Friday, 9 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded through the Scripture passages we heard of the wondrous deeds and works of God Who has performed such great miracles and wonders for the sake of His beloved people Israel, as part of the exhortation which Moses, the leader of the people mentioned to them to remind them to be faithful to the Covenant which they had made and sealed with God, as a lasting promise of faith and commitment.

In that passage from the Book of Deuteronomy in our first reading, we heard of the many wonders of God Who had taken care of the many needs of His people, protecting them from their enemies and guiding them patiently through the many years of their journey in the desert. It is a reminder also of the love and commitment which God has showered His people and which He has remembered for the love He had for them and their ancestors.

Therefore, Moses exhorted the people to remain faithful to the Law of God and to His commandments in all things, so that He would continue to bless them and protect them, and that they would prosper in the land promised to them and their ancestors, to which God was leading them into. At that time, the people of Israel were known to be stubborn and rebellious, refusing many times to obey the Lord and preferred to follow their own ways.

They were reminded that if they remained by the side of the Lord and stayed faithful, they would be blessed and glorified just as God has promised to each and every one of them. And this reflects the same message which our Gospel passage today delivers to us, as the Lord mentioned to His disciples of the reality of being His follower, in what they would have to endure as those who have devoted themselves to His cause, and the promise of true glory and happiness that will come in the end.

All of these are reminders for us that as Christians, we believe in God and take Him as Our Lord, Master and Saviour. And if we truly have faith in God and are truly devoted to Him, then we should realise that as the members of His Church, we will have to expect challenges and difficulties in our journey of faith, obstacles and barriers that will be in our paths, as we embark on our way to follow the Lord.

The people of Israel crumbled under the temptations of earthly desires and impatience, and they could not remain faithful to God, and instead, desiring quick-fixes and shortcuts to their problems. Essentially they trusted more in their own human instincts and desires rather than putting their trust in God and His providence. As a result, they fell into disobedience and sin, not realising just how much God had done for their sake, out of sincere and genuine love.

We really need to think and spend some time to reflect, brothers and sisters in Christ, on the words of the Scripture we have received today. The Lord called on us to follow Him, and made it clear to us that following Him means for us to take up our own crosses and follow Him in this journey of faith, and those who follow Him faithfully will receive from Him the assurance of eternal glory and the fullness of His providence.

And we must realise how fragile our human existence is, and how easily it is that we can fall into temptation as our predecessors have shown us. The people of Israel themselves showed us through their wicked behaviours throughout their journey in the desert. And then, throughout history, we can see just how much wickedness, injustice and suffering have been caused by our attachments and inability to resist the temptation of desire and the pulling power of sin.

Today, we mark the feast day of one renowned saint of the last century, whose life and exemplary faith are reminders for us to turn away from our sinful ways. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also more popularly known as St. Edith Stein was a Jewish convert to the Christian faith, and who took up the religious life as a nun of the Congregation of the Discalced Carmelites during the years in between the two great World Wars.

She was an intellectual who was attracted to the truth found in the Christian faith, and that led her to Christ in accepting the faith and eventually becoming a committed religious nun. She loved God very much and dedicated herself to the rigours of the Discalced Carmelite life, and as at that time, the whole world was about to be plunged into the Second World War coupled with the persecution of Jews by the NAZI regime, she also prepared herself for the eventuality of martyrdom.

Instead of seeking glory and happiness for herself, St. Edith Stein showed us a life of total surrender to God and full trust to the Lord and His will. She was martyred in a concentration camp during the war, having been arrested and imprisoned by the NAZI regime, and placed into the horrible concentration camp and sentenced to death in a gas chamber. Yet, even after her death, the inspiring life story and exemplary faith of St. Edith Stein continue to inspire many Christians right to this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to follow the examples set by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Edith Stein, holy woman and holy servant of God? Are we able to love God and dedicate ourselves wholly to Him, turning away from our sinful and wicked past? Let us all spend time to reflect on this, and think in what way we can grow ever closer to God and be more faithful to Him, each and every day from now on. Amen.

Friday, 9 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 16 : 24-28

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “If you want to follow Me, deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow Me. For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life, for My sake, will find it. What will one gain by winning the whole world, if he destroys his soul? Or what can a person give, in exchange for his life?”

“Know, that the Son of Man will come, in the glory of His Father with the holy Angels, and He will reward each one according to his deeds. Truly, I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death, before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Friday, 9 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 76 : 12-13, 14-15, 16 and 21

I remember the deeds of YHVH; I recall His marvels of old. I meditate on all Your work, and consider Your mighty deeds.

Your way, o God, is most holy. Is there any god greater than You, our God? You alone, are the God Who works wonders, Who has made known His power to the nations.

With power, You have redeemed Your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. You led Your people, as a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Friday, 9 August 2019 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Deuteronomy 4 : 32-40

Ask of the times past. Inquire from the day when God created man on earth. Ask from one end of the world to the other : Has there ever been anything as extraordinary as this? Has anything like this been heard of before? Has there ever been a people who remained alive after hearing as you did the voice of the living God from the midst of the fire?

Never has there been a God Who went out to look for a people and take them out from among the other nations by the strength of trials and signs, by wonders and by war, with a firm hand and an outstretched arm. Never has there been any deed as tremendous as those done for you by YHVH in Egypt, which you saw with your own eyes.

You saw this that you might know that YHVH is God and that there is no other besides Him. He let you hear His voice from heaven that you might fear Him; on earth He let you see His blazing fire and from the midst of the fire you heard His word. Because of the love He had for our fathers, He chose their descendants after them, and He Himself made you leave Egypt with His great power.

He expelled before you peoples more numerous and stronger than you, and He has made you occupy their land : today He has given this to you as an inheritance. Therefore, try to be convinced that YHVH is the only God of heaven and earth, and that there is no other. Observe the laws and the commandments that I command you today, and everything will be well with you and your children after you. So you will live long in the land which YHVH, your God, gives you forever.

Thursday, 9 August 2018 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the readings from the Scriptures today remind us of the renewal of God’s loving Covenant with all of us, His people, through what He has spoken via the prophet Jeremiah. The prophet mentioned about God having shown His mercy to His people whom He would gather and forgive, as He is their God and He no longer remembered their sins.

That is precisely just how wonderful is His love for us, and how great His mercy is for us. He has shown all of us, each one of us His magnificent and compassionate heart, always filled with love for us and desiring to forgive us from our sins and disobedience. God has given us this great grace through none other than His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our Saviour and our Hope.

And in today’s Gospel, we heard of the account of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles, in which He asked them Who they heard the people thought He was. And they all gave many answers, of the prophets and various holy people God has sent into the world. Then, Jesus asked them again, personally, Who they thought He truly was, and St. Peter answered with courage and faith, that He is the Son of God, Messiah and Saviour.

The Lord Jesus saw the faith in St. Peter and through that faith, He entrusted to him the governance and shepherding of His whole Church, as the foundation of that same Church He established in this world. St. Peter and the other Apostles are the strong base and foundation of this Church through which God exercised His authority and power to bring all mankind away from damnation because of their sins.

He gave St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and by this act, He gave His Church the authority and the ability to bring souls towards salvation and liberation from the bondage to their sins and disobedience. He has given all of us the obligation and duty to help our fellow brethren, all those who are still lost to the Lord and separated from His grace and love.

Therefore, each and every one of us are called to live our lives with faith and devotion to the Lord, so that by our exemplary attitude and actions, we may inspire many others to live their lives with faith to the fullest as well. And today, we celebrate the feast of one of our holy and good predecessor in faith, who has shown great faith in her life and in her actions. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also better known as St. Edith Stein, is truly an example for all of us.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was once a Jewish woman and later on atheist, who was a philosopher, and having the chance to encounter the Christian faith and truth, and eventually having found the truth in the Christian faith, she turned to the faith and became a Christian. Her pursuit of the truth and the knowledge of God eventually inspired her to join a religious order, and she became a Carmelite nun.

She lived her vocation faithfully and was involved in educating the young in the community. However, at that time, in Germany where St. Teresa Benedicta lived, rising anti-Jewish sentiments stoked by the NAZI party was growing stronger and stronger, eventually culminating in their takeover of power in Germany. Thus began the infamous persecution and genocide of the Jews that in the end caused millions to perish throughout Europe and beyond.

St. Teresa Benedicta, being born racially as a Jew, did not escape this fate, and she together with many others were arrested and eventually brought to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp and was martyred just days later through gassing in the gas chamber. The story of her piety, courage and commitment to the cause of her faith even amidst persecution and challenges continue to inspire many people right down to this time and era.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if St. Teresa Benedicta was able to commit herself to live faithfully to the message of the Gospel of Christ, why can’t we then do the same with our own lives? Why can’t we devote ourselves in the same manner as those who have gone before us, and showed us what it means to become a holy disciple and follower of God? We must realise that all of us have an obligation to do what the Lord had told us to do, and to live our lives to the best of our abilities, as those who walk in God’s path.

May God be with us in this journey of faith and life, may He empower each one of us to live ever more in accordance with His will, day after day. May the Lord bless us all and our endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 9 August 2018 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 16 : 13-23

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them, You are John the Baptist; for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter; and on this Rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”

Then He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. From that day, Jesus began to make it clear to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem; that He would suffer many things from the Jewish authorities, the chief priests and the teachers of the Law; and that He would be killed and be raised on the third day.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to reproach Him, “Never, Lord! No, this must never happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an obstacle in My path. You are thinking not as God does, but as people do.”

Thursday, 9 August 2018 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

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, 9 August 2018 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Jeremiah 31 : 31-34

The time is coming – it is YHVH Who speaks – when I will forge a new Covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah. It will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they broke My Covenant although I was their Master, YHVH declares.

This is the Covenant I shall make with Israel after that time : I will put My Law within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God and they will be My people. And they will not have to teach each other, neighbour or brother, saying : ‘Know YHVH,’ because they will all know Me, from the greatest to the lowliest, for I will forgive their wrongdoing and no longer remember their sin.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard how the people of Israel rebelled against the Lord at the time when they were about to enter into the Promised Land of Canaan after God had led them through the desert from their slavery in Egypt. The scouts who were sent forth to survey the land ahead of the people incited the people to turn against God and against Moses, His servant, charging that they have been led to a land of danger and harm, not trusting in the power and providence of God, which He surely would have given them.

Israel failed to understand that God was with them all the way throughout their journey, even though they have seen in many occasions the great wonders of God, His works and His efforts, from the ten plagues He sent to the Egyptians and their Pharaoh to pressure them to let the Israelites to go free, to the opening of the Red Sea and the destruction of the armies of the Egyptians, to the care and love which He showered them with through the desert, providing them with food and water, protection from their enemies and all others.

That is why God punished them all, by making them to wander through the desert for another forty years, in the process letting all those who have rejected His love to perish in the desert, except for Caleb, the only one among the scouts to remain faithful and trusting in God, as well as Joshua, the faithful right hand man to Moses and his successor as the leader over all of Israel.

They had faith in their own power, their own intellect and their own ways, instead of listening to the Lord and obeying His will. And this is linked to what we have heard in the Gospel passage today, in which we witnessed how our Lord Jesus interacted with a Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite woman, who was not considered to belong among the people of Israel.

We must have wondered why did the Lord Jesus said such things to the woman, who begged Him to heal her daughter who was possessed by an evil spirit. Why did He rebuke her and seemingly rejected her request to have her daughter healed? And He was even comparing her to the lowly and unworthy dogs begging for the food from the master of the table. Why is this so, brothers and sisters in Christ?

The truth is that, our Lord Jesus was merely displaying to all of us the reality of the situation at that time, the prejudice and the attitude which the people of Israel, the Jewish people showed against their non-Jewish or also known as Gentiles, neighbours. The Jews looked down on their neighbours because they took pride in their status as the chosen people of God, and looked at others with contempt as if they were unworthy of God's love.

That is why, literally, they treated the pagan nations and the Gentiles as if they were below par, as what Jesus had illustrated in His interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman. But, the Lord Jesus showed just how faithful that woman had been, much more so than the people of Israel had been. The same case was evident from another part of the Gospels, where the army centurion who was likely to be a Gentile or non-Jew, was praised by the Lord for his faith which the Lord had not seen even among the Jews.

What is the lesson that all of us must learn from what we have heard in today's Scripture passages? It is that we must never have prejudice against others, but instead we must help each other on our journey towards the Lord. There has been plenty of sorrow and suffering caused throughout the history of this world when we mankind showed prejudice to our fellow men, and discriminate, just because we thought that it is right to do so.

The scouts were prejudiced against the inhabitants of Canaan, thinking that because they were all fearsome and powerful, they would rather trust in their own judgment instead of trusting in God's providence, therefore resulting in the people of God falling into sin. Yet, still others used prejudice as a method to achieve their own selfish agenda and objective, one of the worst of which is the Holocaust during the Second World War, a great atrocity against humanity by the NAZI German government.

Today it also happened that we celebrate the feast of one of the many victims of that terrible Holocaust, namely St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also better known by her name, St. Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to the Christian faith, who then joined the religious order of the Discalced Carmelites. She was remembered for her great many works and writings, involvement in the Catholic education and dedication to the Lord.

As the NAZI government of Germany at that time played on the prejudice and racism against the Jewish population, firstly in Germany itself, and then later on, among the countries that they have conquered, gathering all of them to be put into concentration camps and then massacred without mercy, the same would eventually happen to St. Teresa Benedicta, who endured the suffering with grace and faith, believing that God has already planned everything for her, and entrusted everything to God.

We see how mankind could end up committing such cruel acts like murder and genocide, based on their human prejudice alone, when they abandoned God's laws and commandments, and instead putting their trust in their own human judgment and intellect. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross showed all of us how we should then act, against all these prejudices and wickedness, by our total and complete surrender to the Lord and His will.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all as Christians be true disciples of the Lord through our every words, actions and deeds. Let us all put our faith in Him, rather than trusting in our own flawed human power, judgment and prejudices. Let us not follow in the footsteps of the Israelites who disobeyed God because of their fears and prejudices, and then, also, as we remember the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, let us all never be prejudiced against others or look down on anyone just because we think that we are more faithful than them. After all, no matter what, all of us are still the same, brethren, as sinners still needing the healing and mercy from God.

Let us all therefore from now on, commit ourselves to be righteous and true in our every deeds. Let us all not be passive or be ignorant when others are being bullied because of their race, appearance, or any other things. Let us instead be active in helping one another to reach out to the Lord in faith. May the Lord bless us all, and may He empower us to become ever better disciples of His, always. Amen.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 15 : 21-28

At that time, leaving that area, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from the area, came and cried out, "Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon."

But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So His disciples approached Him and said, "Send her away! See how she is shouting after us." Then Jesus said to her, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel."

But the woman was already kneeling before Jesus, and said, "Sir, help me!" Jesus answered, "It is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to puppies."

The woman replied, "That is true, Sir, but even puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table." Then Jesus said, "Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish." And her daughter was healed at that moment.