Saturday, 4 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard from the Scripture passages today, all of us are strengthened and reminded of the Lord reassuring all of us that He will bless us, strengthen us and restore to us the true glory and happiness that we are meant to receive, and yet failed because of our disobedience and sins. However, this also requires us to be open and to be willing to welcome the Lord into our hearts and minds, into our beings to transform us and change us.

In our first reading today, we heard about the words of the Lord spoken through His prophet Amos to His people Israel, those in the northern kingdom of Israel who have been separated from their brethren in the kingdom of Judah in the south. The prophet Amos was sent to the northern Israelites and he spoke of the upcoming reckoning and judgment that the people would suffer for their rebellions and disobedience against God.

Earlier on this week, from the same prophet Amos we have heard the words of God regarding the destruction of Israel and the downfall of the false priesthood and false idol worship at Bethel which king Jeroboam of Israel had promoted to keep the Israelites under his rule from returning to the House of David’s allegiance. All of these would eventually come true as the northern kingdom of Israel would be crushed and destroyed by their enemies and the Assyrians, the people led into exile.

But then, as we heard in our first reading passage today, the Lord also told His people through the prophet Amos of His mercy and compassion towards them, that His love for them is such that He would bring them back once again into His embrace and love, and He would restore them to the good old days, when God and His people were in harmony, as were in the days of king David and king Solomon.

All of these showed us all that firstly, God is always ever loving towards us even though we have disobeyed Him, angered Him and betrayed Him for other idols, gods and forgot about Him for our own worldly pursuits and desires. But then at the same time, if we disobey Him and lead a life of sin, reckoning and judgment will also come our way, and that is to be our fate, unless we accept God’s generous love and mercy.

God has always offered His love and mercy generously to us, but are we willing and are we open to accept them? For us to receive the fullness of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, then we need to heed what the Lord told His disciples and the Pharisees in the Gospel reading today. In that passage, we heard the Lord using the parable to teach exactly this meaning, by saying in response to the Pharisees who questioned and probably even ridiculed the Lord and His disciples for them not following the fasting rules as written in the Law.

The Lord then rebutted them saying that while He was with them, they would not fast because truly, Him being present with them was a joyous time, not to be marred by the sorrowful and penitential nature of fasting. It was only when He depart from them, a premonition for His suffering, death and sacrifice on the Cross, that they would fast, in sorrow for their sins. But God would restore them as He gloriously triumphed in His Resurrection and gather them once again, strengthening them and giving them the guide in going forward.

Then, the Lord used the parable of the wine and the wineskin to highlight first of all, that the ways followed and advocated by the Pharisees were incompatible with the true path that the Lord was revealing to His people, He used the analogy of new wine that ought to be paired with new wineskin, or else the wine would destroy the old wineskin, and vice versa if old wine is kept in new wineskin. The old way of the Pharisees, their preoccupation and distraction with the minute details and appearances, were therefore incompatible with those who want to seek God with true faith.

And then, with the same parable, the Lord also wants us all to know that disobedience, wickedness, evil and sin are all incompatible with His path, and if we do not change our ways, then we will be judged by exactly our disobedience and sins, and also by our refusal to change our ways. That is why, with this parable, the Lord wants us to realise that to follow Him, and to receive the fullness of His generous love and forgiveness, all of us must change our ways, and embrace the righteousness of God.

Today, we have a great example and inspiration to follow, in the person of St. Elizabeth of Portugal as we celebrate her feast day this day. St. Elizabeth of Portugal was a royal princess of the Kingdom of Aragon and married into the Portuguese royal family, becoming the Queen consort of Portugal. She has been noted for her great piety even from her early youth, as she regularly attended daily Mass and said the Divine Office daily.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal continued her pious practices and dedication to the Lord even after becoming queen, devoting herself to love her people and care for them, especially those who were poor and sick. For her actions, she was actually disliked by some among the nobles and the royalty who considered her actions unbecoming of a royalty, more so for a monarch and queen. Nonetheless, this did not discourage her, and in fact, her dedication and sincerity moved many others to follow her footsteps, and even her husband the king, was also convinced to leave behind a sinful life he had led up to then.

And when her husband passed away, St. Elizabeth of Portugal retreated to a convent and continued to care for the poor and the sick as she had always done, establishing hospitals and projects to help those who were uncared for and dying, and to give lodging to pilgrims and those who were homeless and suffering. Through all of her efforts, her great and consistent piety and devotion to God, many people were touched and converted, and all of us can indeed also follow in her footsteps.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all then reflect on our own lives. Have we been living our faith genuinely all these while? Or have we instead been tempted by our various desires and all the things that distracted us from being able to give ourselves to God with all of our hearts? Let us change our way of life, that while once we might have lived in sin and committed what was unworthy of God, from now on, we commit ourselves to a new path and a new life, walking righteously with God, in the path He has shown us.

May all of us be inspired by the good examples, faith and genuine sincerity showed by St. Elizabeth of Portugal, that we ourselves may grow in faith and be ever closer to God, and from now on, remain righteous and good in His presence. May God bless each and every one of us, and may He guide us in the path of life, and bless our every good and faithful endeavours. Amen.

Saturday, 4 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Gospel Reading)

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

Matthew 9 : 14-17

At that time, the disciples of John came to Jesus with the question, “How is it, that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not Your disciples?”

Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The time will come, when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then, they will fast.”

“No one patches an old coat with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for the patch will shrink and tear an even bigger hole in the coat. In the same way, you do not put new wine into old wine skins. If you do, the wine skins will burst and the wine will be spilt. No, you put new wine into fresh skins; then both are preserved.”

Saturday, 4 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Psalm)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 4 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (First Reading)

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

Amos 9 : 11-15

On that day, I shall restore the fallen hut of David and wall up its breaches, and raise its ruined walls; and so built it as in days of old. They shall conquer the remnant of Edom, and the neighbouring nations, upon which My Name has been called.” Thus says YHVH, the One Who will do this.

YHVH says also, “The days are coming when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes overtake the sower. The mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall melt. I shall bring back the exiles of My people Israel; they will rebuild the desolate cities and dwell in them.”

“They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will have orchards and eat their fruit. I shall plant them in their own country and they shall never again be rooted up from the land which I have given them,” says YHVH your God.

Thursday, 4 July 2019 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture in which we heard of the moment when Abraham was asked by God to give his son Isaac to be sacrificed to Him on Mount Moria. And then in the Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus healing a paralysed man only to be criticised upon by the teachers of the Law, which made the Lord to rebuke them for what they have done.

In our first reading passage today, we heard about the sacrifice of Isaac which God requested of Abraham, and this, if we do not understand God’s true intention and context, would have been very disturbing and difficult to accept. At that time, it was common in fact for deities and gods, the pagan idols to be offered sacrificial offerings, including even human sacrifices. It would therefore not be totally out of place for God to have requested such a thing from Abraham.

However, this request came after God has promised Abraham that his descendants through Isaac would be numerous like the stars and the grains of sand, and how they would become great nations on earth. God specifically also mentioned to Abraham earlier on that His promise and grace did not extend through his other son, Ishmael, but through Isaac only. Imagine what kind of thoughts and ruminations that went through in the mind of Abraham as he heard the Lord’s commands.

Yet, despite that, he obeyed without reservation, trusting completely in God’s will. Abraham obediently and faithfully brought Isaac to Mount Moria where he thought of offering him as a sacrifice to God. He must have been sad and filled with questions in his heart, but his love and obedience for God never changed. He followed through God’s plan and for that, he was blessed by God Who used the opportunity to see the faith which Abraham had for Him.

In today’s Gospel passage, we then heard of the Lord Jesus healing the paralysed man and the teachers of the Law immediately commented on when He forgave the paralysed man from his sins and made him whole again. We ought to look into this occasion and contrast it with what we have heard in our first reading today, regarding Abraham and his faith. While Abraham was faithful and trusted in God despite probably having some doubts, he committed himself regardless, but the teachers of the Law immediately went to criticise the Lord.

That is what happened when there is a lack of faith in our hearts, as the teachers of the Law were very knowledgeable about the details and the particulars of the customs and rules applied by the Law, and yet they failed to understand the meaning and purpose behind those laws, which in truth were given to us mankind by God so that the Law may become a guiding light for us to follow, that we do not fall into error.

Instead, they focused on the wrong aspect and approach, becoming preoccupied with the technicalities and the prescriptions of the Law rather than understanding its true nature and purpose of use. That is where they were not like Abraham, who knew God’s will truly in his heart, and devoted himself completely to Him, with the only desire to serve Him and to love Him with all of his strength and abilities.

Today, we also celebrate the feast of another holy servant of God, that is of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. St. Elizabeth of Portugal was married to the King of Portugal and therefore is a rightful Queen of Portugal, and even though she was born into nobility and richness and power, but she remained humble, devout and upright in her living. In time, her examples and influence managed to convert even her husband, the king, who had been leading a sinful life until then.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal showed many other courageous displays of faith, and after her husband passed away, she retired into a monastery where she continued to serve the Lord through prayer and service. She was instrumental in peacemaking when conflict was almost inevitable between that of her son, the then king of Portugal and the king of the neighbouring kingdom of Castile.

In St. Elizabeth of Portugal and Abraham, we can see the genuine faith of those who have given their lives to God and entrusted themselves to Him, knowing His will and His ways. Are we able to follow in their footsteps as well? Or are we more like the teachers of the Law who are just concerned about fulfilling our obligations to God and not truly loving Him and trusting in His will?

Let us all draw ever closer to God from now on, and find ways for us to dedicate ourselves ever more to Him. May He continue to guide us throughout our journey, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 4 July 2019 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Matthew 9 : 1-8

At that time, Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the lake again, and came to His hometown. Here, they brought to Him a paralysed man, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.”

Some teachers of the Law said within themselves, “This Man insults God.” Jesus was aware of what they were thinking; and said, “Why have you such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say : ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But that you may know, that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralysed man, “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home!”

The man got up, and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to human beings.

Thursday, 4 July 2019 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Psalm 114 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

Alleluia! I am pleased that YHVH has heard my voice in supplication, that He has not been deaf to me, the day I called on Him.

When the cords of death entangled me, the snares of the grave laid hold of me, when affliction got the better of me, I called upon the Name of YHVH : “O YHVH, save my life!”

Gracious and righteous is YHVH; full of compassion is our God. YHVH protects the simple : He saved me when I was humbled.

He has freed my soul from death, my eyes from weeping, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before YHVH in the land of the living.

Thursday, 4 July 2019 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Genesis 22 : 1-19

Some time later God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.” Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I shall point out to you.”

Abraham rose early next morning and saddled his donkey and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and set out for the place to which God had directed him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance, and he said to the young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. He carried in his hand the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke to Abraham, his father, “Father!” And Abraham replied, “Yes, my son?” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.”

They went on, the two of them together, until they came to the place to which God had directed them. When Abraham had built the altar and set the wood on it, he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the wood placed on the altar. He then stretched out his hand to seize the knife and slay his son. But the Angel of YHVH called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.” “Do not lay your hand on the boy; do not harm him, for now I know that you fear God, and you have not held back from Me your only son.” Abraham looked around and saw behind him a ram caught by its horns in a bush. He offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place ‘The Lord will provide.’ And the saying has lasted to this day.

And the Angel of YHVH called from heaven a second time, “By myself I have sworn, it is YHVH Who speaks, because you have done this and not held back your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the lands of their enemies. All the nations of the earth will be blessed through your descendants because you have obeyed Me.”

So Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba and it was there that Abraham stayed.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the message of the Lord through the Scriptures, telling us first of all from the prophet Amos, who was the prophet sent to the northern kingdom of Israel. At that time, the people of the kingdom of Israel have disobeyed God and worshipped the pagan gods and idols of their neighbours, and desecrated His law and commandments.

The Lord was calling them to repent from their sins and from their disobedience through the prophet Amos. But they hardened their hearts and shut off their ears from the word of God. They continued to sin against God and persecuted His prophets, one after another. And that was how the Lord Jesus was also treated by the people, rejected and shut out by His own people.

The state of the people of God was indeed like the two men possessed by the evil spirits. In the Gospel passage we saw how the Lord Jesus healed the two men beset and enslaved by the evil spirits, casting those evil and wicked spirits out of them into the pigs. The men possessed by the evil spirits were cast out from the society and they wandered off in the wilderness, like how the Israelites themselves had wandered off in the desert for forty years because of their sins, and how they endured decades in exile because of their disobedience.

The people of God, like the two possessed men, had been cast out from the grace of God, and while the two men were in the physical desert where the Lord Jesus encountered them, the rest of the people were in the state of a spiritual desert where God was far away in their lives and He was not having the first and foremost place in their hearts and mind. They had shut Him off and distanced themselves from Him.

What we should realise from today’s readings, is that we are also sinners like them, who have, at times, fallen and stumbled along the way in the journey. We are now also in the midst of this spiritual desert, lost and struggling in this journey of life. But what we must also realise is that as we heard in the Gospel today, that God cares for each and every one of us.He went to seek those who have been abandoned, those who have sinned and been corrupted by sin. He went to heal the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors, and call them to repentance just as He cast out demons and evil spirits from those who were possessed. Therefore, God is also looking for our salvation and liberation from the sins and wickedness which have chained and enslaved us all thus far.

Now, the question is, how willing are we to receive God’s healing and mercy? God offers us His forgiveness and love very generously, and He will not withhold them from us. He is ever generous in giving, and especially because He had created us out of love, and He does not want even a single one of us to be lost or separated from Him. Yet, there were still many of us who stubbornly refused to accept the Lord’s offer of love, mercy and compassion.Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is often due to our stubbornness and pride that we fail to seek the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. We cannot bear to bend down and humbly recognising our sinfulness and shortcomings before us. Many of us would rather perish in sin rather than to lower ourselves and humble ourselves before God. A very sad state of life indeed!

This is perhaps the time for us to emulate the example of the holy woman whose feast we celebrate today, namely the feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. St. Elizabeth of Portugal was a renowned queen of Portugal, who was remembered greatly for her piety and faith, her charity and generosity, her holiness in life and her exemplary and inspirational life. Many of the people were touched by her during her life and they repented to the true faith in God.

Now, are we able to live our lives in the same manner as St. Elizabeth of Portugal? She may be a royalty and born a noble, but in her heart and mind, she got her priorities right, by focusing on the Lord and putting Him at the centre of her life. Shall we all also follow in her footsteps, and seek to accept the will of God for us in our lives, and embrace His rich and generous mercy?

May the Lord open our hearts and minds, so that we may come to the fullness of understanding of the love and mercy of God. May He continue to bless us each and every day of our lives, that we may be able to do our best to love Him more, and to commit ourselves more closely to Him. Amen.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints)

Matthew 8 : 28-34

At that time, when Jesus reached Gadara, on the other side, He was met by two men, possessed by devils, who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way. They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

Some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. So the demons begged Him, “If You drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” Jesus ordered them, “Go!” So the demons left the men and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and was drowned.

The men in charge of the pigs ran off to the town, where they told the whole story; and also what had happened to the men possessed with the demons. The whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they begged Him to leave their region.