with the reminder of the faithfulness which God has shown to each one of us by the Covenant that He has established and constantly renewed with all of us. God has always ever been faithful to all the promises and oaths, vows and words that He has spoken to us, fulfilling and completing them as He had done, in His own time, and He has always reached out to us with ever patient and enduring love that despite our many stubborn actions and attitudes, and refusal to listen to Him, God has always been ready to welcome us back and to forgive us our sins when we come to Him seeking His mercy.

In our first reading today, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard of the words of the author of the Epistle regarding the extent of the things that the Lord had done for us, even when He was not obliged to do so. He, the Almighty and All-Powerful Lord and Master of all Creation, is not bound to show His love for us all, or to be bound by any promises for us, and less still, to bind Himself in a Covenant with us, especially after we have disobeyed against Him and rebelled against Him, choosing to listen to the falsehoods of the devil instead of the path of God’s righteousness, virtues and justice. God has chosen to continue reaching out to us and patiently guiding us towards Himself despite all these, and established a Holy Covenant with us, binding Himself into this sacred vow, oath and arrangement, all because of His love for us.

God has always loved us all from the very beginning, and while He despised our sins and wickedness, what He hates was truly those sins and evils that we have committed, and not ourselves personally. After all, the very reason why He created this whole world and Universe is because of His love and He created us in His very own image, as He desired to share with us His overflowing love, to love us all most generously and sincerely, and to bring us all into His most Holy and loving Presence. We were never intended to suffer and to die, as we were created all good and perfect. We should have enjoyed an eternity of bliss and true happiness with God, if not for the failures of our ancestors and all of us in resisting and rejecting the temptations and allures of sin and evil. It was because of sin that we have been sundered and separated from God.

Yet, the Lord still persisted patiently and gave us opportunities, help and assistance, time and again so that we all may find our way to Him, to return to His path and to be reconciled with Him. He has always reached out to us, His lost sheep and scattered flock, that as our Good Shepherd, He went all the way, to the wilderness and to the peripheries, in searching out for us, finding us and returning us to the flock that He had gathered, all because He truly loved each and every one of us equally, and most dearly. It is through Christ Himself that we have seen, witnessed and experienced the Love of God firsthand, manifested and made real and tangible in our midst. And by Christ’s suffering, His Passion, His death on the Cross, He has shown us just how perfect and selfless God’s love for us has been, is, and will always ever be.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord courageously spoke out against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who criticised Him and His disciples, because of the latters’ actions in picking up the grains of the wheat from the field when they were all very hungry. Back then, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were truly notorious for their particularly hardline and rigid attitude in preserving and observing the Law of God, and the many customs and practices of the Jewish people. They were very strict in imposing their no-tolerance adherence and observance of the Law of God, the numerous laws, regulations and rules pertaining to the Jewish customs and practices, especially the one regarding the Sabbath day, the day of rest stipulated in the Law.

However, in their misguided zeal and fanaticism, those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had overlooked the fact and forgotten that the Sabbath as it was originally revealed by God and intended by Him, was a day to remind all the faithful to turn back towards the Lord, and to take a break from their often overly possessive attachments to worldly matters and ambitions, their preoccupations and works, their desires and wants in life, among other things, which prevented them from loving God and serving Him as they should have done. The Sabbath was a day meant to help the people of God to return to Him after long periods of being distracted by worldly matters and all the troubles, problems and trials that they had in this world.

Unfortunately, those same Pharisees and teachers of the Law, were the very ones who made it difficult for many to come to embrace the Lord, because of their excessive focus and attention on themselves and their own attachments to pride, ego and ambition, to human praise and worldly glory among other things. They had made it difficult for many, especially those who in fact were in the greatest need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Not only that, but the Pharisees and the teachers themselves forgot that they themselves were also in need of healing and God’s mercy, and by closing the gates of Heaven to many, that made their sins to multiply and became greater, not less. Their neglect of their role as stewards and guides for God’s people, to help them to return to the Lord, was their undoing.

The Lord Jesus hence reminded them and also all of us that the Law of God was meant to help us to find our way back to the Lord, and not to lay unnecessary burdens and hardships on us. The Law of God is love and is about God’s ever enduring and strong love for each one of us, so that He was willing to go through all those obstacles for us, on our behalf and to love us still even after we have disobeyed and refused to listen to Him so many times. Nonetheless, God continued to reach out to us, and through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, all of us have been gathered from being scattered all throughout the world, and through Him and His love, we have been saved from our predicament and fate of eternal damnation. And it is only right therefore that we also dedicate ourselves to the Lord in the same way.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has laid out His path and His graces upon us, and the choice is now ours whether we want to embrace Him and journey together with Him, or else, if we rather choose the comforts of the world and the temptations of glory and power. And we can also imitate and follow upon the good examples and works set by one famous saint and Church father, St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as the St. Anthony the Great, who was one of the earliest monastics of the Church, and living in the land rampant with bitter persecutions and hardships by the Roman authorities. St. Anthony devoted himself wholeheartedly to the Lord, spending his every living moments and breaths to glorify God by their work. He had to face a lot of struggles, but St. Anthony remained faithful and patient. He resisted the temptations of worldly glory and strived his best to lead a life of holy asceticism, focused solely on God, and gathered like minded people who followed his example, which was credited with the rise of the monastic practices in the Church.

For example, it was well known that the devil and other demons often came to torment St. Anthony, lifting him up and tempting him with all sorts of false and empty promises. He was under constant attacks from the evil one, and had to contend with the sufferings of this world as well as the pressures for us to conform and follow the ways of the world. Nonetheless, St. Anthony remained firm and strong in his faith, ministering to the needs of his community and other people who desired to seek the Lord and His forgiveness and grace, within his monastic communities as well as to the greater community, to his many visitors and contemporaries. Through his inspirational works, he has become our great model in how we should live our own lives, in being faithful and committed to God, and his writings inspired generations of good and holy priests, and holy people of God. The question is that, are we willing to spend the time and effort for us to change our ways for the better? The choice is ours alone.

May the Lord our most loving God and Creator continue to love us and care for us, and that may He continue to be patient with us, as we are progressing through our own respective lives. We should not take our faith, its many rules and precepts for granted anymore. That is why it is important that we have to grow to understand more about what our faith is all about, and how we should seek and strive to be humble before God, so that we may not be swallowed by our many worldly attachments and pride, and that we will always ever be patient in following God, and that we may always give Him thanks and praise for all the good things that He had done for us. May God bless us always, now and forevermore, in all the things we say and do. Amen.

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 2 : 23-28

At that time, one Sabbath Jesus was walking through grainfields. 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, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 110 : 1-2, 4-5, 9 and 10c

Alleluia! I thank the Lord with all my heart in the council of the just, in the assembly. The works of the Lord are great and pondered by all who delight in them.

He lets us remember His wondrous deeds; the Lord is merciful and kind. Always mindful of His covenant, He provides food for those who fear Him.

He has sent His people deliverances and made with them a covenant forever. His holy Name is to be revered! To Him belongs everlasting praise.

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Hebrews 6 : 10-20

God is not unjust and will not forget everything you have done for love of His Name; you have helped and still help the believers. We desire each of you to have, until the end, the same zeal for reaching what you have hoped for. Do not grow careless but imitate those who, by their faith and determination, inherit the promise.

Remember God’s promise to Abraham, God wanted to confirm it with an oath and, as no one is higher than God, He swore by Himself : I shall bless you and give you many descendants. By just patiently waiting, Abraham obtained the promise.

People are used to swearing by someone higher than themselves and their oath affirms everything that could be denied. So God committed Himself with an oath in order to convince those who were to wait for His promise that He would never change His mind.

Thus we have two certainties in which it is impossible that God be proved false : promise and oath. That is enough to encourage us strongly when we leave everything to hold to the hope set before us. This hope is like a steadfast anchor of the soul, secure and firm, thrust beyond the curtain of the Temple into the sanctuary itself, where Jesus has entered ahead of us – Jesus, High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings, we listened to two stories, one from the Old Testament, in which we continue the story of the prophet Samuel’s book, now about king David when he was still young, after he has been anointed by Samuel, in his struggle against the giant Goliath. Surely all of us are quite familiar with this famous story of David versus Goliath, but do we really know the significance of what happened that day when David defeated Goliath?

At that time, the people of Israel under the leadership of king Saul has fallen away from God’s grace, because Saul has disobeyed Him in several occasions, and refused to listen to the words of the prophet Samuel. The Philistines were a group of people who lived neighbouring the land of Israel, and they were constant bitter enemies of the Israelites. They warred frequently against Israel, and raided the land for loot and for glory.

And they wielded a mighty army against Israel, made of giants who were of towering height over the smaller Israelite forces. Goliath was the mightiest among the mighty, and he was a champion of the Philistines. No one among the Israelites, even king Saul, dared to stand against the giant Goliath. And Goliath uttered all sorts of insolent and blasphemous words against Israel and against God.

David, who was not counted among the soldiers was in the camp, providing for his brothers, some of whom were fighting as part of king Saul’s army. He was a young man, with a complexion and appearance that did not make him look like a great and mighty warrior. Yet, when he challenged Goliath out of great anger and righteous wrath, for all the insults and blasphemies the giant uttered against God, he courageously stood against the giant.

Everyone at that time would not have expected that David would even have any chance of surviving against Goliath, less still being able to defeat the giant. Yet, that was exactly what happened. David triumphed against Goliath, who was so confident of his human prowess and abilities, that he ended up being overconfident, not knowing that God was with David.

In the Gospel today, we listened to another story, of the time when the Lord Jesus healed a paralytic man on the day of the Sabbath. He had pity on the man who was suffering from his condition, and was moved to rescue him from his troubles. God did this because He wanted to show us how much He loved us all, and we will never be left alone, for He is always with us, particularly those who are downtrodden and without hope.

He rebuked all those Pharisees and teachers of the Law who opposed His works of mercy and love. Those people claimed to be good and holy, and yet they failed to understand that the law of the Sabbath was actually meant to allow the people to love the Lord more, and put their focus at Him. The Sabbath day was meant to be a day in which the people leave behind their worldly concerns and business, and refocus themselves to the Lord.

And that can perfectly be achieved through good deeds of love and mercy, since if we remember what the Lord Himself said, that whatever it is that we do for the sake of the least among us, we do it for the Lord Himself. That is why we should reflect on this today, as we look upon our own respective life and actions. Have we truly been faithful as for example, king David has been faithful?

Those who place their trust in the Lord will not be disappointed, because God remembers one’s good faith and love for Him. And that is why we need to learn to put our trust in Him. Perhaps we should be inspired by the good examples of the saint whose feast and memory we celebrate today, namely that of St. Anthony the Abbot. He was a renowned religious and man of God, whose dedication to the Lord and commitment became a great inspiration for those who followed his path.

St. Anthony the Abbot was renowned as one of the first of those who dedicated themselves to an ascetic life, wholly dedicated to the Lord. He went off to the wilderness, living in caves and isolated areas, living his life with prayer and devotion to God. He was tempted a lot by the devil, who made him suffer and things to be inconvenient for him. Yet, this holy man of God persevered through those challenges and tribulations, growing ever deeper in his commitment to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, many of us in our own respective lives will meet challenges and troubles, much like that faced by David when he went up against Goliath the giant, and also the man with paralytic hand, who is confirmed to have endured prejudices and troubles in his life. St. Anthony have encountered many temptations and difficulties, attacks by the devil as he secluded himself in the desert.

But God was with all of them, and He provided for each one of them, in His own way and method. God is ever loving and ever kind, but it is us mankind who have not loved Him as we should. Then, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all renew our commitment to love our God, and to devote ourselves wholeheartedly and trust Him, as David had, and as St. Anthony had done. May the Lord be with us always, and may He bless us and all of our endeavours. Amen.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 3 : 1-6

At that time, again, Jesus entered the synagogue. A man, who had a paralysed hand, was there; and some people watched Jesus : would He heal the man on the Sabbath? If He did, they could accuse Him.”

Jesus said to the man with the paralysed hand, “Stand here, in the centre.” Then He asked them, “What does the Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm? To save life or to kill?” But they were silent. Then Jesus looked around at them with anger and deep sadness at their hardness of heart. And He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”

He stretched it out, and his hand was healed. As soon as the Pharisees left, they met with Herod’s supporters, looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 143 : 1, 2, 9-10

Blessed be YHVH, my Rock, Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.

My loving God, my Fortress; my Protector and Deliverer, my Shield; Where I take refuge; Who conquers nations and subjects them to my rule.

I will sing a new song to You, o God; I will make music on the ten-stringed harp, for You, Who give victory to kings and deliver David, Your servant.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Samuel 17 : 32-33, 37, 40-51

David said to Saul, “Let no one be discouraged on account of this Philistine, for your servant will engage him in battle.” Saul told David, “You cannot fight with this Philistine for you are still young, whereas this man has been a warrior from his youth.”

David continued, “YHVH, Who delivered me from the paws of lions and bears, will deliver me from the hands of the Philistine.” Saul then told David, “Go, and may YHVH be with you!”

David took his staff, picked up five smooth stones from the brook and dropped them inside his shepherd’s bag. And with his sling in hand, he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine moved forward, closing in on David, his shield-bearer in front of him. When he saw that David was only a lad, (he was of fresh complexion and handsome) he despised him and said, “Am I a dog that you should approach me with a stick?”

Cursing David by his gods, he continued, “Come, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field!” David answered the Philistine, “You have come against me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come against you with YHVH, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. YHVH will deliver you this day into my hands and I will strike you down and cut off your head.”

“I will give the corpses of the Philistine army today to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, and all the earth shall know that there is a God of Israel. All the people gathered here shall know that YHVH saves not by sword or spear; the battle belongs to YHVH, and He will deliver you into our hands.”

No sooner had the Philistine moved to attack him, than David rushed to the battleground. Putting his hand into his bag, he took out a stone, slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead; it penetrated his forehead and he fell on his face to the ground. David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, felling him without using a sword.

He rushed forward, stood over him, took the Philistine’s sword and slew him by cutting off his head. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they scattered in all directions.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture passages we heard first of all from the Epistle to the Hebrews, which urged everyone to remember God’s promise and covenant, which He had made with His people out of His love for them. We are all reminded of God’s faith in us, and we are all called to place our trust and hope in Him.

He has sworn by Himself, to assure us that He will deliver us from our sins and from our troubles. He Himself has assured us that He will deliver us and free us from the chains and bondage to sin. We have nothing to fear but to trust completely in Him, because while the world and its words are untrustworthy, and while mankind are untrustworthy in our dealings, but God alone can be completely trusted, for He is honest and just, and having sworn by Himself, He cannot deny Himself.

But it is rather us mankind who had not been faithful as I have mentioned, because we always try to find excuses and other alternatives, instead of obeying God. We ended up trusting in our own human instincts and judgments, rather than obeying and listening to the Lord our God. That was why in the Gospel passage today, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were rebuked by Jesus, as He had also done in various other occasions throughout the Gospels, because of their refusal to believe in what He had to tell them, that their ways were wrong.

They were the guardians of the laws of God as passed down to them from the time of Moses, down through many generations. But throughout those times, the essence of the Law became lost, and people became servants to the laws of God, not knowing what they were all about. Instead of obeying the Law because it was right to serve and please the Lord with their obedience, many of them enforced the laws and follow them for the sake of doing it.

For example, on the well known issue of the day of the Sabbath and its observance among the Israelites. The Sabbath was instituted by the Lord at the time when Israel went out from Egypt and were travelling through the desert towards the Promised Land. It was meant as a holy day dedicated to the Lord, as a day when all the people of Israel should focus themselves and their whole attention to the Lord.

And why was that so? That is because those Israelites have not been faithful to God in many occasions, they grumbled and disobeyed His laws and commandments as soon as after God had liberated and brought them out from the land of Egypt. God wanted to save them from their rebelliousness, and He wanted to discipline them by the means of those laws, but never had He intended for them to be oppressed by those measures.

Unfortunately that was what the Pharisees did, burdening the people with the many observances and obligations to the Law, by one count approximately six hundred and thirteen of them in total, and yet, many of these were human made laws that did not bring about greater understanding of the true meaning of God’s Law, which in fact was about God’s love for us all, so that He gave us those guiding oaths to help us in our path.

That was why Jesus told them all about how the king David in the past broke the law of the Sabbath because he and his soldiers, his followers were hungry. He ate the bread that were supposed to be offered for the Lord, as a form of sustenance to support them after their long journey. And the high priest then, Abiathar, allowed them to do so, even though that was supposedly against the Law.

It is because the Law was indeed meant to help mankind and to assist them on their path towards salvation, and not to oppress them. As Jesus mentioned, it was the Law which was made for man, and not man for the Law. It was because of love that God had given His instructions to mankind, in order to save them and to liberate them from the wrong paths they were following.

That is why, in all things, as Christians, all of us ought to remember that first of all, God wants each and every one of us to be saved. He wants us all to live and not to perish. We must not close the path towards salvation to those who are in need of it, by looking down on sinners and by refusing to welcome them back when they come to seek God’s forgiveness and grace. Let us remember that we ourselves are sinners and are in need of God’s mercy.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us today reflect on the examples and the life of St. Anthony the Abbot, the famous saint and religious who was known also as St. Anthony the Great, a renowned monk and religious from the Roman era Egypt known to be the father of monasticism and one of the first to commit himself in a contemplative life filled with prayer and devotion to God.

St. Anthony left behind everything in his former life, and he spent the rest of his life in contemplative prayer and commitment to God. He lived in the wilderness, much as St. John the Baptist had done in the past, shunning the comforts of life and leaving behind all worldly concerns. He also ministered to the people by helping the poor and the communities nearby where he lived, and called them to a life of holiness and devotion to God.

The devil often tempted St. Anthony, and it was told that he even tried hard to undermine all of St. Anthony’s works, and attacked him in various occasions, and yet St. Anthony persevered through all of them via a life committed to God in devotion and prayer. He overcame the devil by the power of prayer and piety, committing his whole being to God. From all of his examples, we truly should be inspired by his dedication and discipline in his life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we all live in a world filled with many temptations, many of which are trying to keep us away from attaining God’s salvation. The devil is always at work, trying to undermine our progress and by pulling us away with his lies and falsehoods. This is where we need to be careful, that we should not fall into his traps. We must learn to resist the temptations of this world and commit ourselves in the same way as the holy saints, including that of St. Anthony, had done.

May the Lord help us in all of our endeavours, so that through all of our good and committed works, we may put the Lord as the focus of all our actions, and indeed, as the focus of our lives. May the Lord bless us and keep us, and may He strengthen in our hearts, the faith which we ought to have for Him, and help us to be faithful to God, just as He Himself had been truly faithful to us. Let us all help one another on our path to the Lord, and keep ourselves worthy of Him at all times. May God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White
Mark 2 : 23-28

At that time, one Sabbath Jesus was walking through grainfields. 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.”