Friday, 22 May 2015 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard about the story of the two great Apostles, St. Paul and St. Peter, both of whom we now know as the martyrs of the Universal Church and the Church of Rome, having been martyred in Rome, the seat of the Popes and the centre of the Church. These two saints had their own different origins and lives, but after they had been called by Christ, they preached His glory and even by death they glorified Him.

St. Paul was once a zealous and fiery Pharisee who once vowed to hunt every single believers of the true Faith, and he hunted many hundreds if not thousands, chasing them out of the synagogues and capturing them, handing them over to the authorities to be scourged and judged. But this seemingly great enemy and nemesis of the faithful was suddenly transformed into the faithful defender of the faith and a great Apostle, when Jesus called him out of the darkness on the way to Damascus.

The moment when he was blinded and was in darkness is a reminder of the life he once led, filled with sin and hatred, and with wrong ideas and filled with the lies of Satan, which caused him to do things as he had done. And God called him out of the darkness into the light, symbolically represented when St. Paul regained his vision and was baptised, to be His messenger and servant, to reveal the truth about God to all the nations, and this is why he is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Meanwhile, St. Peter was a simple fisherman who lived at the shore of the Lake of Galilee, who made a living by catching fish in the lake daily. And that was what his life would have been till the end of his life, if the Lord on that day had not called him to leave behind everything and follow Him, to be a fisher of men instead. And the Lord Jesus called St. Peter and changed his life forever, just as He had done the same with St. Paul.

If we look at these two men, these two crucial pillars of the Church, we would think that they were something like superhumans, but in fact, they are just like us, but with the difference that they heard the calling of the Lord, and followed Him. They left behind their old lives of worldliness and darkness, and entered into a new life with new purpose, that is to serve the Lord and their fellow men.

They too encountered troubles and difficulties, and they were tempted, just as St. Paul was once the brutal murderer and enemy of the faithful, while St. Peter once denied his Lord not just once, but three times. But did God immediately abandon them and cast them away from His presence? No, and in fact He guided them back to Him, and gave them a second chance in life, which they took and look at where that had brought them to.

Today we celebrate also the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, a religious who was once a housewife and a mother, who joined life devoted to the Lord after the murder of her husband. As a housewife, she led a good and faithful life, urging her violent and temperamental husband to follow the way of the Lord and repent, and in the same way also influence her children to do the same. She prevented her sons from seeking revenge at the murder of their father.

In the aftermath of her husband’s death, St. Rita of Cascia tried to join a convent as a nun but she was rejected because the convent feared backlash due to the controversial nature of her husband’s death and the scandals it caused. But St. Rita of Cascia persevered through and she went through the task given to her to allow her to join religious life, that is to reconcile all the parties involved in the death of her husband.

And by her work and piety, she succeeded so well, that eventually she was accepted without problem as a religious sister, and until her death, she continued to do many good works, by action and prayer. The lesson we can take from her life is that we must always work for the harmony between all peoples, and most importantly of course, the harmony between us and our Lord and God.

God did not come to call just the saints and the holy ones. For these have already been saved. Rather, He came to call on sinners and those who still live in darkness. These people have the potential to attain salvation, but they still have yet to take the concrete step towards salvation. God had called His people out of the darkness and into the light, but there are still many souls left to be saved.

We all can follow in the footsteps of St. Peter and St. Paul. God called them, they left behind their past and followed Him. And when they erred, God showed them love and mercy, they repented and they received great glory for their continuous faith in Him. We too can walk in the same path, and gradually progressing towards salvation, by seeking to understand more of God’s love and mercy, and committing ourselves to do things more in tune with what the Lord had taught us, and therefore, the Lord who found our faith satisfactory will bless us forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 22 May 2015 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 21 : 15-19

At that time, after Jesus and His disciples had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” And Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.”

A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” And Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Look after My sheep.” And a third time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter was saddened because Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love you.” Jesus then said, “Feed My sheep! Truly, I say to you, when you were young, you put on your belt and walked where you liked. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will put a belt around you, and lead you where you do not wish to go.”

Jesus said this to make known the kind of death by which Peter was to glorify God. And He added, “Follow Me.”

Friday, 22 May 2015 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 102 : 1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab

Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless His holy Name! Bless the Lord, my soul, and do not forget all His kindness.

As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His love for those fearing Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove from us our sins.

The Lord has set His throne in heaven; He rules, He has power everywhere. Praise the Lord, all you His angels, you mighty ones who do His bidding, you who obey His word.

Friday, 22 May 2015 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 25 : 13b-21

As King Agrippa and his sister Bernice were to stay in Caesarea for several days, Festus told the king about Paul’s case and said to him, “We have here a man whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews accused him and asked me to sentence him.”

“I told them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over a man without giving him an opportunity to defend himself in front of his accusers. So they came and I took my seat without delay on the tribunal and sent for the man. When the accusers had the floor, they did not accuse him of any of the crimes that I was led to think he had committed; instead they quarrelled with him about religion and about a certain Jesus who has died but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”

“I did not know what to do about this case, so I asked Paul if he wanted to go to Jerusalem to be tried there. But Paul appealed to be judged by the Emperor. So I ordered that he be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Scripture Reflection)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard in the Gospel reading that we should not hamper the works of those, while not belonging to our group, but they work in the Holy Name of the Lord. Jesus Himself said that it is impossible for those who do not belong to Him and use His authority to be able to perform such miracles as what they had performed.

And in addition to that, I am sure that we had heard some people thinking that this means that, we do not need to belong to the Church to do the work of God, is it not? We can then just be ourselves, so long as we believe in God or some kind of greater being up there, and doing what is good in our lives, then we all can be saved, is it not? Why then bother to join the Church and be troubled by the numerous rules and regulations as laid down by the teachings of the Church?

That is because, while mankind indeed has the capacity to do good, because mankind indeed was created by God who is good, but this kind of goodness that is in them is imperfect. Without the presence of God, goodness remains just superficial, and although they may seem to be real goodness, but they lack the necessary ingredient to make them perfect, and this crucial component is none other than God.

There are those who also quote someone who said that Jesus redemption is for everyone, even for atheists. Who are atheists, my brothers and sisters? Atheists are different from agnostics in that while agnostics believe in the presence of certain superior, ‘supernatural’ being, but atheists reject the notion of this supreme being and God in its entirety.

There had been many atheistic movements rising in our societies in the past decades and centuries, like humanism, and scientific atheism. Many too are their champions, with the most prominent ones being Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who adopted a very aggressive approach in relation to religion. Particularly Dawkins who had been very confrontational in the matter of religion and he even launched a suit to bring the Pope to trial!

Of course, atheists, agnostics, and all the people who do not yet belong to the Church are all belonging to mankind too, brethren, and they are our brothers and sisters too. Even among our own family members, our friends, our relatives and acquaintances, I am sure we will meet many of them, each with beliefs of their own.

And indeed, Jesus may indeed die on the cross in Calvary, for the sake of all mankind, including even those who had persecuted Him and His disciples, and even the chief priests and the Jewish people who had condemned Him to death and cried out for His blood. He forgave them on the cross, especially asking the Father to forgiveness because in their ignorance, the people did not know what they had done, that is killing the Messiah of the Most High God, and the Son of God Himself.

Christ forgave them, and therefore also offered His redemptive death on the cross to all of them, to those who love Him, and also to those who hated Him. Christ certainly did not choose or prefer one over the other, and offered His salvation to everyone. Remember, brethren, that all of us, His children, are equal before Him, and our ranks, our degrees matter no more before Him. But there must be a clear distinction made between redemption and salvation, and this is indeed ought to be misinterpreted by many of the people, especially those not in the Church, but even by many in the Church, especially indeed because the Pope himself had made the utterance.

Misunderstanding the teachings of the Church can be fatal, brethren, because, the Church had been the continuous font of light of Christ, since it was established by Jesus Christ Himself upon Peter, His apostle, and which grew amidst tribulations and happy times, to become the Church as we know it today. The teachings of the Church are not there just to be trifled with, and neither are the teachings to be ignored, since it has been passed down to us, by the Apostles and the early Fathers of the Church themselves, to guide us in the path of salvation.

What then, is the difference between redemption and salvation? Both of them may mean the same thing in the English language, and terms are indeed very confusing at times, but in order to make it clear, let me elaborate that, while Christ offers salvation to all mankind through His death on the cross, by the outpouring of His Most Precious Blood, the blood of the Paschal Lamb of God, but few would eventually receive Him and accept Him and the salvation that He has offered in its fullness. Fewer still, even among those who had accepted Him, would truly do His will and do what is good in His eyes. Of course not to forget, as I mentioned earlier, those who do good in their life, but do not receive Christ and did not take up the offer of salvation that Christ had freely offered to everyone.

When Christ died on the cross, His death and His blood redeems all mankind from their sins, their original sins. This is what redemption is about. Original sins are the sins that remain with us and become a taint in our soul, ever since our ancestors, the first mankind, Adam and Eve, disobeyed the Lord’s commands by falling into the devil’s temptation, and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Therefore, when Christ died, He who came as the new Adam, to make a new covenant between God and mankind, which first had been made at creation, but broken by the rebellion of the first mankind, a new covenant was made, and Christ became the source of redemption to all mankind, all who are descended from Adam and his wife, Eve, erasing from them the taint of sin, and releasing them from the slavery of Satan.

But this is where it is important to distinguish between salvation and redemption, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Why do I keep referring to all of you as my brothers and sisters, my brethren, in Christ? In Christ because, through our baptism we have become the children of God, and we have therefore become one body, united by Christ, and this one body is our Church. Brethren, salvation is different from just redemption because, salvation requires that necessary step, that is baptism, and entry into the Church of God, which can only be done through baptism.

Why is baptism so important? Because, at baptism, we place ourselves humbly before God, and ask Him for forgiveness, and at the same time, mark ourselves with the eternal mark of baptism, which sealed us in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, essentially sealing us as a children of God in the Holy Trinity.

Therefore, brethren in Christ, if anyone who does not belong to the Church and the faith asks you, if we can just be good people and do good in this world, in the absence of God, why then do we even need to bother with joining the Church at all? Why then do we need to be Catholics and follow the teachings of the Church if we can just be good person, be a good man, and doing good to our brethren?

No, brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the first word you should tell them, and that while goodness is indeed possible for those not within the Church, as indeed Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is it not? Therefore, they would have been able to identify what is evil from what is good, and capable therefore of doing good, just as they were able of doing what is evil. The same therefore also applies to us living in this world today.

Thus, goodness and doing good alone is not enough. That is why, while our salvation comes not from faith alone, as some would have it, but neither is our salvation from good works and service alone. Anyone can be good and does good service to the poor, to all mankind, if they wish to, but that does not give them salvation, because, although Christ redeemed them through His death on the cross, they did not accept the salvation He offered, by having faith in Him.

Neither can then, that we just have faith in Christ without doing anything good at all. Many Christians in fact are ‘do-nothing’ Christians, Sunday Christians, and passive Christians, because they do not make use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that had been granted them. Our faith must be made alive through action, and through service that is grounded in love. Without love, we are dead, and if we do not make use of the love that is in us, and keep it to ourselves, we will also perish.

Thus, brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to step up evangelisation, to ensure that the many good people in the world out there, who does good things and service for the sake of their fellow mankind, can gain true salvation by accepting Christ as their Lord, their God, and their Saviour, through baptism, when they, like all of us once, will be sealed with the Lord’s seal of the Holy Trinity’s Name.

And of course not to forget those Christians who had grown complacent and cool in their faith, that through our action, we can reawaken the flames of the Holy Spirit once again in them, and allowing them to truly make use of the gifts they have in them, and do good things for the sake of God, and for their fellow men.

Finally, today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we also commemorate the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, a religious sister who was made a saint out of her great piety and endurance for the faith, despite being abused and hurt by her former husband before she joined the religious profession. Her life was truly exemplary to all of us, through her loving actions in ensuring that her family remained in the love of God, and her teaching of the value of forgiveness and kindness to her son. Through her actions, she made great peace between the feuding families of her hometown, which had resulted in her husband’s assassination.

St. Rita of Cascia is therefore, brethren, a perfect example of what we need to learn today, that we need both faith and good works in order to gain greatness, glory of God, and salvation. St. Rita of Cascia’s strong and inviolable faith in the Lord enabled her to endure her suffering and anchored her against the hatred and corruption of the world, and as a result, transformed those around her, and this, coupled with her numerous good works, are great examples of faith lived through action, of faith made alive and vibrant through good deeds, and not mere words and devotions.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, today, let us reflect on ourselves, whether we have already done what the Lord wants us to do, that is to fully accept Him as our Lord and God, and to accept His teachings that are reflected in the teachings of the Church, that is our faith, and whether we have already implemented this faith in the reality of the world, through service and good deeds to others. And not to forget also, that we need to accomplish the mission God has placed on us, that is to make disciples of all nations, and seal them with baptism in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity.

Remember, redemption through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is not enough for salvation, for in that redemption, Christ freely offered Himself to us, and if we do not accept Him, we can have no part in Him, and we will be condemned, even if we have done good things in our life, because we often do it not for God, but for ourselves, for our own pride and glory. And be careful not to misinterpret the Scripture, and hence, learn the Scripture through credible and authoritative source, that is the Church. That man who performed miracles in the Name of Christ, did those miracles because he has faith in Christ, and therefore belonging to Christ, in the same way as baptism marks us as children of God, and the saved ones, so long as we also do good in the practice of our faith.

Hence, brothers and sisters in Christ, pray, and pray hard that more and more people will come and see the light of Christ, especially through our own actions, that reflect Christ, that more people who are good, and who do good things, but have yet to believe and accept Christ, can truly be saved, through the waters of baptism. God bless us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Gospel Reading)

Mark 9 : 38-40

John said to Him, “Master, we saw someone who drove out demons by calling upon Your Name, and we tried to forbid him because he does not belong to our group.”

Jesus answered, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My Name can soon after speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia, Religious (Psalm)

Psalm 118 : 165, 168, 171, 172, 174, 175

Lovers of Your Law have found great peace; nothing can make them stumble, not even distress.

I obey Your precepts and Your decrees; my ways are always before You.

Let my lips overflow with praise, for You teach me Your decrees.

Let my tongue sing of Your good news, for all You say is true.

I long for Your salvation, o Lord; I delight in Your Law.

Long may I live to sing Your praise, may Your ordinances always be my help!