Wednesday, 25 November 2020 : Last Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord speaking to us the challenges and trials that are part of our journey as Christians and how we should keep up faith and not be afraid. This is because the Lord will always be with us and by our side no matter what, and with His guidance and strength, we shall persevere through all the challenges and trials.

In our first reading today we heard of the words from the Book of Revelations of St. John regarding the happenings of the end times as the time of reckoning and judgment is coming up on the world, and the Angels of God bearing the seven great plagues that will befall the nations and the people who refused to believe in God. At that time, the righteous and those who are still faithful in God will be persecuted and oppressed by those unbelievers, and the plagues and other signs are reminders that God is by the side of His faithful.

The Lord will not abandon His people to darkness and destruction, and He, as the Lamb of God seen in the vision of St. John, has triumphed by His Passion and Resurrection from the dead, and not even death and evil can overcome Him. For He has defeated the ultimate enemy of all, that is death, and showing to all of us that there is light and hope beyond death, and death no longer has the final say for all of us. It used to be something that we were all scared of as death is a separation from our lives in this world.

The Lord reassured us all that death that we experience is only a temporary experience and is just a mark of the new beginning of a new life with Him, when we will be reunited completely with Him and enter into the eternal glory and the eternal life that have been prepared for all of us. However, unless we believe in Him and are faithful in HIm, dedicating ourselves to Him, there will be no place for us in His eternal kingdom and glory.

And all of these relate well to what we heard from our Gospel passage today. In our Gospel passage today we heard the Lord proclaiming the revelation of what His disciples and followers as Christians would encounter soon enough, after He established His Church and they preached His Good News to the nations. They would be persecuted, oppressed, rejected and ridiculed by many of those who refused to believe in the Lord and in His message, as well as those who saw the faithful as threats to their own power and influence.

Hence, that was why Christians especially in its early centuries faced so many persecutions, initially from the Jewish authorities, the members of the Sanhedrin and the chief priests, the Pharisees and Sadducees and all those who were opposed to the Lord and His followers. And in addition, the Roman authorities and the state governments, as well as the Greeks and other pagan peoples who refused to believe in God also persecuted the faithful and made things difficult to them.

Yet, amidst all of that, many of our holy predecessors, the innumerable martyrs and saints of the Church remained firm in their faith and conviction to serve the Lord, dedicating their lives and all their efforts to follow the Lord to the very end. They endured those sufferings, trials, persecutions and challenges since they had faith that God would be with them and journeyed together with them even through the greatest sufferings and the deepest darkness and despair.

One of those saints is St. Catherine of Alexandria, one of the most famous and inspirational saints of the early Church. St. Catherine of Alexandria was a noble, born of a powerful family as her father was the governor of Alexandria in Egypt, a very important position in the Roman Empire at that time. St. Catherine was persuaded to become a Christian after receiving visions of the Lord and was convinced to embrace the Christian faith fully. And all these happened amidst one of the most bitter and brutal persecution against Christians.

It was told that St. Catherine was arrested and tortured for her Christian faith. And in the attempt to make her abandon her faith and to publicly denounce the Christian faith and truth, the Emperor made her to debate as many as fifty or more pagan philosophers, who were all unable to outsmart or debate her, unable to match her wisdom, the wisdom of God as passed on and revealed through the Holy Spirit. It was told that St. Catherine’s wisdom was such that even the Emperor’s own wife was touched, inspired and converted to the true faith.

And when all methods and ways had failed to persuade St. Catherine to abandon her faith, the desperate Emperor tried to turn her by offering her his hand in marriage. Normally, the temptation to abandon the faith to embrace marriage with the most powerful and influential person in the land would be so great. But St. Catherine resisted the offer and temptation, declaring publicly that she maintained her virginity and dedicated it to the Lord, refusing to stain her purity in any way, and neither would she abandon her faith. And thus, afterwards, she was martyred for remaining true to her faith in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from the inspiring examples set by St. Catherine of Alexandria, as well as the many other examples made by the other holy men and women of God, who had chosen to walk with God and refused to abandon Him, let us all be inspired to follow their examples and walk in their footsteps even as challenges and trials are facing us and become great obstacles in our own respective journeys of faith. Let us all discern carefully our path going forward in life, that we may grow ever closer to God and in faith.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He guide us all in our journey of faith. May He strengthen us and our resolve that we may persevere and be more courageous in our pursuit of faith, and be ourselves inspiring examples of faith to one another. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020 : Last Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Luke 21 : 12-19

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Before all these things happen, people will lay their hands on you and persecute you; you will be delivered to the synagogues and put in prison, and for My sake you will be brought before kings and governors. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”

“So keep this in mind : do not worry in advance about what to say, for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death.”

“But even though, because of My Name, you will be hated by everyone, not a hair of your head will perish. By your patient endurance you will save your souls.”

Wednesday, 25 November 2020 : Last Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 97 : 1, 2-3ab, 7-8, 9

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand, His holy arm, has won victory for Him.

The Lord has shown His salvation, revealing His justice to the nations. He has not forgotten His love nor His faithfulness to Israel.

Let the sea resound and everything in it, the world and all its peoples. Let rivers clap their hands, hills and mountains sing with joy.

Before the Lord, for He comes to rule the earth. He will judge the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020 : Last Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Revelations 15 : 1-4

Then I saw another great and marvellous sign in the heavens : seven Angels brought seven plagues which are the last, for with these the wrath of God will end. There was a sea of crystal mingled with fire, and the conquerors of the beast, of its name and the mark of its name stood by it.

They had been given the celestial harps and they sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb : Great and marvellous are Your works, o Lord, God and Master of the universe. Justice and truth guide Your steps, o King of the nations.

Lord, who will not give honour and glory to Your Name? For You alone are holy. All the nations will come and bow before You, for they have now seen Your judgments.

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture beginning the narrative from the Book of the prophet Daniel, a prophet who was brought into exile in Babylon during his youth in the ending days of the kingdom of Judah just before the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple of God. Daniel and his companions were brought to the faraway land, uprooted from their homes and families, and made to serve the King of Babylon and his ministers.

Such was the humiliation and suffering that they all had to suffer, humiliated of having lost their homeland and later on to hear how the city of God, Jerusalem and its Temple were razed and destroyed by the Babylonians, its treasures and riches carried off to the Babylonian kingdom, all the sacred vessels once used to worship God became instead the profane drinking cups of the kings and their nobles as described in the latter part of the Book of Daniel.

Amidst such a situation, it must have been difficult for Daniel and his companions, another three Israelites named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, also known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to remain faithful to God and not to bend their knees to the pressures and demands of the Babylonians and their kings. Yet, that was exactly what they did, in remaining true to their faith even in such difficult conditions.

They gave their all to God, and in doing their best in whatever that God has led them into, in serving the king of Babylon and his ministers, in doing their best as the servants, and by the grace of God, they became the favoured servants of the king, and especially Daniel was honoured for his great wisdom and ability to interpret the king’s dreams while none other could do so. But, they would not budge when the king demanded that everyone, including them to bow down their knees to worship a golden statue that king Nebuchadnezzar built in his own likeness.

They had nothing on them, no wealth and no pride, no more than memory of the humiliation of their country and people, the destruction of their holy city and Temple, and yet, they gave their love and faith to God. In our Psalm today, we heard part of the song which Azariah the other two companions of Daniel sang when they were thrown into the blazing furnace by the order of the king when they openly defied the king’s demands to worship his golden statue.

They praised God Who had been with them all those while and reiterated their faith and love for Him. They sang of His glorious majesty in the presence of the king and all gathered from within the flame, apparently unharmed and an Angel of God by their side, as seen by the king and all. The king and everyone were astonished, and because of what happened, the king decided to destroy the golden statue that he had just built, and restored the three companions of Daniel to their previous honoured positions.

We see how God was always with His faithful ones, and for those who truly trust in Him and gave their all, they did not fear because they knew that God would be always by their side even amidst sufferings and challenges, even through martyrdoms and painful deaths. That is the same sentiment and example that the Lord Jesus highlighted in our Gospel passage today, as we heard another well-known story of the widow’s mite.

In that occasion, a poor widow came to the Temple bearing two small copper coins as offerings to God, while many rich men came to offer plentiful of offerings that were far greater than the poor widow’s offering. Yet, she offered and gave from her own shortage and limitations, and as a result, she gave from the deepest love in her heart. She is the epitome of what true Christian discipleship is, and like the prophet Daniel and his companions, she had given her all to God.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what each and every one of us need to do as well. We need to do our best to serve the Lord with all of our strength, and to give the best for Him from the depths of our hearts. And today we have yet another example to look up to, in the person of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a holy woman and saint whose feast we celebrate today. St. Catherine of Alexandria was a faithful disciple of the Lord who went through a particularly brutal persecution under the pagan Roman Emperor Maxentius.

St. Catherine defended her fellow faithful when that Emperor persecuted Christians throughout his realm, rebuking him for his actions and stood up for the Lord. The Emperor tried to oppose her with the best pagan philosophers and thinkers of the time, but none of them were able to outshine her wisdom, and the Emperor in his anger made this faithful woman to undergo bitter suffering and torture. When the Emperor’s own wife and other women came to see St. Catherine in her suffering, it was told that even they converted and were martyred along as well.

St. Catherine of Alexandria gave everything for the Lord’s sake, even her own life, not holding back even when the pagan Emperor in desperation tried to get her by trying to woo her in marriage, as beautiful as St. Catherine was even after she was tortured. She remained firm in her dedication and committed herself and her virginity before God and the Emperor, by which then she was martyred after a long time of suffering, and became a great inspiration for many Christians after her time.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all called to follow in the footsteps of St. Catherine of Alexandria, to imitate the love of the widow who gave her all to God, and also the dedication of Daniel and his fellow companions who remained true to their faith in God amidst all the challenges they had to face. Let us all thus strive to be true Christian disciples and do our very best to serve the Lord with all of our hearts and to give Him everything that we are, and committing ourselves to Him from now on. May He continue to bless us all and guide us in this journey, that we may draw ever closer to Him. Amen.

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Luke 21 : 1-4

At that time, Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury of the Temple. He also saw a poor widow, who dropped in two small coins. And He said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them. For all of them gave an offering from their plenty; but she, out of her poverty, gave all she had to live on.”

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Daniel 3 : 52a, 53, 54, 55, 56

Blessed are You, Lord, God of our fathers, be praised and exalted forever.

Blessed are You in the Temple of Your sacred glory; Your praises are sung forever.

Blessed are You, on the throne of Your kingdom; honoured and glorified forever.

Blessed are You, Who fathom the depths, Who are enthroned on the Cherubim; praised and exalted forever.

Blessed are You, in the firmament of heaven; praised and glorified forever.

Monday, 25 November 2019 : 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Daniel 1 : 1-6, 8-20

In the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign as king of Judah, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem. The Lord delivered into his hands king Jehoiakim of Judah, and some of the vessels from the Temple of God as well. These he carried off, to the land of Shinar, and placed in the treasure house of his god.

King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief eunuch Ashpenaz to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility : young men without physical defect, handsome, intelligent and wise; well-informed, quick to learn and understand; and suitable for service in the king’s palace.

They were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans. They were allotted a daily portion of food and wine from the king’s table; and were to be trained for three years, after which, they were to enter the king’s service. Among these were young men of Judah : Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

As Daniel was resolved not to make himself unclean with the king’s food or wine, he begged the chief eunuch to spare him this defilement. By the grace of God, the chief eunuch had been sympathetic to Daniel. But he was afraid of the king, so he said, “If the king, who has allotted your food and drink, sees that you look more emaciated than the other young men of your age, he might think ill of me. It will put my life in danger to give in to your wish.”

Daniel then turned to the steward whom the chief eunuch had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. “Please test your servants for ten days. Give us only vegetables to eat and water to drink, and see how we look in comparison with the young men who eat food from the king’s table. Then treat us in accordance with what you see.”

The steward agreed and tested them for ten days, at the end of which, they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate the king’s food. So the steward continued to give them vegetables instead of the choice food and wine. To these four youths God gave wisdom and proficiency in literature, and to Daniel the gift of interpreting visions and dreams.

At the end of the period set by the king for the youths’ training, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them and found none to equal Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. These four became members of the king’s court. In any matter of wisdom and discernment about which the king consulted, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to two stories, one from the Book of the Maccabees, where we listened to the continuation of the tale of the struggle of the Jewish people who were faithful to the Law of God against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and then in the Gospel we heard of the argument that arose between the Sadducees and Our Lord Jesus regarding the belief in the resurrection from the dead and the afterlife.

In the first reading, we heard about what happened to king Antiochus IV Epiphanes during the time of the Maccabees rebellion. According to history, the Seleucid king was a man who sought to reclaim the lost glory of his ancestors, and that was why, if we read the Book of the Maccabees, he attacked Egypt, a rival kingdom at the beginning of the first book of the Maccabees. His initiatives to unite his kingdom under one worship of the Greek pagan gods were likely also part of this effort.

Yet, in the end, we heard of how the faithful Jews under the leadership of the Maccabees family managed to overturn the king’s orders and undid all the abominable and wicked deeds he had committed. And then, he also failed in his effort to gain for himself more power, through worldly efforts, and he then laid dying. And in the first reading today, we heard of the regret which the king had as he laid dying, failing in many of the things he had wanted to do.

This will be relevant to what we heard in the Gospel passage today, but let me briefly go through the historical perspective linking the Scripture readings today. Ever since the time of the Seleucid persecution of the Jews, the Jewish society has been polarised into two groups, one of which proposed close collaboration with the king, abandoning the laws and customs of their ancestors, namely the Hellenic party. Meanwhile, the others, represented by the Maccabees, opposed the king and wanted to remain true to the laws and customs of Moses.

Eventually, even after the defeat of the Seleucids, this division would continue on to the time of Jesus, and this we see throughout the Gospels, two prominent major groups, one of which is the Pharisees, who are the ones inheriting the thoughts and ways of the Maccabees, holding tightly to the customs and laws of Moses. This is also why the Lord Jesus encountered so much trouble from the Pharisees, because the Pharisees misunderstood and misjudged the Lord’s intent, and saw Him as a rival and dangerous influence on the people.

Then, how about the Sadducees? The Sadducees had similar mindset as the Hellenised Jews, who was the rather worldly and practical group of people, who did not believe in many aspects of the faith of the Jews at the time. They rejected concepts such as the afterlife, spirits, Angels, heaven, and all other spiritual things that their worldly senses could not perceive. They were people who were rich and influential in the society, and enjoyed plenty of benefits and goodness from the world.

They were against the Lord and His teachings, especially because He kept on mentioning about the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees firmly refused to believe in, as with any other spiritual matters. The Sadducees were very practical and worldly in their views, and as a result, today in the Gospel we heard how they argued heatedly with Jesus about the resurrection, using the example of a woman who had seven husbands who died, and asked Him who was the man that the woman would be wife to.

They thought in worldly terms and treasured the worldly things they possess over anything else. That is why they did not believe in anything beyond death, because to them, death is a truly horrible thing that all people had to endure, and it separated them from what they loved, all wealth, prestige, fame and worldly glory they had attained. And the Lord Jesus spoke of exactly what they despised, as He taught the people that they must not seek for themselves treasures in this world, but instead build for themselves treasures in heaven.

The Lord rebuked the Sadducees and showed them that the way of this world is different from the ways of the Lord, and what seems to be common and acceptable to the world may not be what is acceptable for the Lord. They put their trust in man’s power and abilities, and yet, none of these will be available to them, at the time when they are to meet with their Lord and give an account of their lives, unless they have been faithful and done what the Lord has commanded them to do.

Linking this to what we have heard in the first reading today, we remembered how all the plans of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to ruin and bore nothing, despite all of his power and riches, all of his fame and glory, and despite all the means by which he had assembled for himself a great majesty and greatness among the other kings. In the end, he had to remember his own mortality, that he is just a mere man, a creation of God, who would have to render an account of his life to God.

Today, we celebrate also the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a holy woman and virgin, who dedicated her life to the Lord. She lived during difficult time in the history of the Church, when the Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted the faithful and the Church greatly, and many suffered and died. St. Catherine of Alexandria was known for her intellect and great beauty, so much so, that it was told that her beauty captivated the Roman Emperor’s attention.

Her wisdom inspired by God was such that no matter what the Emperor tried to do, he could not overcome her great intellect, and was soundly defeated in the debates regarding the faith. And no amount of persuasion or worldly riches, as it was told in some accounts that the Emperor wished to marry her, was able to turn St. Catherine from her faith in God. She remained steadfast in faith to the very end, towards her martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us today spend some time to reflect on our own lives. Have we thus far been spending too much time trying to gain for ourselves a great standing, fame, recognition, wealth and satisfaction from the world? Or have we instead been active in building up for ourselves the true treasures in God? What does this mean? That means, have we been spending some time amidst our busy daily schedules, in order to show love and care for our fellow brethren, instead of just being so focused and distracted with our own needs and wants?

Let us ponder on this matter even as we move forward in life. Let us waste no more time in trying to reach out to the Lord and His salvation. May the Lord be our Guide on our way towards His everlasting glory, that each and every one of us as Christians may be able to do our best in our lives, what the Lord wants each one of us to do, by being truly faithful to Him, loving Him and placing Him at the centre of our lives, and then, by loving one another as well. May God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Luke 20 : 27-40

At that time, then some Sadducees arrived. These people claim that there is no resurrection, and they asked Jesus this question, “Master, in the Law Moses told us, ‘If anyone dies leaving a wife but no children, his brother must take the wife, and any child born to them will be regarded as the child of the deceased.’”

“Now, there were seven brothers : the first married, but died without children. The second married the woman, but also died childless. And then the third married her, and in this same way all seven died, leaving no children. Last of all the woman died. On the day of the resurrection, to which of them will the woman be a wife? For all seven had her as a wife.”

And Jesus replied, “Taking a husband or a wife is proper to people of this world, but for those who are considered worthy of the world to come, and of resurrection from the dead, there is no more marriage. Besides, they cannot die, for they are like the Angels. They are sons and daughters of God, because they are born of the resurrection.”

“Yes, the dead will be raised, as Moses revealed at the burning bush, when he called the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For God is God of the living, and not of the dead, for to Him everyone is alive.”

Some teachers of the Law then agreed with Jesus, “Master, You have spoken well.” They did not dare ask Him anything else.