Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures we are brought to focus our attention to the commandments and Law of God. The Lord has given us His laws and commandments, revealing to us and teaching us how we ought to live our lives in this world so that we may walk faithfully in His path and be righteous as we should have as Christians, God’s faithful ones.

From the Book of Deuteronomy, we are all reminded that the Law of God must be an important part of life which we obey, follow and practice in all aspects of our lives so that by our actions we may indeed prove that we truly belong to God and God really is the centre and focus of our lives and existence. And we are also reminded that obeying the Law and following the commandments of God must be centred on one very fundamental aspect, that is love. Without love, one cannot claim to be obedient to the Law of God.

It is the same sentiment and idea that our Gospel passage has shown us, as in that passage we heard the Lord Jesus Himself teaching His disciples and the people on the importance of love, and in fact not just any kind of love, but love that is pure, selfless, unbiased and non-judgmental or prejudiced, love that does not discriminate against anyone but one that is established and anchored on the wonderful love of God. This is what the Lord wants us to know and implement in our own lives.

In that Gospel passage the Lord said how as Christians all of us are challenged not just to love those who have already loved us, but also to love even those who have not loved us, those who hated us, those who persecuted us and are prejudiced and biased against us. He asked us all to show love even to all these people who have not been kind to us and who will likely not respond to our love in kind. That is what true love is all about, the love that expects no returns and love that is genuine and not because of desire for returns and reciprocity.

The reality is that many of us treat love as something that we expect things in return, even to the point of being transactional in nature. We often love because we feel happy because of it and we seek to gain satisfaction, joy and pleasure out of that love. The moment that challenges, trials and disagreements begin to appear, then our love fades and turns into bickering and even hatred. This was also why so many marriages ended in failure, relationships ended up being broken and divorces and broken families soared, all because of our selfish love.

Now, all of us are called to embrace God’s love, which is selfless and giving rather than selfish and receiving or expecting. And the Lord Himself had shown us this love by His own example, as He laid hung on the Cross, selflessly bearing for our sake all of our sins and their punishments, to suffer instead of us so that by His loving sacrifice, He may deliver us all from our sins and therefore bring us into salvation and eternal life.

It is what He meant when He said that God loves us all, and show His love even to those who are wicked and evil, by giving them His blessings and wonders even though those people have sinned against Him. Let us all not forget that the Lord Jesus Himself forgave all of His enemies and all those who persecuted Him and condemned Him to die on the Cross, praying that they were not to be held accountable for what they had done to Him on that day.

That is what we are all called to do, brothers and sisters in Christ, to show our pure, selfless and genuine love to one another, even to those who have made our lives difficult or even those who hated us and were prejudiced against us. Indeed, this is easier said that done, and it is important that we realise how we will definitely encounter challenges and difficulties, as well as temptations to hate and to be selfish, but as Christians, are we able to strive to be more loving as Our Lord Himself had done?

Today we also celebrate the feast of two famous saints and martyrs of the Church, two holy women, St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. St. Perpetua was a Roman young woman who became a Christian, but faced opposition from his own father who wanted her to recant her faith. Despite her persecution and being put in prison, St. Perpetua remained faithful to God and refused to recant her faith. In prison, St. Perpetua encountered a slave woman, a Christian named St. Felicity. St. Felicity gave birth to a daughter just before her martyrdom with St. Perpetua and some other Christians.

In the end, both St. Perpetua and St. Felicity remained faithful to the very end, and together with several other Christians, were thrown into the Colosseum and died in martyrdom against the terrible beasts used in the gladiatorial fights by the Romans. And we can see how both St. Perpetua and St. Felicity were filled with God’s love, love that is both selfless and giving, for they did not expect anything in return for their love towards God. Had they expected things in return for their faith, they would have abandoned their faith easily in the face of trials, persecutions and certain death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, inspired by the good faith and loving examples of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, and even more so, Our Lord Himself Who died for us on the Cross, let us all devote ourselves anew to God from now on, and make use of the wonderful opportunities and time given to us, especially in this season of Lent, to learn to love more selflessly and to be more faithful to God, to draw ever closer to Him and to be more righteous in His presence. May God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 43-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You have heard that it was said : Love your neighbour and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you : love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.”

“If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect.”

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 118 : 1-2, 4-5, 7-8

Blessed are they whose ways are upright, who follow the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they who treasure His word and seek Him with all their heart.

You have laid down precepts to be obeyed. O, that my ways were steadfast in observing Your statutes!

I will praise You with an upright spirit when I learn Your just precepts by heart. I mean to observe Your commandments. O, never abandon me.

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 26 : 16-19

On this day, YHVH, your God, commands you to fulfil these norms and these commandments. Obey them now and put them into practice with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today YHVH has declared to you that He will be your God, and so you shall follow His ways, observing His norms, His commandments and His laws, and listening to His voice. Today YHVH has declared that you will be His very own people even as He had promised you, and you must obey all His commandments.

He, for His part, will give you honour, renown and glory, and set you high above all the nations He has made, and you will become a nation consecrated to YHVH, your God, as He has declared.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day each and every one of us are reminded of the need for us to dedicate ourselves to the Lord wholeheartedly, and be ready to commit ourselves to His path. On this day, the day after Ash Wednesday, we continue to uphold our resolve to live through this blessed season of Lent, spending our time to be closer to God, carrying our crosses with Him.

In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, God through His servant Moses communicated clearly to the people the choice that they had before them, as they went through their forty years of journey in the desert while waiting to enter into the land promised to them by God. Many of them had disobeyed the Lord and refused to follow His ways and His commandments, preferring to follow their own, sinful ways, and hardening their hearts and minds against Him.

And thus, through this we are reminded that we too have been given a choice, that is either for us to live in God’s way and obey His laws and commandments, or for us to abandon Him and turn instead to the ways of the world that is full of temptations and are seemingly easier and less challenging for us. We are presented with the choice between the seemingly tougher and less appealing way that God showed us, and the seemingly more enjoyable path of this world.

We are no strangers to the alternative path shown to us by the world, for indeed, we are surrounded by many of the temptations. At the time of the Israelites in the days of the Exodus, the people of Israel constantly grumbled before God and before Moses, complaining that they were hungry without good food, or thirsty without water and good drinks to enjoy. They refused to budge even after they have seen many of the miraculous deeds God performed before them through Moses.

They desired to return to Egypt, saying that it was better for them to go back to Egypt and suffer again under slavery, as they would at least be able to eat decently and not having to worry about dying in the desert without food or drink. They complained and refused to comply to the Lord’s will, just because they had little faith in God. If only they know just how much God loved each and every one of them, as He gave them everything they needed, and yet even those were not enough for those stubborn people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see the parallel between their examples and our own lives in this present world today. The path of the world seems to be easier to us, and it seems to be less arduous, less challenging and more promising to us, as this is the effort by the devil and all of his forces, trying to tempt us into sin, into disobedience against God, by presenting all sorts of wicked temptations that go straight into our pride and ego, our desires and our hearts’ greed.

Some of us may even think that just because we are Christians, then we should expect to have good lives full of graces and blessings, that we do not have to suffer but instead, with greater faith comes greater blessings in life, in physical and material terms. But this is the false ‘gospel of prosperity’ that is unfortunately adopted by some of our separated brethren in faith. We must not fall into that same trap of the devil, who tries to tempt us with worldly temptations.

The Lord made it clear, in our Gospel passage today, that He Himself was to suffer grievously at the hands of His enemies. This was fulfilled when He went through His Passion, suffering persecution and rejection, brutal pain and sufferings, as He was beaten and spat on, ridiculed and made to bear a heavy cross, stripped and nailed to that cross, and made to suffer and die for the sake of all of us mankind.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the suffering that our Lord had to endure, and all of that is caused by His love for us, which is so great that He was willing to even endure those painful torture and experience just so that by His selfless and loving sacrifice, we may be saved from certain destruction. And He Himself said that if we are to be His disciples, then we must follow Him and have a share in the cross that He bore out of love for us.

It does not mean that we will suffer forever. Instead, our suffering now on earth is just a temporary prelude of the greater glory and joy that is to come. God has promised that all those who are faithful to Him will not be disappointed, for in the end of the journey it is nothing less than an eternity of glory and true happiness being in the presence of God forever, where we will not suffer any longer, and all that we need are no longer there, for God alone is enough for everything.

The devil knows this, and he does not want us to be saved. And that is why he is so hard at work, trying to prevent us from finding our way towards Him. He is always at work, trying to lure us away from the right path, and turn us away from righteousness and faith. In fact, we will realise that frequently, we will have to go up even against our friends and those who are dear to us, and we have to make often difficult choices, to choose between obeying God and suffer, or to obey the devil instead and receive satisfaction from him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of two famous martyrs of the Church, two courageous women who defended their faith in God to the very end with great dedication and courage. St. Perpetua was a noblewoman while St. Felicity was a slavewoman, both of whom shared the Christian faith. At that time, during the height of the Roman Empire, Christians have been harassed and persecuted again and again by the authorities, and many had to practice their faith in secret.

But eventually some were found out to be Christians, and put in prison and made to suffer with the hope that they would abandon their faith in God and sought safety and good assurance in life for themselves. Some did fall to the temptations or yielded to the strong pressures and abandoned their faith, but many remained firm in their faith in God, such as St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. These two women were firm in their conviction to remain faithful to God.

Having endured much suffering and pain, opposition and challenges, even from those who were close to them, St. Perpetua, who encountered great challenges from her family, who wanted her to recant her faith, as well as St. Felicity, who suffered in prison while being pregnant with a baby, both of them chose to remain true to their faith, and died as courageous martyrs and examples of true faith and dedication to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to look upon the examples set before us by the holy saints and martyrs of God, particularly that of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity whose feast day we commemorate today. Are we able to make the same commitment and decision as they have done? They carried together the cross of Christ and endured the grievous sufferings just as the Lord had suffered, with the hope of eternal glory and salvation in the end of their earthly journey.

Let us all make good use of this season of Lent to reorientate ourselves and reorder our lives, so that from this moment onwards, we do not live any longer for ourselves, but rather, to serve the greater purpose of God, and to obey Him in all things, standing up to Him and remaining faithful to Him despite the challenges we may encounter in our daily lives. Let us all remain true to Him, and love Him ever more as we pass through this blessed Lent. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be put to death. Then after three days He will be raised to life.”

Jesus also said to all the people, “If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me! For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for My sake, you will save it. What does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you destroy or damage yourself?”

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.