Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are yet reminded again of the matter of fasting and how important this practice of fasting for each and every one of us. As Christians we practice fasting as well as abstinence at certain times in the year, and the practice of fasting have to be done with full understanding and appreciation of what it can do to us, if we truly practice fasting as well as abstinence with the right reasons and purpose.

What we heard today in our first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah as well as the Gospel passage today ought to jolt us and to make us realise that we do not fast or abstain from meat and from other things we want to abstain from, just because it is a formality and an obligation to do so. That is because it is easy for us to practice certain acts of piety and devotions, and yet, we did them not out of love for God, but because we want attention to ourselves, or that we want to satisfy our pride, ego and greed.

That was what happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law during the time of Jesus. When the Pharisees asked the disciples why they did not fast just as they have done, the Lord answered them that they would fast when the time was right, when He was to be taken away from them, and then they would fast. They did not fast just because they wanted to be seen or to be praised for doing so, unlike the Pharisees who made a lot of fuss and brought plenty of attention to their activities and pious acts.

When they fasted, they did so mainly because they were swayed by their pride, ego, desire and ambition. They wanted the people to praise them and respect them because of the things that they did. God did not have place of honour in their hearts and minds, as He should have received. God should have been the focus and at the centre of our every actions and works. But without that genuine love and dedication that each and every one of us should have for Him, we will not be able to remain faithful to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time and season of Lent we are called to redirect our focus in life as well as our attention back towards the Lord, by means of fasting and abstinence. When we fast, we must have the right focus and attention at heart, which means that we fast because we want to restrain our inner desires, all the wicked temptations that are within our hearts and minds, that caused us to sin against God.

When we abstain, we also restrain our own predisposition to sin, our vulnerability to the disobedience against God. Thus instead of following the examples of the Pharisees who used their practice of fasting and abstinence in the entirely wrong direction and intention, using those as excuse to indulge in their own ego, desires and pride, we should reject those prideful thoughts and temptations inside our hearts and minds.

Satan is ever busy and ready to strike at us through these temptations, the desires and greed within us, and by turning our ego, ambition and pride against us. Unless we make the conscious effort to resist the pull of desire, pride, ego and ambition, and dedicate ourselves to reject the pull of sin, we will likely end up falling deeper and deeper into the trap of sin. And this is where, during this time and season of Lent, we should make use of these opportunities given to us to repent from our sinful ways.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of God, a holy and devout servant of God, whose life and examples should become inspiration for ourselves, in how we ought to live our lives faithfully before God. St. John of God was remembered well for his service to the people of God, especially for the sick, the poor and those who have suffered physically and in unfortunate conditions. St. John of God dedicated his life, his time, his efforts and works to care for all of them.

Are we able to follow in the footsteps of this holy saint, brothers and sisters in Christ? God has given us the time, opportunity and ability to give our talents and abilities to be of benefit to one another, especially those who are weak, poor, oppressed and unloved. We are called to love God in ways that St. John of God and many others of our holy predecessors had done. Are we able to do this, brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us progress through this season of Lent, with a new commitment to love God, as well as to love one another. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the pride, the ego and ambition, the greed and worldly desired that can prevent us from truly attaining the fullness of salvation and grace in God. Let us all make good use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith in God. May God bless us all and may He guide us in this journey of faith. Amen.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 9 : 14-15

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.”

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 18-19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone, have I sinned.

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.

Friday, 8 March 2019 : Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Isaiah 58 : 1-9a

Cry out aloud for all you are worth; raise your voice like a trumpet blast; tell My people of their offences, Jacob’s family of their sins. Is it true that they seek Me day after day, longing to know My ways, as a people that does what is right and has not forsaken the word of its God?

They want to know the just laws and not to drift away from their God. “Why are we fasting?,” they complain, “and You do not even see it? We are doing penance and You never notice it.” Look, on your fast days you push your trade and you oppress your labourers. Yes, you fast but end up quarrelling, striking each other with wicked blows. Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that pleases Me, just a day to humble oneself? Is fasting merely bowing down one’s head, and making use of sackcloth and ashes? Would you call that fasting, a day acceptable to YHVH? See the fast that pleases Me : breaking the fetters of injustice and unfastening the thongs of the yoke, setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke.

Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin. Then will your light break forth as the dawn and your healing come in a flash. Your righteousness will be your vanguard, the glory of YHVH your rearguard. Then you will call and YHVH will answer, you will cry and He will say, I am here.

Thursday, 8 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the clear frustrations of the Lord in two cases. The first one, from the Old Testament was the Lord voicing out His displeasure of His people through His prophet Jeremiah, about their constant disobedience and refusal to listen to His reminders and teachings as He made it clear to them through His prophets.

They continued to sin and disobey the Lord, and they did not follow the examples of their ancestors who obeyed the Law meticulously and genuinely. They persecuted the prophets and messengers sent to them to remind them and to call them to repentance. Instead of turning towards the Lord, they hardened their hearts and sinned further before the Lord.

In the Gospel today, we heard yet another example of this stubbornness, as the Lord Jesus met lots of resistance from the Pharisees who accused Him wrongly and maliciously of using the power of the devil in order to perform all of His miraculous deeds, healings and wonders. They were the ones who were highly educated and were knowledgeable about the Scriptures, and yet they failed to recognise God and His works when He came to their midst.

Why is that so? That is because of their stubbornness and refusal to believe in the Lord’s words as they were so set in their ways and thoughts that they refused to listen to an alternative opinion, even if their thoughts and ways were wrong. They stubbornly clung on to their false beliefs because of their pride and arrogance. They even went to the extent of doubting God’s presence and works in their midst in doing so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to reflect on these Scripture passages, looking at all the sinful ways and actions we have done in the past, and which we may still be doing at the moment. Have these prevented us from seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, because of our pride and our stubbornness, thinking that everything is fine and good for us? Have we allowed ourselves to be swayed by our desires and ambitions that we forget that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness?

In this time of Lent, we are called to reexamine our lives and our actions, and see what we can do in order to bring ourselves closer to God. God has called us to be His disciples, and to follow Him in the path that He will show us, but we must have the commitment to follow in His footsteps, and to walk in His path, which will not be easy and will be full of challenges and difficulties.

We will be tempted in various ways to leave the way of the Lord, and we will be tempted to return once again to our old, sinful way of life. That was why the Israelites fell again and again into sin, because they did not remain true to their faith in God and make little effort to resist the temptation of the devil. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law similarly allowed the devil to enter their hearts and sway them with hubris and arrogance, that closed their hearts and minds from understanding God’s words and truth as revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what we must not do with our lives. On the contrary, we must open our hearts and minds, allowing the Lord to enter and transform us completely, from beings filled with darkness and sin, into beings filled with light and grace of God. Let us heed the example set by our holy predecessor, St. John of God, in his dedication and commitment to live his life filled with faith and devotion to God, through his actions and deeds.

St. John of God was orphaned in his young age, and later became a soldier in his early adulthood, and because of injustice and false accusation, he was wrongly blamed for a crime that he did not commit. Turning away from all worldly ways and concerns because of these turn of events, he began to turn towards God and trying to seek Him in his life, as he felt a strong spiritual longing due to the emptiness he felt in his soul.

He saw a vision of the Infant Jesus, Who bestowed on him the name, John of God, the name he was to be known by henceforth. When listening to a sermon of St. John of Avila, another great saint of the Church, St. John of God felt the calling to serve the Lord with more commitment. He began to work among the poor and the needy, caring for them and providing for their material and spiritual needs.

Later on in his life, he established a religious congregation gathering all like minded people and devoted servants of God, dedicated to the care of the sick and the poor. These dedications to the weakest and the least among God’s people should be inspiration for all of us, in how we should carry on our lives from now on, in how we ought to devote ourselves to God in a better way.

May the Lord help us through our faith journey in this season of Lent, that we may grow ever closer to the Lord, devoting ourselves, our time, effort and attention to care for the needy around us, to be humble in all that we do, and remember that we must not be proud or arrogant in mind. We must not follow in the footsteps of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in their stubbornness and refusal to believe in God.

Let us instead imitate the humility of Our Lord Himself, Who came into this world as a servant for all, loving and caring to all those who have been entrusted to Him. Let us all make our Lenten observation more meaningful and fruitful, by doing acts of charity and grace to others around us, doing our very best to help those who are in need, that through us, God may perform more of His wonderful works among us. May God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 8 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 11 : 14-23

At that time, one day Jesus was driving out a demon, which was mute. When the demon had been driven out, the mute person could speak, and the people were amazed. Yet some of them said, “He drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of the demons.” Others wanted to put Him to the test, by asking Him for a heavenly sign.

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them, “Every nation divided by civil war is on the road to ruin, and will fall. If Satan also is divided, his empire is coming to an end. How can you say that I drive out demons by calling upon Beelzebul? If I drive them out by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive out demons? They will be your judges, then.”

“But if I drive out demons by the finger of God; would not this mean that the kingdom of God, has come upon you? As long as a man, strong and well armed, guards his house, his goods are safe. But when a stronger man attacks and overcomes him, the challenger takes away all the weapons he relied on, and disposes of his spoils.”

“Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me, scatters.”

Thursday, 8 March 2018 : 3rd Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 94 : 1-2, 6-7, 8-9

Come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful sound to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him giving thanks, with music and songs of praise.

Come and worship; let us bow down, kneel before the Lord, our Maker. He is our God, and we His people; the flock He leads and pastures. Would that today you heard His voice!

Do not be stubborn, as at Meribah, in the desert, on that day at Massah, when your ancestors challenged Me, and they put Me to the test.