Saturday, 20 August 2022 : 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, today we heard of the words of the Scriptures speaking to us regarding the matter of how we should be following God with faith, committing ourselves humbly in His service, dedicating our time, effort and attention to do His will at all times. Each and every one of us should remember that we are merely the servants of God and therefore in all the things we say and do, we should not be concerned or be focused on our own desires and ambitions, our selfish aims and wants. Otherwise, if we allow those things to distract and tempt us, then we may end up falling deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

In our first reading today we heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel regarding the vision of the Great Temple in Heaven, the Sanctuary of God and His Holy Presence. Through Ezekiel, God was showing His people Who it is that they were truly following, and He showed them of His might and everything that He would do for His people, as He would live forever among them. Not only that, but when the Lord mentioned that, He really meant it, as it was truly a prelude of what He would do for them, in sending them the greatest gift of all, the gift of His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Lord and Saviour.

In doing so, He willingly embraced our humanity, and His Divine Word being incarnate in the flesh, taking up our humble human existence, becoming manifest and tangible that now God is no longer distant from us, but approachable and reachable. He made Himself close to us, because He desires to be reunited with us and be reconciled with us. And that action is what God wants each one of us remember, how His love and commitment for us was so great that He willingly lowered and humbled Himself so that through it, each and every one of us may have hope and receive from Him the assurance of eternal life and salvation.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord Himself spoke to His disciples and the people criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their attitude, behaviour and way of living their faith, as they had preached loudly and boastfully of the Law of God and how they had piously followed the Lord, and yet, in truth, in their way of doing things, they actually had not truly obeyed the Lord wholeheartedly, and they were really hypocrites and those who levied and imposed very heavy expectations on the people with regards to how they ought to follow the vast extent of the rules and regulations they modified and preferred, but they themselves could not obey or follow.

Those same people prided themselves and boasted of their glory and greatness, their piety and faith before all, parading their achievement and greatness, thinking highly of themselves and not only that, but they also looked down on those whom they disapproved and disagreed with. This attitude is what the Lord disapproved of and criticised those leaders for, in their hypocrisy and in how they made it difficult for the people to come closer to God and find salvation in Him. Their pride, ego, arrogance and ambition became serious stumbling blocks in the path of their journey towards God, and in their discharge of their obligations and responsibilities as leaders of the people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to those words from the Scriptures, we are therefore reminded that we should humble ourselves before God and one another, as first of all, we are truly nothing without the grace and love of God, and it is thanks to God’s providence and mercy, His forgiveness and compassion that we even have hope for the future. His willingness to embrace us and to dwell among us, forgiving us our sins and in reassuring us of His guidance and help, showed us all that we are truly beloved and precious to Him, and because of that, we have gained much in this world.

But we often grew proud and haughty, ambitious and greedy, and we ended up abusing and misusing the opportunities, the gifts, abilities and other things that God had given to us. Instead of using them for the good of everyone, we ended up seeking our own personal glory and ambition, desiring to fulfil our own selfish wants and greed. This is why through today’s readings all of us are reminded to resist those temptations of greed and pride. We ought to restrain those and do our very best to return our focus once again towards the Lord, being truly faithful to Him and distancing ourselves from the path of sin.

Today, all of us can gain some inspiration from our holy predecessor, whose feast we are celebrating this day, namely that of St. Bernard the Abbot, also one of the great Doctors of the Church. St. Bernard was also known as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and he was a Cistercian Abbot remembered for his role in the revitalisation of the Cistercian order and tradition, and the foundation of the famous Clairvaux Abbey. His dedication to the Lord and holy way of life inspired many others, which led to the rapid growth of the Clairvaux Abbey. More and more people, even St. Bernard’s own family came to join the abbey as well.

While St. Bernard had gained much success and gave a lot of inspiration to his contemporaries, at the same time he also suffered trials and challenges, not least from his own fellow monastic monks in the abbey, who resisted his leadership and criticised his way of promoting the Cistercian charism and way of life. Nonetheless, St. Bernard remained resolute in his efforts, and he was also deeply involved with other important Church matters at the time, being involved in the resolution of conflicts and reconciliation of various Church and even secular parties, through his efforts at negotiation and skilful diplomacy. Through his many writings and works, which made him later to be declared as one of the Doctors of the Church, St. Bernard continued to exert great influence and became inspiration for many throughout the many centuries after his passing and till this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the examples set by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, holy Abbot and Doctor of the Church, let us all realise that each one of us are called to follow the Lord and to dedicate ourselves to Him humbly in the way that St. Bernard had done. One of his motto and saying is that of ‘the three most important virtues are humility, humility and humility’ highlighting just how important it is for us to be humble and to be willing to listen to God and to allow Him to guide our path instead of us stubbornly trying to forge our own path in life. Let us reflect on this and see in what ways we can be ever better disciples and more devout followers of God.

May the Lord be with us always and may He continue to empower and strengthen each one of us so that we may live ever more closely attuned to God and follow Him in all things, and be dedicated to Him all the days of our lives. May God bless each one of us in our every good works and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 20 August 2022 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 23 : 1-12

At that time, then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples, “The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees have sat down on the chair of Moses. So you shall do and observe all they say, but do not do as they do, for they do not do what they say. They tie up heavy burdens and load them on the shoulders of the people, but they do not even raise a finger to move them.”

“They do everything in order to be seen by people : they wear very wide bands of the Law around their foreheads, and robes with large tassels. They enjoy the first places at feasts and reserved seats in the synagogues, and they like being greeted in the marketplace, and being called ‘Master’ by the people.”

“But you, do not let yourselves be called Master, because you have only one Master, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Neither should you call anyone on earth Father because you have only one Father, He Who is in heaven. Nor should you be called Leader, because Christ is the only Leader for you.”

“Let the greatest among you be the servant of all. For whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be made great.”

Saturday, 20 August 2022 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 84 : 9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14

Would, that I hear God’s proclamation, that He promise peace to His people, His saints. Yet, His salvation is near to those who fear Him, and His glory will dwell in our land.

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.

Saturday, 20 August 2022 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ezekiel 43 : 1-7a

He took me to the gate, facing east. Then I saw the glory of the God of Israel approaching from the east, with a sound like the sound of the ocean; and the earth shone with His glory. This vision was like the one I had seen when He came for the destruction of the city, and like the one I had seen on the bank of the River Chebar. Then I threw myself to the ground.

The glory of YHVH arrived at the Temple by the east gate. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court : the glory of YHVH was filling the house. And I heard someone speaking to me from the Temple while the Man stood beside me. The voice said, “Son of man, you have seen the place of My throne, where I will place the soles of My feet, and live among the Israelites forever.”

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 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, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded of the need for each and every one of us as Christians to follow the Lord and His commandments wholeheartedly, filled with genuine love both for God and for our fellow men. This is the essence of our Scripture passages today, as we heard both the account from the Book of Ruth in our first reading, and the account from the Gospel regarding the Lord speaking about the most important commandment in the Law.

In our first reading today, we heard of the reading from the Book of Ruth in which we heard about this Moabite woman who was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, an Israelite woman who had been bereft of her husband and her two sons, one of whom was Ruth’s first husband. Therefore at that time, both widows decided to come back to the land of Israel from their sojourn in Moab, Israel’s southern neighbour. Naomi told Orpah, her other daughter-in-law and Ruth both to leave her and return to their homeland, which Orpah did, but Ruth insisted that she would follow Naomi wherever she went, and Naomi’s God would be hers too.

We may notice that the Book of Ruth is unique in that it was named after a Moabite woman, hailing from a pagan people that was often in clashes against the Israelites. But what is truly extraordinary as we heard the story of how Ruth followed her mother-in-law to the land of Israel is that, her love for her mother-in-law and her readiness to be part of the people of Israel, and to embrace God was extraordinary, especially when considering that many among the Israelites themselves had not been faithful to God.

And even more significantly is the fact that Ruth was none other than the great-grandmother of the famous and important King David of Israel, as she would later on marry Boaz, one of Naomi’s relatives, and became the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, who then in turn was David’s father. Ruth was therefore that unique woman, a non-Israelite who came voluntarily to be part of God’s people, and who sincerely sought to care for her relatives, particularly that of her mother-in-law, a virtue which led Boaz to marry her.

This was a woman and servant of God who truly loved God and obeyed Him with all her heart, a fulfilment of the commandments that He has given to the people, which ironically many of those people had themselves disobeyed the same Law and commandments. And it was a foreigner, and a woman especially who proved to them that even others could become a disciple and follower of the Lord, if one came to love the Lord and embrace His path fully with faith, as Ruth had done.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of how the Lord told a teacher of the Law who asked Him which one among all the commandments of the Law was the greatest of all, and He responded that first and foremost everyone ought to love God beyond everything else, and to show that love by our actions and by our concrete devotion towards God. And we should also show this same love to our fellow brothers and sisters, to all those whom we encounter in this life that we may indeed be true Christians in all things, following the examples of God’s love itself.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we should look upon the examples set by our holy predecessors, in helping us to be truly faithful to the Lord, much like as what Ruth had done, a holy, God-fearing and righteous woman, through whom many generations afterwards were brought closer to God. It was probably not a surprise why David and his family were righteous and obedient to God given that they descended from this faithful and dedicated woman, whose story we are being reminded of today.

Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a renowned Abbot and servant of God, who was remembered for his great faith in the Lord, his holiness and piety, and his devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother of God, as well as everything that he had done for the sake of the Church, especially in its reforms and the modernisation of the religious orders and monasteries, by his establishment of the Cistercians in development from the Benedictine Order. St. Bernard of Clairvaux inspired many people and through his many works, he became very influential in the many aspects of the Church.

St. Bernard devoted many years in his numerous works throughout the Church, travelling from places to places and in being involved in the governance and management of the Church thanks to his close relationships with the Popes and the other leaders of the Church. He gave himself and entrusted everything to the Lord, and courageously as well as patiently enduring many challenges and trials as he did his best to serve the Lord and to be exemplary in his own lives and actions.

Let us all also be inspired by the examples which St. Bernard has shown, and let us commit ourselves to the Lord. May the Lord, our most loving God, have mercy on us and give us the strength to persevere in faith, now and always, evermore. Amen.

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 22 : 34-40

At that time, when the Pharisees heard how Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. One of them, a lawyer, questioned Him to test Him, “Teacher, which commandment of the Law is the greatest?”

Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the most important of the commandments. The second is like it : You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole Law and prophets are founded on these two commandments.”

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 145 : 5-6ab, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10

Blessed are they whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHVH their God, Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and all they contain.

The Lord is forever faithful; He gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord straightens the bent. The Lord loves the virtuous, but He brings to ruin the way of the wicked. The Lord protects the stranger.

He sustains the widow and the orphan. The Lord will reign forever, your God, o Zion, from generation to generation. Alleluia!

Friday, 20 August 2021 : 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Ruth 1 : 1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22

There was a famine in the land during the time of the Judges, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah departed with his wife and two sons, to sojourn in the country of Moab. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died. She was left with her two sons, who married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.

After living in Moab for about ten years, Mahlon and Chilion also died; and Naomi was left bereft of husband and two sons. Having heard that YHVH had come to help His people by giving them food, Naomi prepared to return home.

But Ruth clung to her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law returns to her people and her gods. You too, must return. Go after her.” Ruth replied, “Do not ask me to leave you. For I will go where you go and stay where you stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.”

Thus it was that Naomi returned from Moab with her Moabite daughter-in-law and arrived in Bethlehem as the barley harvest began.

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.”