Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Scripture passages today, we heard of the encouraging story of renewal and salvation that each and every one of us are to receive from God. We are reminded how God desires to make us whole again, cleanse and purify us from our sins, to renew us and to put a new heart and Spirit inside each and every one of us. This is a very clear sign of God’s enduring love for us, and all the more reason why we need to heed His call.

In our Gospel today, we heard a similar theme as we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking of the parable of the king and his son’s wedding banquet which alluded to the call that God has given to all of us His people. In that parable, a king held a grand and magnificent banquet for his son’s wedding, and invited everyone who had been known to the king and therefore, worthy of the joy that the king wanted to share as he celebrated his son’s wedding.

However, those who were invited to the banquet of the king refused to come for the wedding, although everything had been well prepared for them, and they truly ought to have been honoured to be invited as such. But they ignored the king’s invitation, pretended that they were busy and unavailable, found excuses of why they could not attend the wedding banquet to which they had been generously and kindly invited to, and there were even those who persecuted and killed the servants sent to them.

This is a reference and also a sad reminder of how many of us mankind, who are the sharers and invitees to God’s great and wonderful heavenly banquet, and yet, we did not appreciate just how fortunate and blessed we are to be part of this great banquet of the Lord, to be part of His great Covenant and to enjoy the fullness of His grace and love. Instead, we busied ourselves with the many worldly matters and desires, concerns and other things that distracted us.

That is why we rejected His love and mercy, preferring to chart our own path rather than trusting in Him and following Him. We shut ourselves from His generous love and kindness because we thought that we know better how to live our lives. And this is where we need to realise that unless we follow the path that the Lord has shown us, we are likely to fall into sin, and from sin, into eternal darkness and death, for there is no salvation outside God and His Church.

And then, we heard in the same parable, how the king then told his servants to gather everyone they could find, that they filled in the seats that those unworthy guests had refused to fill up earlier on. All the people were gathered into the banquet, from all sorts of places, and whether good or bad. All of these are symbolic of how God’s kingdom and His salvation are truly open to everyone and all have equal chance to receive His inheritance and to be part of His glorious kingdom.

However, we must then take note of how when one of the guests did not turn up in the right garment in attending the wedding, as is customarily expected at the time, and which is surely also expected in our communities today, an the king ordered the guest to be taken out and thrown into the outer darkness. While the turn of events might confuse and surprise some of us, but in fact, this reminds us also that while everyone is welcome and has been called by God to enter into His kingdom, but we must also wear the right ‘garment’ in order to do so.

What does it mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? Just as the Lord said in our first reading today through the prophet Ezekiel that He would renew us and put a new heart and Spirit in us, therefore, this ‘garment’ refers to the new self that we put on, replacing our old selves of sin and darkness. Through baptism, we have been cleansed from the taint and corruption of our original sins, and we have received a new life, sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ.

But we must also remain faithful to that Covenant and path we have chosen in God, as baptism is only just the beginning of a new journey of life, and not a happy ending. Baptism sets us on the right path and direction, but we must maintain our direction by remaining focused on God, and keeping our lives virtuous and filled with faith and love for God, as well as the love for our fellow brothers and sisters. We must not succumb again to the temptations that led us to ignore God’s love and mercy as I mentioned just earlier.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern carefully our path in life going forward from now on as we reflect on these Scripture passages today. Have we lived our lives as God has called and taught us to? If we have not, then perhaps it is time indeed for us to take on the ‘garment’ of faith and discard the old sinful self of ours. Today, let us all also be inspired by the good examples set by St. Bernard, a famous and dedicated holy saint of God, a holy man and Abbot.

St. Bernard, also known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a renowned Abbot who was instrumental in the major reform in the monastic practices in the early Medieval era, especially among the Benedictine monks that St. Bernard was an Abbot of, and he was also renowned for his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, St. Bernard was instrumental in his efforts opposing heretical teachings and also in improving the then increasingly lax spirituality, discipline and morality among not just the monks, but also the general Christian population.

He encountered many difficulties throughout his life and ministry, but all these did not hinder or discourage St. Bernard in his dedication to the Lord and His Church. In time, his efforts began to bear fruit as more and more people came to be attracted by his reforms, and many began to commit themselves to monastic life following the rigorous reforms enacted by St. Bernard for stricter discipline and deeper spiritual life.

St. Bernard even attracted his own family members to join religious life, and through his other efforts, his many writings and contributions, he inspired many others through his faith and dedication, and was even instrumental in making peace among states and kingdoms that were then feuding and in conflict with each other. And through all these and many other deeds, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has shown us, what it means for us to live with faith, and to wear our ‘garment’ of faith with joy and pride.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all proceed forth in life, with a new heart and Spirit filled with love and devotion to God. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith, and be ever more committed, each and every moments of our lives, to be good Christians, to be faithful children of God, and to be worthy to enter into the eternal kingdom of God. May God be with us always and guide us all into eternal life that He has prepared for us. Amen.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 22 : 1-14

At that time, Jesus continued speaking to the people in parables : “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven : A king gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the banquet, but the guests refused to come.”

“Again, He sent other servants, instructing them to say to the invited guests, ‘I have prepared a banquet, slaughtered my fattened calves and other animals, and now, everything is ready. Come to the wedding!’ But they paid no attention and went away, some to their farms, and some to their work. Others seized the servants of the king, insulted them and killed them.”

“The king was furious. He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is prepared, but the invited guests were not worthy. Go instead to the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding feast.'”

“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, so that the hall was filled with guests. The king came in to see the wedding guests, and he noticed a man not wearing a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in without the wedding clothes?'”

“But the man remained silent. So the king said to his servants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 50 : 12-13, 14-15, 18-19

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will show wrongdoers Your ways and sinners will return to You.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart You will not despise.

Thursday, 20 August 2020 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ezekiel 36 : 23-28

I will make known the holiness of My great Name, profaned among the nations because of you; and they will know that I am YHVH, when I show them My holiness among you. For I will gather you from all the nations and bring you back to your own land. Then I shall pour pure water over you and you shall be made clean – cleansed from the defilement of all your idols.

I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put My Spirit within you and move you to follow My decrees and keep My laws. You will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you shall be My people and I will be your God.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the Lord speaks to us through our Scripture passages on the matter of being called and chosen by God, as we heard from the first reading passage taken from the Book of Judges on the calling of Gideon, one of the Judges of Israel and also from the Gospel passage where we heard the Lord speaking to His disciples on following Him and how they have all followed Him and served Him.

In our first reading today, God called Gideon to become His instrument in becoming the Judge over Israel, to be the one through whom God would act on behalf of His people. At that time, as mentioned in the passage, the people of Israel were oppressed by the Midianites who invaded the land of Israel and imposed their power and dominion over them, causing suffering and trials for God’s people.

But all of that were also caused by the failure of the people to be faithful to God, their loving Father and Creator. They preferred to follow their own paths and their own desires rather than to follow the laws and the precepts of God. Yet, this did not make the love that God has for them become any lesser or weaker. Instead, He continued to love them and cared for them regardless, and that was why He called the Judges to bring about reprieve and liberation for His beloved ones.

And today, as we heard about the calling of Gideon the Judge, we see how God called not the greatest and the mightiest in this world to become His servant and instrument by which He performed His wonderful works. Gideon himself admitted that his family and tribe were among the lowliest and humblest in terms of prestige, social strata and ranking among the whole nation of Israel, and yet, God called His servant from among his family.

Now, as we move on to our Gospel passage today, we can see the clear comparison between the calling of Gideon the Judge with that of the calling of the Apostles of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Lord had called His disciples and the twelve of them in particular He had chosen to be His Apostles, the leaders and the inner circle of His confidants and servants, whom He called from their various backgrounds and origins, much like how Gideon had been called.

God did not choose or call those who were powerful and mighty, those who were influential or beloved by many, those who were skilled and intellectual by the standards of the world to be His instruments. In this world, the norm would have been for us to seek those who are of good qualities as I have just mentioned to be our friends and followers, but God works by a different way and standard. He calls the ordinary people and makes them extraordinary by His power, providence and grace.

And God reassured all those whom He had called, when His disciples asked that of Him, that those who have dedicated themselves to Him, He will provide and protect, and they will not be disappointed for God is always ever faithful. Indeed, in that same reassurance, God also made it clear how in following Him, those whom He had chosen would have to endure sufferings, challenges and trials, and would also have to make many sacrifices, but as long as God is by their side, they truly have nothing to fear.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then respond to God’s call in our own respective lives? As those whom God had chosen and called as Christians, as those who have professed our faith in Him, all of us are called to walk in His way and to proclaim His truth among the nations of this world. Are we able to commit ourselves as Gideon had committed his life and how the Apostles and those who followed the Lord, the innumerable saints and martyrs had done all these while?

Today, we also celebrate the feast of St. Bernard the Abbot, also known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a renowned saint and abbot of the religious order later known as the Cistercians. He was the one who helped to reform the monastic practices at the time, and founded the Cistercian order based on his reforms and works. He was remembered for his great piety and devotion to God, and for his many writings and works, which still inspired and influenced many even many centuries after his passing to this day.

St. Bernard’s great faith and love for God ought to be our compass and guide in how each and every one of us should also love God wholeheartedly and commit ourselves to His cause from now on. And having heard from all these examples we have from our holy predecessors, let us all be driven by our passion and strong desire to love and serve the Lord to the best of our abilities from this moment forth. May the Lord continue to strengthen us in our resolve and commitment to serve Him faithfully from now on, that we will always glorify Him in our daily actions and deeds. Amen.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 19 : 23-30

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you : it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, believe Me : it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

On hearing this, the disciples were astonished and said, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and answered, “For human beings it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Then Peter spoke up and said, “You see, we have given up everything to follow You. What, then, will there be for us?”

Jesus answered, “You, who have followed Me, listen to My words : on the Day of Renewal, when the Son of Man sits on His throne in glory, you, also, will sit, on twelve thrones, to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. As for those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for My Name’s sake, they will receive a hundredfold, and be given eternal life. Many who are now first, will be last, and many who are now last, will be first.”

Tuesday, 20 August 2019 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 84 : 9, 11-12, 13-14

Would, that I hear God’s proclamation, that He promise peace to His people, His saints – lest they come back to their folly.

Love and faithfulness have met; righteousness and peace have embraced. Faithfulness will reach up from the earth while justice bends down from heaven.

YHVH will give what is good, and our land will yield its fruit. Justice will go before Him, and peace will follow along His path.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Judges 6 : 11-24a

The Angel of YHVH came and sat under the sacred tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, of the family of Abiezer. Gideon, the son of Joash, was threshing the wheat in the wine press to hide it from the Midianites.

The Angel of YHVH said to him, “YHVH be with you, valiant warrior.” Gideon answered, “Please, my lord, if YHVH is with us, why is all this happening to us? Where are the wonders which our fathers recounted to us? Did they not say that YHVH led them up from Egypt? Why has He abandoned us now and given us into the hands of the Midianites?”

YHVH then turned to him and said, “Go, and with your courage, save Israel from the Midianites. It is I Who send you.” Gideon answered : “Pardon me, Lord, but how can I save Israel? My family is the lowliest in my tribe and I am the least in the family of my father.”

YHVH said to him, “I will be with you and you shall defeat the people of Midian with one single stroke.” Gideon said to Him, “Please give me a sign that it is indeed You Who speak. Do not leave until I return with an offering and present it to You.” YHVH responded, “I am going to wait for you here.”

Gideon went and prepared a young goat, took a measure of flour and baked unleavened bread. He put the broth in a pot and the meat in a basket, and went to present them to the Angel under the tree. Then the Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the bread; put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.”

Gideon did so. At that moment, the Angel of YHVH extended the staff he was holding and touched the meat and the bread. Suddenly, fire blazed from the rock. The fire consumed the meat and the bread, and the Angel of YHVH disappeared.

Gideon realised that he was the Angel of YHVH and said, “Alas, o Lord YHVH! I have seen the Angel of YHVH face to face.” But YHVH said to him, “Peace be with you. Do not fear for you shall not die.” Gideon built an altar to YHVH in that place and called it YHVH-Peace.

Thursday, 20 August 2015 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about how God yet called another, and chose him to be judge over His people Israel, Jephthah, to liberate the people of God from oppression and tyranny of the Ammonites. He called Jephthah and made him the tool of victory against the Ammonites, crushing them and freeing the Israelites after many years of suffering.

But Jephthah made a vow before God, which certainly made him to regret having made such a vow. He vowed that whatever came out of his house, he would sacrifice it to God, and his own daughter became a victim of his own lack of faith and impulsiveness. He made a vow to the Lord, likely because there remained doubt in his heart that he could have done what he was called to do.

Remember that Jesus told His disciples and the people not to swear or make a vow in the Name of God? That is because when one makes a vow, that means actually that the person is not entirely sure or committed to the cause for which he was making a vow for. If one is sure about making a commitment or a decision, and if one is able to make a stand, then surely, a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would suffice.

In the Gospel today, Jesus told His disciples and the people of God the parable of the wedding garment, which is related to what we have heard in the first reading. In that parable we heard how the king held a wedding feast where he invited many of his invited guests, to come and join in the celebration, and yet those invited guests refused to come and continued with their own lives as if ignoring the king and his wedding feast.

The king represents the Lord, and the wedding feast represents the gathering of the people of God who had been invited to the feast, where the King, our Lord, had given us His blessings, to share in the food and drink which He blesses us with. And in this, we see yet another connection with what we have witnessed in the first reading today.

And what is this connection? Jephthah indeed had made such a great vow, and on one side, we can see how he should not have done that. However, the connection that we should see is how Jephthah fulfilled the vow which he had made to the Lord, and gave even his only daughter to God, as a sacrifice according to his vow, and how this is in perfect parallel and harmony to the example of Jesus, the Son of God.

For God Himself had been perfectly faithful to His promise and vow to us, to the covenants which He had established and renewed again and again with us mankind, since the days of Adam, to the days of Abraham and then David, and until the time of Jesus, and until this very day and on the days that are to come. God showed His perfect faithfulness and love, by giving us and not holding back from us, His only Son, whom He sent into the world to be our Redeemer.

And through this God had also invited all of us, His beloved people, to the banquet which He had prepared for all of us. He had prepared for us the banquet, the wedding feast, in which God and mankind are to be reunited again, because the shackles and obstacles of sin had been removed from all of us who heeded His call and join in the feast of the Lord.

The Holy Mass is the banquet of the Lord, where God gives us His own Body and Blood, that we may share in them and therefore, partake of the Lord, and be made holy and just. For the Lord Himself would dwell in us and make us the Temples of His holy presence.

And then, this is where we must take heed of another part of the Gospel today. The man without the wedding garment was taken out of the banquet and cast out into utter darkness. This means that, when we take part in the Holy Mass, and whenever we live our daily lives, we who have the Lord dwelling in us, the Temple of His presence and His Spirit, should act according to what He had shown and taught us, abandon all forms of wickedness and sin, or else risk to suffer the consequences of our Lord’s wrath.

Let us all follow the example of St. Bernard the Abbot, also known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast we celebrate today. He was truly a holy and great man, whose works and devotions to the Lord was fully well known throughout Christendom, and many aspired to follow his examples. He dedicated his whole life in good service of the Lord, preaching the truth about the Lord and calling many sinners to forgiveness and grace of God.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux did not fear trouble or heresy that were threatening the souls of many around him. He waded through the difficulties and challenges, and called out many people out of the darkness and out of the terrible heresies, by his tireless works and commitments, seeking to bring salvation to as many as possible. He preached well into his old age, and trying to advance the cause of the Lord and His Church wherever possible.

May Almighty God help us that we may also follow in the examples of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and become ever more devoted servants of our Lord, and in our words and actions, may all of us be true to our faith and bring love and goodness to each other in all the world. God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 20 August 2015 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 22 : 1-14

At that time, Jesus went on speaking to them in parables : “This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven : A king celebrated the wedding of his son. He sent his servants to call the invited guests to the wedding feast, but the guests refused to come.”

“Again he sent other servants, ordering them to say to the invited guests, ‘I have prepared a banquet, slaughtered my fattened calves and other animals, and now everything is ready. Come to the wedding!’ But they paid no attention and went away, some to their fields, and some to their work. Others seized the servants of the king, insulted them and killed them.”

“The king became angry. He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is prepared, but the invited guests were not worthy. Go instead to the crossroads, and invite everyone you find to the wedding feast.'”

“The servants went out at once into the streets and gathered everyone they found, good and bad alike, so that the hall was filled with guests. The king came in to see those who were at table, and he noticed a man not wearing the festal garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in without the wedding garment?’ But the man remained silent.”

“So the king said to his servants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the dark, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Know that many are called, but few are chosen.”