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.”

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.”