Thursday, 13 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest 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 of God’s wonderful love and mercy, and just how fortunate and blessed each and every one of us are that God has extended to us His forgiveness and reached out to us to show His love and compassion. We have sinned against God by our disobedience, our wickedness and constant failure to resist the temptations of the devil, and we should have been crushed and destroyed if not for God’s mercy and love.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel in which the prophet spoke of the Lord’s premonitions and words regarding the downfall of the sinful and all those who have disobeyed and refused to believe in Him. The Lord told Ezekiel to do as He said, to show all those who had been carried off into Babylon in exile, that the final days of the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem were at hand.

Ezekiel showed what would happen to the prince of the city of Jerusalem and the rest of the people, as how king Zedekiah, the last king of Judah would flee from the besieged city of Jerusalem after years of siege, and tried to flee from the Babylonians, only to be caught and humiliated, and the rest of the people enslaved and brought into exile. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple of God, long defiled by the sins of the people, was torn down in the conquest, its many vessels and goods brought into Babylon as spoils of war.

And this is the consequence of the sins that the people of God had committed, as they abandoned God for the pagan idols and for their futile pursuits of worldliness, to satisfy their ego, greed and ambitions. They lost everything, their pride and their land, their livelihood and all that they had, humiliated and treated less than men, to serve the needs of their masters and conquerors. Yet, they lived, and this showed that God still loved them, cared for them, regardless of their many sins.

This is then what the Lord told His disciples in our Gospel passage today as He spoke of them on the matter of forgiveness when the Apostle St. Peter asked Him how many times we must forgive our enemies and those who have wronged us, and the Lord said, ‘seventy times seven times’. The connotation of seven and seventy was in fact a reference to the need for one to be constantly forgiving, as seven is a number of perfection, and seventy times seven show complete perfection, meaning forgiveness without end in this case.

The Lord also used the parable to highlight this matter to His disciples, as He spoke of a rich lord who had many servants, and whose servants owed him quite a fair amount of money, and they were supposed to pay back what they owed or face the consequences. One of the servants who owed ten thousand pieces of gold, a relatively large amount that time, begged his lord and master to give him more time to be able to pay back the debt, and not to levy punishment on him or his household.

The lord, moved with pity, did not just listen to what the servant asked and begged for, but even more, he cancelled out his entire debt, which means that the servant did not have to pay off the entire huge debt of ten thousand pieces of gold. The servant, definitely being happy, then went off and then, met another servant who owed him money, a sum of a hundred pieces of silver. This is a much, much smaller amount than what the servant once owed his lord and master and had been forgiven from.

Yet, the servant forced the other servant to pay him back and threatened him, and even when the other servant begged for him to forgive him or at least give him more time to pay back his debt, the servant refused and sent the poor other servant into prison. And this came to the knowledge of the lord, who became very, very upset at the servant, who showed complete ingratitude at what he had been so fortunate and blessed with. He was forgiven his massive debt and yet, could not forgive a much smaller debt owed him.

This was representative of what God, our Lord and Master has done for us and what He is expecting all of us to do in our own lives. The lord in the parable represents the Lord Himself, and the servants of the lord being each and every one of us. The debts represent the sins and faults, the mistakes and hurt we have caused one another, the large debt represents the debt we have towards God, our sins caused by our disobedience and wickedness, while the smaller debt represents the faults and hurts we committed to one another, to our fellow brothers and sisters.

The essence of today’s Scripture readings therefore is to point out to us that, if God has been able to forgive us our sins, just as how enormous and incomprehensibly large the extent of those sins are for each one of us, then why can’t we forgive one another our sins and faults, our mistakes and hurts we have caused each other? That is because we are often too filled up with ego and pride that we cannot see ourselves humbling and stepping down to forgive, seeing forgiving others as a sign of weakness.

And our desires made the better of us, by tempting us to seek for satisfaction and good things for ourselves, for things we want and crave like money and material possessions, often at the expense of others. That is why we get angry at others, or demand others to give in to what we want, and not forgiving them their debts and mistakes, not realising that we have been forgiven even greater debts by the Lord.

The Lord wants us to do the same with our fellow brothers and sisters, to forgive them their debts and mistakes, their sins and faults to us, just as He has forgiven us all our sins and trespasses. Isn’t this what we always pray for in the Lord’s Prayer? ‘Forgive us our trespasses just as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.’ And in order to do this, we need to get rid from ourselves the taints of pride and ego, the temptations of greed and worldly desires among other things.

Are we able to do so brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to commit ourselves to be forgiving to one another and also accept God’s forgiveness in our lives? We are called to devote our time, effort and attention to serve the Lord faithfully and to be loving just as He is loving, forgiving and be compassionate just as He is forgiving and compassionate. And today, let us all also gain the inspiration from our holy predecessors, namely Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, whose feasts we celebrate today.

At that time, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were rivals in the influence within the Church, with St. Hippolytus apparently having been elected as the ‘Antipope’ in opposition to several Popes, as the former accused the latter of heresies and infidelities. St. Hippolytus was supported by the Greek-speaking Christians in Rome while Pope St. Pontian and his immediate predecessors were supported by the Latin-speaking Christians. The division lasted for quite a few years, and in the meantime new round of persecutions against Christians occurred.

It was then that the Roman Emperor and the government imposed a new persecution that led to the arrest of both Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, who were sent into exile and hard labour in Sardinia, and it was there that both of them were reconciled to each other, forgiving one another what had transpired and happened between them for the sake of unity in the Church. St. Hippolytus likely gave up his contention as an ‘Antipope’ while Pope St. Pontian also resigned from the Pontificate to allow for the election of a new Pope to commence, as his arrest meant that it was unlikely that he would ever be able to resume his duties.

Both saints eventually died in martyrdom, defending the truth of their faith, but not before showing all of us the power of forgiveness and reconciliation, of forgiving each other no matter how bitter we may have been over the disagreements and divisions we have between us. Ultimately, we must remember that God forgave us all and is still forgiving us even when we have committed so many sins against Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all turn towards the Lord with a new heart of love and hope, and seek for forgiveness from Him for our every sins and weaknesses. Let us all be loving as He has been loving, and be inspired by the story of forgiveness of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, forgoing their differences and embracing a new existence in love through God. May God be with us always, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 13 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 18 : 21 – Matthew 19 : 1

At that time, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offences of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven : A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. Among the first of them was one who owed him ten thousand pieces of gold. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, his children and all his goods, as repayment.”

“The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.’ The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even cancelled his debt. When this servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the throat and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!'”

“His fellow servant threw himself at his feet and begged him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything.’ But the other did not agree, and sent him to prison until he has paid all his debt. Now the servants of the king saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord.”

“Then the lord summoned his servant and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed me when you begged me to do so. Were you not bound to have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ The lord was now angry. He handed the wicked servant over to be punished, until he had paid the whole debt.”

Jesus added, “So will My heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.” When Jesus had finished these sayings, He left Galilee and arrived at the border of Judea, on the other side of the Jordan River.

Thursday, 13 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 77 : 56-57, 58-59, 61-62

But they challenged and rebelled against God the Most High, and disobeyed His decrees. They were unfaithful, like their ancestors, deceitful and crooked, as a twisted bow.

They angered Him with their high places; they aroused His jealousy with their idols. Filled with wrath, God rejected Israel.

He lead His glory into captivity, His Ark, into the hand of the enemy. He gave His people over to the sword, so furious was He at His inheritance.

Thursday, 13 August 2020 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Ezekiel 12 : 1-12

This word of YHVH came to me, “Son of man, you live in the midst of a house of rebels : they have eyes for seeing but do not see; they have ears for hearing but do not hear; for they are a house of rebels. Because of this, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage in their sight, as an exile does; and go as an exile, to another place, in their sight. Would that they might understand, because they are a house of rebels.”

“You will gather your things, an exile’s baggage, by day, to be seen by them; and you will leave in the evening, as for a departure of deportees. While they look on, dig a hole in the wall and leave from there. As they look on, shoulder your baggage and leave in the dark. Veil your face and do not look at the land, for I have made you a sign for Israel.”

I did as I was ordered, gathering my things by day, an exile’s baggage, and, in the evening, I made a hole in the wall with my hand. I left in the dark, in their presence, shouldering my baggage. In the morning, the word of YHVH came to me : “Son of man, did not the Israelites, these rebels, ask you, ‘What are you doing there?’ Answer them on behalf of YHVH : This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the Israelites remaining in the city.”

“Say, ‘I am a sign for you,’ for what I have done will happen to them : They will be deported, exiled. The prince among them shall shoulder his baggage in the dark and depart. They will dig a hole in the wall to let him leave by it. He will cover his face because he must not see the land with his eyes.”

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest 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 reminding us all of the love which God has constantly shown to us, despite all of our disobedience and refusal to love Him. He has always been faithful to the Covenant He made with each and every one of us, and He has blessed us all throughout these lives we have, and everything that we are today, all of these are because of Him and His endless love for us.

In our first reading passage today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses, who was at the last moments of his life, was speaking to the entire congregation of the people of Israel, those who have survived the whole forty years journey through the desert, having been led and guided by God throughout all those years of ordeal, suffering, trials and time of purification from their sins.

Those who have sinned and disobeyed God had perished in the desert as God Himself had told them, while their sons and daughters and those who remained faithful to God were the only ones who would then enter into the land promised to them and their ancestors, the land of Canaan. Moses reassured them all that God would be with all of them and they had nothing to fear. It was because of that fear which made Israel disobeyed and distrusted the Lord that caused the whole nation to wander in the desert for forty years in the first place.

God has always been faithful, and He continues to love His people generously as He has always been. And that is the clear message of today’s passage from the Book of Deuteronomy. God will care for us and take care of everything we need, but we need to trust in Him and put our whole lives, our whole existence in His care and devote ourselves to His providence and His compassionate mercy.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord through His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, reminds us yet again of this love which He has for all of us. By using the example and parable of the lost sheep, He shows that if even any one of us, represented by the sheep of the flock, wanders off and becomes lost, God, as our ever loving and dedicated Shepherd, will go all the way to look for us and to find us, and be reunited with us.

That is exactly what He has done, brothers and sisters in Christ, by willingly humbling Himself and assuming the form of our humanity, in becoming the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, to become the One through Whom we would be saved, by His works and by His ultimate sacrifice of love, the sacrifice of the Cross. God loves us so much that He willingly embraced all the sufferings and the pains of the punishments for our sins, and by His Cross, He unites us all back to Himself, reconciling us all by the atonement for our sins.

But His love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness will not be able to enter into us, if we remain obstinate and stubborn as those Israelites who have disobeyed and rebelled against God. They have closed their hearts and minds against the Lord and preferred to follow the temptations and false promises of Satan instead of listening to and obeying the Lord Who has loved and cared for them throughout all those years.

That is why, all of us need to reexamine our lives and reflect on the other words of the Lord today, Who has mentioned that unless we are like children in the manner of our faith, we will not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Why is this so? That is because we all surely know how children usually behave. Children below a certain age of understanding and knowledge are truly pure and innocent, and they will believe whatever they have heard, seen and experienced wholeheartedly.

And this is exactly the kind of faith that all of us must have as well, a pure love and commitment to God, a genuine dedication and longing for Him. We should not be swayed by the many temptations in life, the temptations of desire, the temptations of worldly glory and the many other things that often prevented us from finding our path towards the Lord. Today, therefore, we should look at the examples shown by two great saints of the early Church who have overcome the temptations of worldly glory and chose to be truly faithful to the Lord.

Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were two great leaders of the early Church during the years of terrible persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Maximinus in the early third century after the birth of Christ. At that time, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were in fact on the opposing sides of the bitter divide between two factions in the Church, when Pope St. Pontian was elected to be the successor of St. Peter. Some of the Church elders has elected St. Hippolytus earlier on as an Antipope.

The bitter division and conflict between the two saints then and their followers threatened to cause great schism in the Church, but eventually, by the grace of God and because of the persecutions against the Church, they were reconciled to each other, and when the Pope was arrested and exiled, Pope St. Pontian chose to voluntarily resign his position, and it was likely that St. Hippolytus did so as well, allowing for the restoration of the full unity in the Church and the continuation of the line of St. Peter even after they were exiled and martyred for their faith.

The example of humility shown by those two saints and their devotion to God and to the people entrusted to them, despite the divisions that occurred temporarily at that time should show us that if we are able to cast off the temptations of pride, of worldly glory and power, of influence and fame, and accept humbly the cross of Christ as Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus had done, we too can share in their glory, through our own virtuous and exemplary lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray to the Lord, asking Him for strength and encouragement, that each and every one of us may draw ever closer to Him and find our way to the salvation He has promised to us all. May all of us be ever more committed and be able to serve Him from now on with all of our hearts and with all of our strength. Amen.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 18 : 1-5, 10, 12-14

At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child, set the child in the midst of the disciples, and said, “I assure you, that, unless you change, and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble, like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives such a child, in My Name, receives Me.”

“See that you do not despise any of these little ones; for I tell you, their Angels in heaven continually see the face of My heavenly Father. What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”

“It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to perish.”

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Deuteronomy 32 : 3-4a, 7, 8, 9 and 12

For I will proclaim the Name of the Lord and declare the greatness of our God. He is the Rock, and perfect are all His works, just are all His ways.

Recall the days of old, think of the years gone by; your father will teach you about them, your elders will enlighten you.

When the Most High divided humankind and gave the nations their inheritance, He set up boundaries for the people after the number of the sons of God.

But the Lord keeps for Himself His portion Jacob, His chosen one. The Lord alone led them, without the aid of a foreign god.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Deuteronomy 31 : 1-8

When Moses finished telling all Israel these words, he said, “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I can no longer deal with anything – Remember that YHVH told me that I shall not cross the Jordan River. Now Joshua shall be at your head, as YHVH has said. He, your God, will go before you to destroy these nations before you, and you will drive them away.”

“YHVH shall deal with these cities as He dealt with Sihon and Og, the Amorite kings, and their land, which He destroyed. So when He has given these nations over to you, you shall do the same, according to what I have commanded you. Be valiant and strong, do not fear or tremble before them for YHVH, your God, is with you; He will not leave you or abandon you.”

After this, Moses called Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel : “Be valiant and strong, you shall go with this people into the land which YHVH swore to their ancestors He would give them and you shall give it to them as their possession. YHVH shall go before you. He shall be with you; He shall not leave you or abandon you. Do not fear, then, or be discouraged.”

Saturday, 13 August 2016 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and St. Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Scripture readings today spoke to us about what we ought to be doing in order to find righteousness and salvation in our God. And that is for us to abandon our sinful ways and our wicked past, just as what the Lord told His people through His prophet Ezekiel, telling them that while the righteous enjoy the favour of the Lord, but the wicked and those who refused to obey Him, shall receive punishment due for them.

And in order to find righteousness and justice in God, we will have to learn to distance ourselves from all the things that are wicked and that are against the Lord’s ways, as God Himself announced to the prophet Ezekiel, that His faithful people ought to distance themselves from things that can cause fornication and corruption of the body, heart, mind and soul. That means, we should avoid unjust attitudes and behaviours, avoid greed and unbridled desires, avoid all the things that bring us into the trap of sin and thus into our downfall.

Why is this something so important for us to take note of, brethren? That is because, by our nature, we have that tendency to be swayed by our needs and wants, by our desires and by our attachments to the world and its goods. It is easy for us to lose our way going forward as we are presented with many options, many of which lead not to the Lord but instead towards the devil and his false ways.

In the Gospel today, Jesus spoke to His disciples to point out to them that very simple fact which we often forget in life. That if we want to follow the Lord our God, then our focus cannot be on other things beside Him. We have too many attachments and concerns in life, and that is a singular most important reason why so many of us were incapable of being devoted and committed servants of our Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us ought to heed what Jesus our Lord said to us in the Gospel, that we have to be like that of little children if we are to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. And no, it does not mean that we should become childish in our actions and way of life, but rather, we must be as children are when they believe in something and be like them in our faith towards the Lord.

If we have seen children before, talking to them and working with them, we should realise that they are truly clean slate, pure and innocent, untainted by the many concerns and attachments to the world. And these are exactly the very reason why many of us met our downfall and falter on our way to the Lord, as our burdens, the burdens of our attachments weighed us down and held us back.

Are we able to believe in the Lord just as the children had believed? The faith of a child is pure and true, and when they believe in something, they will hold on to that faith and to that belief. Whereas many of us are easy to turn away our beliefs and faith, for something else, just as what many of us did, ditching the Lord behind for the gain of our own flesh, the pleasures of that same flesh, and for the tempting gains of money, fame, possessions and worldly glory.

Let us then look at the examples of the two holy saints and servants of God whose feast we are celebrating on this day. Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were renowned elders and leaders of the Church at the time of the early Church, during the time when the Church was still under the persecution and attack from the Roman Empire and its government.

Pope St. Pontian was the leader of the Universal Church at that time, while St. Hippolytus was supported by some segments in the Church to become the Bishop of Rome in opposition to Pope St. Pontian. The struggle and tension between the two of them were quite bad for some time, with both sides accusing each other of trying to divide the Church and the faithful.

But in the end, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus agreed to lay down their differences for the sake of the faithful and the Church, and it also happened during the time of a particularly vicious and cruel persecution of the Church by the Roman Emperor Valerian. They were both arrested and put into great suffering and were exiled, where eventually they were martyred for their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from the example of these two saints, we can see how our human desires and wants can become great obstacles on our journey and path towards the Lord. These can cause divisions and intrigue to arise among the faithful and in the Church. And certainly, from what we have learnt, we should also endeavour to reject the temptations of the flesh, the allures of the world, and instead, do what we can in order to help one another to find our way to the Lord and to His salvation.

Let us all cultivate and strengthen our faith, so that it may grow stronger in us, and with stronger faith, may all of us be united ever more closely and intimately with our God, and in all the things that we say and do, let us do them for the greater glory of God. Amen.

Saturday, 13 August 2016 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and St. Hippolytus, Priest, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

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

Matthew 19 : 13-15

At that time, little children were brought to Jesus that He might lay His hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded those who brought them.

Jesus then said, “Let them be! Do not stop the children from coming to Me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to people such as these children.” So Jesus laid His hands on them and went His way.