Friday, 10 February 2023 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded through the Scriptures to put our faith and trust in God and His truth, and not in the falsehoods and wickedness of Satan. God loves each and every one of us, and He has created us out of His pure and most enduring love for us. Meanwhile, Satan, as well as all of his wicked allies and forces, all were aiming only at our eventual downfall and destruction, snatching us away from God Who truly loves each and every one of us. They have always been busy at work in trying to subvert the messages of God’s truth and to tempt us so that we fall into the slippery path towards damnation and evil. We heard how Satan tricked our ancestors and made his false promises and spoke lies to tempt us to sin by disobeying God and His commandments.

In our first reading today, we heard of the continuation of the past few days’ account from the moment of the Creation of the world and the Universe, and specifically today we focused on the very moment that Satan came before Adam and Eve, tempting both of them with the very tempting allure of worldly power and glory, of knowledge, wisdom and understanding, to become even like God by knowing all things good and evil. Satan was in fact playing on our desires and wants, and in our moment of weakness, he struck where it caused us to lose our focus and faith in the Lord and His providence, that we chose to trust in the words of the great deceiver and enemy rather than to keep our faith and trust in the Lord. We chose to embrace the path of the world, the path of pride, ego and greed, and as a result, we fell into sin, just as Satan himself has fallen.

As a great and mighty, brilliant and amazing Angel and spirit that God had created, Lucifer, the original name and identity of Satan, was truly an amazing and great being, that showcased the marvels of God’s creations and wonders. However, this Angel was taken over by his vanity and pride, and began plotting rebellion and desires to take over the control over Heaven and all of God’s kingdom, to sit on God’s Throne and to rule over all. Hence, by his pride and ego, Satan had fallen, defeated and cast out of Heaven, and in his defeat, he sought to bring us down together with him and all of his fallen and defeated allies. Hence, he struck at us using the same things that had led to his downfall in the first place, the vices and wickedness of the world, the temptations to sin against God.

It is here also that we should notice the contrast and comparison we can make between our first and Gospel reading passages today. In the beginning, man and woman were made all good and perfect, and they had nothing lacking in them. They were naked and without anything to wear just like the other animals and plants of the field, and yet they were not embarrassed or ashamed. Yet, the moment they ate of the fruits of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of their nakedness and became embarrassed and panicked, seeking to hide themselves and their naked beings, and also hiding away from God. In the Gospel on the other hand, we heard of the Lord Jesus healing and opening the ears and loosening the tongue of a person who had been suffering from being deaf and mute.

Through this comparison, actually, we can see that because of sin, we have become ‘blinded’ and made to be unaware of God’s love and truth, as we allowed the veil and corruptions of sin to cover us and to prevent us from seeing the truth about God’s love and compassionate kindness towards each one of us. We became lacking in faith and trust in Him, and chose therefore to embrace the wickedness of our worldly desires and the many temptations all around us. Our ancestors, Adam and Eve became embarrassed and afraid of their nakedness and actions, because they were swallowed by their vanity and pride, and while they were once focused only on God, His love and kindness, they have become focused on their own selves and desires, turning inwards and away from God’s path.

Hence, the irony was that, while their eyes were indeed ‘opened’ by their newly gained knowledge about themselves, but sin had blinded them and made them to be unaware of the wickedness that they had done in disobeying God and in rebelling against Him. Yet, the Lord did not give up on us and continued to love us all most generously after all, and He gave us His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us from the hands of the devil, and from the tyranny of sin, evil and death. Through Him and His works, just as we heard in our Gospel passage today, He embodied and showed us all the perfect manifestation of God’s ever patient and enduring love for each and every one of us. He still loved us despite all of our stubborn attitudes and behaviours, because all of us are truly precious to Him.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard from these readings from the Sacred Scriptures and reminded of how we mankind had often disobeyed the Lord, rejected His generous mercy and love, and continued to sin against Him, can we all spend some time to discern well our path forward in life? Can we all do whatever we can to resist those many temptations all around us, the temptations to sin and to do what is abhorrent and wicked in the sight of God? God is indeed ever patient and loving, but we should never take His love for granted, ever again. If we continue to walk down this path of sin and disobedience, eventually the time will come when we have no more way out of the predicament and our fate that is destruction and eternal damnation, and at that time, no amount of regret will ever console us or give us any hope, anymore. Let us all not wait until we regret for eternity in hellfire with Satan and his fellow fallen allies, and regret our rebelliousness.

Today we also celebrate the Feast of St. Scholastica, a renowned and great woman of God, a saint of the Church, who was the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia, another holy man of God. Her examples in commitment and love for God should indeed become source of hope and inspiration to each one of us in how we ourselves should live our lives with great faith. She was remembered for her great piety and personal holiness, as well as for her dedication to prayerful life and for her discipline in obeying the Law and commandments of God, through her obedience to the Rule of St. Benedict that her brother had established as the rule and norms for his community of the faithful. Through her examples and dedications, many others had become called and responded to God’s call, encouraging many more people to commit themselves ever more to the Lord, in their lives and in leading righteous lives, just as we all should as well.

May the Lord continue to watch over us and help us to journey ever closer to Him, and by heeding the good examples set by St. Scholastica and the innumerable other saints, holy men and women of God, that we may find our way to Him and His salvation. May God continue to bless us in everything that we say and do, and may He empower all of us to live ever more faithfully in His presence, now and always, and be good role models and inspirations to many others all around us. Amen.

Friday, 10 February 2023 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 31-37

At that time, again Jesus set out : from the country of Tyre He passed through Sidon and, skirting the sea of Galilee, He came to the territory of Decapolis. There, a deaf man, who also had difficulty in speaking, was brought to Him. They asked Jesus to lay His hand upon him.

Jesus took him apart from the crowd, and put His fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with spittle. Then, looking up to heaven, He said with a deep sigh, “Ephphata!” that is, “Be opened!”

And immediately, his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly. Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about it; but the more He insisted, the more they proclaimed it. The people were completely astonished and said, “He has done all things well; He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

Friday, 10 February 2023 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 31 : 1-2, 5, 6, 7

Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is wiped away. Blessed are those in whom YHVH sees no guilt and in whose spirit is found no deceit.

Then I made known to You my sin and uncovered before You my fault, saying to myself, “To YHVH I will now confess my wrong.” And You, You forgave my sin; You removed my guilt.

So let the faithful ones pray to You in time of distress; the overflowing waters will not reach them.

You are my Refuge; You protect me from distress and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Friday, 10 February 2023 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Genesis 3 : 1-8

Now the serpent was the most crafty of all the wild creatures that YHVH God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say : You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden God said : You must not eat, and you must not touch it or you will die.”

The serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, but God knows that the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.” The woman saw that the fruit was good to eat, and pleasant to the eyes, and ideal for gaining knowledge. She took its fruit and ate it and gave some to her husband who was with her. He ate it.

Then their eyes were opened and both of them knew they were naked. So they sewed leaves of a fig tree together and made themselves loincloths. They heard the voice of YHVH God walking in the garden, in the cool of the day, and they, the man and his wife, hid from YHVH God among the trees of the garden.

Thursday, 10 February 2022 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are all reminded to be vigilant in our lives and to keep strongly to the faith that we have in the Lord, entrusting ourselves to Him and believing in His providence. We have to be careful and do not easily allow sin to creep into our hearts and minds, corrupting us and our conscience and thoughts, our actions and efforts. In order to do so, we must have strong faith in the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Kings of the account of the unfortunate downfall of King Solomon of Israel who allowed his many wives to distract and mislead him into sinful ways, as they established pagan worship and placed idols in many parts of the kingdom, which led the people into the worship of those false idols and they ended up falling deeper and deeper into sin as their descendants later did.

King Solomon did not remain faithful to God unlike his father David, who remained faithful throughout his life to the very end. Solomon was very wise and rich, powerful and mighty, and while we do not know exactly what led him to his choice of actions, but it might have to do with him trying to secure his power, reign and rule through worldly means, just as he married many wives from different states and neighbouring countries likely with the aim to gain diplomatic recognition and building relationships with those countries, gaining trade agreements and making arrangements to enrich themselves more.

However, the negative impact of such an arrangement and effort is that likely that would have required accommodation and changes in religious policy, including the toleration and even promotion of the pagan faith and worship as done by King Solomon and his wives. And that led him and the kingdom down the slippery slope towards sin. The Lord certainly did send reminders to Solomon through his prophets and messengers, but it was likely that these reminders fell on based on circumstances and the information we have in the Scriptures, he might have been tempted by the power and glory he had, to lose sight of what truly mattered.

Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord and His interaction with a Syro-Phoenician woman, a woman who came from the region of Phoenicia north of the traditional lands of the Israelites. As such, according to the Jewish viewpoint and customs at the time, she was considered as part of the Gentiles, or the non-Jewish people. The Jews always took great pride of their descent from the people of Israel, the chosen people of God, and the name Jew itself came from the word Judah, representing all those who have descended from the people of Judah, who remained faithful to the House of David and to God, at least for part of their history.

Therefore, as we heard the Lord speaking to the Syro-Phoenician woman, we may indeed be surprised to hear the tone and the harshness in the words He had chosen to use against the Syro-Phoenician woman. We may have thought that the Lord had reacted so uncharacteristically in His words and replies against the woman. However, if we try to understand the context of what happened back then and the societal aspects of the interaction, then we will quickly realise that the Lord in fact intended the exact opposite of what He had spoken to the woman.

Through what He had said to the woman, the Lord wanted to highlight to all of us the folly and the ugly nature of the sentiments and the opinions then prevailing among the Jews regarding their superiority and the exclusivity of their status as God’s chosen people, especially as interpreted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, to the exclusion of others, even among the Jews themselves who were deemed to be less than worthy, and even less so the Gentiles, like that of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who as a non-Jew and as a woman must have been viewed very much less favourably.

And yet, despite all of that, the Syro-Phoenician woman held on to the faith she had in the Lord and kept firm in asking Him to heal her sick daughter, and she remained resolute in believing in Him despite all the harsh words and replies that she had gotten from the Lord. This proved that her faith in God was truly genuine and no amount of hardships and challenges were going to change that. The Lord knew it all already without Him even needing to ask her, as is He not an Almighty and all-knowing God? But yet, He still asked it from her, as He wanted her to proclaim the truth about her faith to all, to the shame of all those who claimed to be more faithful and yet, refused to believe in God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our readings today, we are reminded that we need to have that strong and genuine faith in God, and we have to resist the temptations of our personal desire and ambitions, the temptations of wealth and worldly pleasures that can easily mislead and misguide us in our journey of life. We have to heed the example of how King Solomon, the wise and great king of Israel had fallen into sin and disobedience against God because he failed to heed these, and resulted in great trouble and anguish for the people of God later on.

Today, we should look upon the good examples set by one of our holy predecessors, namely St. Scholastica, who was renowned for being the fraternal twin of St. Benedict of Nursia, another great and famous saint, and who herself helped to establish a community of religious and monastic sisters much as her brother was one of the pioneers of religious and monastic brothers and monks in Western Christendom at the time. St. Scholastica became one of the pioneers of female religious life in the Church.

And not only just that, as St. Scholastica was also exemplary in her faith as well, in the virtuous life she lived in, and in all that she had done in contributing to the good of her religious community and to the wider Christian community, of all the faithful people of God. She and her fellow religious sisters were also involved in charitable works and education among other things, and their commitment to the service of God should become our great inspirations, as role model for us to follow in our own lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore seek to glorify God by our own lives and let us do whatever we can to serve Him through our actions and deeds, our words and interactions throughout our lives, even in the smallest things we do. Let our lives and faith be like that of St. Scholastica and like the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, distancing ourselves from sin and being vigilant against worldly temptations just as the example of King Solomon and his downfall ought to have taught us. May the Lord be our Guide and may He strengthen our resolve and commitment to live faithfully in His presence, always and at all times. Amen.

Thursday, 10 February 2022 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 24-30

At that time, when Jesus went to the border of the Tyrian country. There, He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know He was there; but He could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet.

Now this woman was a pagan, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.”

But she replied, “Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.” Then Jesus said to her, “You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Thursday, 10 February 2022 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 105 : 3-4, 35-36, 37 and 40

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o YHVH, when You show favour to Your people; rescue me when You deliver them.

They mingled with these nations and learnt to do as they did. In serving the idols of the pagans, they were trapped.

Into sacrificing children to demons. The anger of YHVH grew intense and He abhorred His inheritance.

Thursday, 10 February 2022 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Kings 11 : 4-13

In Solomon’s old age, his wives led him astray to serve other gods and, unlike his father David, his heart was no longer wholly given to YHVH his God. For he served Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the idol of the Ammonites.

He did what displeased YHVH and, unlike his father David, was unfaithful to Him. Solomon even built a high place for Chemosh, the idol of Moab, on the mountain east of Jerusalem and also for Molech, the idol of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives who burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods.

YHVH became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from YHVH, the God of Israel. YHVH appeared to him twice and commanded him not to follow other gods. But he did not obey YHVH’s command. Therefore, YHVH said to Solomon, “Since this has been your choice and you have kept neither My Covenant nor the statutes I commanded you, I will take the kingdom from you and give it to your servant.”

“Nevertheless, I will not do this during your lifetime for the sake of your father David; I will take it from your son. But I will not take it all; I will reserve one tribe for your son for the sake of David My servant, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen.”

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our Scripture readings today all of us heard of the creation of man at the pinnacle of the creation of the world and how God formed us and gave us the breath of life, blessing us mankind and granting us dominion and stewardship over creation. Everything had been made good and wonderful by the Lord, all the celestial things and all the lifeforms in this world, on the land, in the sea and air.

Therefore, when we heard of the Lord’s confrontation with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, as the latter argued that the way they enforced the Law was the only right one, the Lord Jesus revealed the truth about the Law and commandments of God, and said how all things were inherently good and wonderful, just as God had created them to be, and that also includes us mankind as well. However, because of sin, we have been defiled and corrupted, not because of the things that entered into our bodies, but because of the things that came from within our hearts.

Take for example, the tree of knowledge of good and evil mentioned in the first reading today, the tree that was forbidden for mankind to touch or eat by God. That tree by itself was not evil or good in nature, but it was mankind’s mistaken way and misguided intention that led our first ancestors to sin against the Lord. It was not the fruit of the tree of knowledge entering their bodies that condemned Adam and Eve, but rather, their willingness in cooperating with the devil and listening to him that led them to their downfall.

In the same manner therefore, the notion that any food could have made a person unclean had no true and spiritual basis, as the Lord Himself debunked the falsehoods of such an idea. This was however the prevailing view for the many centuries of the traditions and practices of the people of Israel, for all those years that they lived under the Law of God revealed through Moses. However, we have to understand the context of such laws if we are to appreciate the true nature of the Law and the real intention of God for His people.

The Law of God revealed to Moses was given as sets of guidance and instructions that were meant to help to keep the people of God in line, especially considering how stubborn and disobedient they had been at that time, in refusing to listen to the Lord and His commandments and laws. Thus, the rules and tenets were revealed at the time to make sure that the people did not lose their way and remain faithful to the Lord despite the temptations and other obstacles in their path, trying to pull them away from the path towards God.

Some of those laws including the dietary restrictions were also enforced to ensure that the people of God remained healthy amidst the long journey throughout the desert, as well as considering the prevailing conditions at the time. In the end, when the reason for such laws were no longer in place, the people themselves had forgotten the reason and purpose of such laws and regulations. In the end, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they obeyed for the sake of obeying, and worse still, doing what was asked by the Law for appearances and to be praised for it.

That is why the Lord wanted all of the people to realise the folly of such thoughts and way of life, and thus, revealed how the true meaning of the Law of God was far from what the laws and traditions of the people had prescribed, having veered off far from the original, intended purpose and meaning. He wanted to show us all that what is important is the purity and the sincerity of our inner, spiritual orientation of life rather than merely just focusing on outward gestures and appearances alone.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are all called to reexamine our way of life, and consider how we can be better disciples of the Lord in everything we do, in each and every moments of our lives. We are all called to a greater existence in holiness in God, to be genuinely devoted to Him with faith, and to follow His path wholeheartedly by appreciating all that He had taught us and revealed to us.

Today, we also celebrate the feast of St. Scholastica, a holy saint of God and a faithful servant whose life can be a great example for us to follow, as she dedicated her whole life in a holy life of prayer. As the paternal twin sister of the great St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Scholastica also lived her life virtuously and committed herself to a life consecrated to God, traditionally considered as the foundation of the society of Benedictine nuns just as St. Benedict inspired the foundation of the Benedictine monastic order.

The faith of these saints were truly great, and they inspired many others to follow their examples. All of us should also follow in their footsteps and commit ourselves to the cause of the Lord. Are we able to do so, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we willing to live our lives from now on with true and genuine faith, that each and every one of us may become true followers of Christ in all things?

May the Lord be our Guide and Strength, and may He empower us all to become faithful and dedicated Christians, living our lives wholeheartedly according to the way of the Lord and to our faith. May God bless all of our good efforts and commitments, and may He enlighten our path forward in life. Amen.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 7 : 14-23

At that time, Jesus then called the people to Him again and said to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and try to understand. Nothing that enters a person from the outside can make that person unclean. It is what comes from within that makes a person unclean. Let everyone who has ears listen.”

When Jesus got home and was away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him about this saying, and He replied, “So even you are dull? Do you not see that whatever comes from outside cannot make a person unclean, since it enters not the heart but the stomach, and is finally passed out?” Thus Jesus declared that all foods are clean.

And He went on, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him, for evil designs come out of the heart : theft, murder, adultery, jealousy, greed, maliciousness, deceit, indecency, slander, pride and folly. All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean.”