Thursday, 20 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are called to remember the love that God has shown us by His many ways of extending His help and providence to us. God reached out to us through the people we encounter in our lives and He also sent us none other than His own beloved Son to be our Saviour. Through Him and His coming into our midst, we have heard the Lord’s love manifested and giving us all a new hope.

In our first reading today we heard the account from the Book of the prophet Samuel in which the story of David and how he was almost harmed by King Saul out of jealousy and fear was brought to us. At that time, David was a servant of the king, a great warrior and leader entrusted with the forces of the Israelites, and David became very famous especially after he managed to defeat the great Philistine champion, Goliath, the story of which we heard just earlier yesterday.

David had also been anointed as the new chosen King over the Israelites by Samuel himself, as the one whom God had chosen to be the leader over His people in place of King Saul. Saul came to know that David was the one chosen to be his successor, and he was overcome with fear, resulting in him attempting to bring harm upon David. Fortunately for David, he came to befriend Jonathan, one of the sons of King Saul who favoured and liked him. As such, he was able to evade Saul’s attempts to harm him.

David had to endure difficulties and challenges because of his growing popularity and the fact that God had chosen him as the successor to Saul, and he even had to go into exile and hiding when Saul wanted to kill him. Jonathan, the son of Saul helped him to escape and from then on, David went on a journey from place to place, evading Saul while trying to do good for the people of God. God was with him all the way, and eventually he would become the King of Israel.

Then, as we heard in our Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus and His disciples were going around from place to place, ministering to the people of God, and He healed many of those who were sick among them, casting out demons from those who were possessed and delivering the truth of God, revealing the true purpose and intention of the Law so that they may come to believe in God and be saved by following His path in their lives.

The Lord’s coming into this world, Him dwelling in our midst as the manifestation of God’s love in the flesh, to be our Saviour, is a proof of His ever enduring love and compassionate nature, in all that He has done for us, in calling us to follow Him and in showing us the way and path towards eternal life and true happiness with Him. And as long as we remain faithful to Him and walk in the path that He has shown and taught us through His Church, we shall have that assurance from God.

We have no need to be afraid of the challenges and trials facing us, because God Himself is with us, journeying with us and guiding us down our way. Just as He has provided for David, He will also provide for us all as well. Today, we have two saints whose feast we are celebrating, whose lives can be great inspiration for us to follow. These two servants of God, Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian had endured great tribulations for their faith, and yet they remained faithful to the Lord, enduring those sufferings with great faith and commitment to the very end.

Pope St. Fabian was the leader of the Universal Church during the difficult years of persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperors and the state. He was chosen when according to tradition, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the shape of a dove, in the sight of the assembled faithful. He was credited with the evangelisation and the efforts to spread the Good News in Gaul, what is today part of France. This happened during a relative lull and relaxation in the harsh persecution of Christians.

However, the rise of Emperor Decius to power ended the temporary halt to persecutions and this was accompanied with renewed attack against the Christian communities, in which many of the faithful were arrested and persecuted, and many among them suffered martyrdom for their faith. He ordered all the subjects of the Empire to offer incense to the images and figures of the Roman deities, the pagan gods and the idol of the Emperor, which were refused by the Christian communities as idolatrous.

That was how Pope St. Fabian became one of the first to suffer persecution and then martyrdom under the reign of the new Emperor, either through imprisonment or execution according to different Apostolic traditions. Pope St. Fabian remained faithful to his mission to the very end, giving himself wholly to the works entrusted to him by the Lord. And through his courageous defence of the faith and zeal of evangelisation, he inspired all of us on how to become good and faithful disciples and followers of the Lord.

Meanwhile, St. Sebastian was a soldier who was a high ranking member of the Roman military and likely one of the elite members or even captain of the Praetorian Guards involved in protecting the Emperor. At that time, the Roman Emperor Diocletian and the other leaders of the Roman state ordered a particularly harsh and brutal persecution of Christians, as they forced the faithful to either obey the order of the Emperor to give offerings to the pagan idols and to abandon their faith or face certain suffering and death.

St. Sebastian according to tradition was involved in the conversion of several prisoners, who became Christians and helped some others to be freed from persecution. Eventually he himself was discovered and when he was confronted to reveal the truth about his conversion, put under arrest and was tied to a tree, and archers were told to shoot their arrows at St. Sebastian. Miraculously, even as endured the torture and pain,St. Sebastian never flinched from his sufferings. He remained strong in faith and was eventually martyred later after he rebuked the Emperor and his actions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we have seen from our two holy predecessors, we have no need to be afraid or fearful, just as Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian had been courageous in the living of their faith to the very end. Like King David, who entrusted himself to the Lord, and God protected him, then we too shall be in God’s good hands. Let us not be afraid against those who can only harm us in body but not our souls. By following God wholeheartedly, we shall find the path to eternal glory and true joy with Him. May God be with us all, and may He empower each one of us to live in His presence, at all times. Amen.

Thursday, 20 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 3 : 7-12

At that time, Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the lakeside, and a large crowd from Galilee followed Him. A great number of people also came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Transjordan, and from the region of Tyre and Sidon, for they had heard of all that He was doing.

Because of the crowd, Jesus told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him, to prevent the people from crushing Him. He healed so many, that all who had diseases kept pressing toward Him to touch Him. Even the people who had evil spirits, whenever they saw Him, they would fall down before Him and cry out, “You are the Son of God.” But He warned them sternly not to tell anyone Who He was.

Thursday, 20 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 55 : 2-3, 9-10ab, 10c-11, 12-13

O God, show Your mercy to me, for my foes are in hot pursuit; they press their attack on me all the time. My accusers pursue me all day long; many attack me.

You have a record of my laments; my tears are stored in Your wineskin. Are they not written on Your scroll? My enemies turn back when I call on You for help.

Now I know, that God is for me. In God, Whose word I praise.

In God I trust, without fear. What can mortals do against me? I am bound to You by vows, o God; I shall offer my thanksgiving.

Thursday, 20 January 2022 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

1 Samuel 18 : 6-9 and 1 Samuel 19 : 1-7

When they arrived after David had slain the Philistine, the women came out from the cities of Israel to meet king Saul singing and dancing with timbrels and musical instruments. They were merrily singing this song : “Saul has slain his thousands, and David, his tens of thousands.”

Saul was very displeased with this song and said, “They have given tens of thousands to David but to me only thousands! By now he has everything but the kingdom!” From then on, Saul became very distrustful of David.

Saul told his son Jonathan and his servants of his intention to kill David. But Jonathan, who liked David very much, said to David, “My father Saul wants to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning and hide yourself in a secret place. I will go out and keep my father company in the countryside where you are and I will speak to him about you. If I find out something, I will let you know.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul and said, “Let not the king sin against his servant David for he has not sinned against you. On the contrary, what he has done has benefitted you. He risked his life in killing the Philistine and YHVH brought about a great victory for Israel. You yourself saw this and greatly rejoiced. Why then sin against innocent blood and kill David without cause?”

Saul heeded Jonathan’s plea and swore, “As YHVH lives, he shall not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and told him all these things. He then brought him to Saul and David was back in Saul’s service as before.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today through the readings of the Scripture all of us are again brought to focus our attention on the love of God that He has shown us all through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Lord has kindly showed us His mercy and forgiveness, extending to us the compassionate hands of His Son, Our Saviour, to reach out to us and to free us from our bondage to sin and death.

In our first reading today, we continue to hear the discourse from the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which today’s portion focused on the High Priest of God, Melchizedek, also known as the King of Salem. Melchizedek was a mysterious man who was highly regarded and a High Priest of the Lord no less, just as his title as the king of Salem bring about reminiscence of the name of the city of Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, the place of His holy Temple and House.

That is why, the Lord Jesus, Who is the High Priest of all mankind, the one True High Priest is often compared to Melchizedek. Some traditions and histories even had Melchizedek as a prefigurement of the Messiah and the Son of God, our Lord as the High Priest of all. Nonetheless, regardless of who Melchizedek truly was, Jesus was cast as the High Priest belonging to the order of Melchizedek, just as all of our priests are called the priests of the order of Melchizedek.

The significance of this is that, as High Priest, the Lord Jesus was the One Who offered on behalf of mankind their prayers and offerings. And as what we have discussed and discerned in the past few days, the Lord Jesus is our one and true High Priest, Who offered nothing less than Himself as the perfect offering for the absolution of our sins. Through His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross, Christ has redeemed us by the price of His own Body and Blood shed on the Altar of the Cross.

Thus, unlike the other priests and High Priests, through this sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross, all of us are assured the salvation in Him. He, our everlasting High Priest has given us this assurance Himself, and He has done everything in order to bring us to Himself, redeeming us from our sins and freeing is from the bondage of sin and from the tyranny of death. In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the same love the Lord has shown us by His healing of a paralytic man, even when the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised Him for that.

In that account, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law found great issue and were irritated that the Lord continued to perform healing and miracles even on the day of the Sabbath. To the former, the Sabbath was a sacred day dedicated to God that could not be disturbed or used for other purposes, or work. And the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were taking its interpretation to the extreme.

And the Lord reminded the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law that the Law was not made to oppress or make the life difficult for any one of us. Instead, the Law was meant to remind us all to redirect our attention and focus to the Lord, to remind us that the Lord should be the centre of our lives and we should spend time with Him, to love Him and to remember all the kindness He has shown us.

The Sabbath was meant to help the people to overcome the temptation to get away from God and to forget Him just because they were so busy with their lives and their activities. It was not meant to prevent them from doing anything that is useful and good, and especially if good things can be done, even on the Sabbath, then they should be done, and in fact, not doing good and purposefully avoiding doing good is a gross misunderstanding of God’s Law.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through this all of us are therefore called to focus our attention on God, for the love that He has shown us and lavished on us all these while. God has always been kind to us even when we have disobeyed Him, rebelled against Him and refused to listen to Him. When we have been stubborn, God has always been patient in reaching out to us with love, and we really should appreciate all of that.

Today, let us all be inspired by our holy predecessors, namely Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian, both of whom served the Lord wholeheartedly and gave themselves and their lives in defending their faith. Pope St. Fabian was the leader of the Church and the faithful during difficult and turbulent years when the Christian populations went through successions of persecutions by the Emperors of the Roman Empire and the state apparatus and authorities.

Pope St. Fabian himself dedicated his life to the service of the Lord and the Church, and took good care of the faithful, and even during those days, risked himself in his activities to provide for them all. In the end, he was martyred during the intense persecutions under the Roman Emperor Decius, who was indeed notorious for his particularly harsh persecution. However, Pope St. Fabian remained true to his calling and love for God to the very end.

Similarly, St. Sebastian was also a faithful servant of God, who was a member of the Roman military, secretly being a Christian in a largely pagan forces. It was told that St. Sebastian was a member of the Imperial guard, and at that time, the Emperor Diocletian took over power and governance over the whole Empire. And as the Emperor began a series of intense persecutions of the Christians, the members of the military were also obliged to obey the Emperor and offer sacrifices to the gods and the Emperor.

St. Sebastian steadfastly refused to abandon his faith in God or betray his conscience and love for God, and as a result, he was tortured and forced to recant his faith on the pain of death. To the end, when he was shot with many arrows and put through many other forms of sufferings and pain, St. Sebastian remained firm and committed himself as a true servant of the Lord, dying as a great martyr.

Brothers and sisters, clearly we can see how these two saints truly loved God from their heart, and if they had been able to do so, then should we not do the same as well? All of us ought to be inspired by their examples, and we should also encourage one another to be faithful to the Lord, to understand His laws and ways, and to love Him from our heart, and not just give Him lip service or fake faith.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He strengthen each and every one of us in our every endeavours. May God bless us always, and may He guide us all to eternal life and glory in Him. Amen.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 3 : 1-6

At that time, again Jesus entered the synagogue. A man, who had a paralysed hand, was there and some people watched Jesus : would He heal the man on the sabbath? If He did, they could accuse Him.

Jesus said to the man with the paralysed hand, “Stand here in the centre.” Then He asked them, “What does the Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To do good or to do harm? To save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

Then Jesus looked around at them with anger and deep sadness, because they had closed their minds. And He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was healed. As soon as the Pharisees left, they met with Herod’s supporters, looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 109 : 1, 2, 3, 4

The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand till I make Your foes Your footstool.”

From Zion the Lord will extend Your mighty sceptre and You will rule in the midst of Your enemies.

Yours is royal dignity from the day You were born in holy majesty. Like dew from the womb of the dawn, I have begotten You.

The Lord has sworn, and He will not take back His word : “You are a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

Wednesday, 20 January 2021 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr and St. Sebastian, Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Hebrews 7 : 1-3, 15-17

Scripture says that Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, came out to meet Abraham who returned from defeating the kings. He blessed Abraham and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.

Let us note that the name Melchizedek means King of Justice, and that king of Salem means king of Peace. There is no mention of father, mother or genealogy; nothing is said about the beginning or the end of his life. In this he is the figure of the Son of God, the Priest Who remains forever.

All this, however, becomes clear if this Priest after the likeness of Melchizedek has in fact received His mission, not on the basis of any human law, but by the power of an immortal life. Because Scripture says : You are a Priest forever in the priestly order of Melchizedek.

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, 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 Lord through the Scriptures that remind us all of the need for us to change our lives and follow the Lord wholeheartedly in all things. We must obey Him and do whatever it is that He has shown and taught us to do, and abandon our past life of wickedness and evil. This is what all of us as Christians are called to do with our lives, that we may truly glorify God by our lives in this world.

In our first reading today, we heard of the exchanges between the prophet Samuel and the first King of Israel, Saul, whom God had called and chosen from among His people to be the king over all of them. Samuel anointed Saul himself and Saul was faithful in leading the people of God to victory against their enemies, especially the Philistines who oppressed them. But it was not long before Saul began to disobey God and followed his own will rather than God’s.

In that occasion, the Israelites went up in war against the Amalekites, their old enemies, who were defeated in battle by the Lord’s grace and strength. The prophet Samuel had instructed Saul on God’s will, not to allow anyone or anything from the Amalekites to survive, their whole people and their whole possessions and herds. Yet, Saul thought it better on his own decision to spare not just the herds of the Amalekites but even the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

Saul thought that by doing what he had chosen to do, he was doing what God wanted, even arguing back against the prophet Samuel and trying to justify himself and his actions before God. But he did not realise that he has disobeyed God by his choice of actions and therefore led the people of Israel into sin. And his attempt to justify himself and arguing with Samuel showed that he was not remorseful or regretful over his action at first instance.

Saul was thinking in the manner of how he perceived the Lord would think, and many others also shared his perspective. To them, the Law that the Lord has given His people was to be obeyed to the letter, but they often failed to understand the true intent, meaning and purpose of the Law. Saul and others tried to go around the technicalities of the Law and even tried to benefit from it, because in his mind it was likely that he had the desire to gain from the spoils of war, that while some of them were to be offered to God, the rest would be his to possess.

That was how Saul led his people into sin and disobedience against God. He allowed his desires and pride to make him fall for the temptations of the devil. And this is the same predicament that we also see in the Gospel passage today, as we heard the argument between the Pharisees and the Lord on the matter of fasting which the Pharisees practiced fervently while they criticised the Lord and His disciples for not doing what they have done.

But the Lord rebuked them in turn because they failed to understand the true significance and meaning of fasting. The Pharisees, like Saul, fasted with some intention to gain attention for themselves, to satisfy their own personal desires for glory and honour, for fame and renown which led them to sin against God. They would not allow the Lord to go on with His works in peace and kept on opposing Him because their pride and desires led them to act in self-preservation to keep whatever privileges and good things they had gained, even if they actually went against God’s will.

This is what the Lord actually meant when He spoke using the parable of the new and old wineskins and cloth, and also the new and old wine. The incompatibility between the new wine and the old wineskin, vice versa and the new and old cloth highlighted the incompatibility between the ways of man, that is pride, desire, greed and selfishness with the ways of the Lord, which is love, humility, compassion, tenderness and mercy. As Christians we should embrace the way of the Lord and leave behind our past, worldly behaviour as described.

We are therefore also reminded today by the examples of king Saul and the Pharisees that we must be ever vigilant for it will be very easy for the devil to have his way with us if we are not careful and if we allow him to tempt us with the various desires and allures of the world, the lure of the glory of this world, the temptation of pleasures of the flesh among many others. We have to resist these temptations and do our best to overcome the devil and his lies.

Today, we are all fortunate to have two great saints whose feasts we are celebrating, namely that of Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian. Pope St. Fabian was one of the early Popes of the Church, who was elected under miraculous circumstances as it was told that a dove miraculously appeared and settled on him, which was interpreted as a sign of divine providence and made everyone assembled to elect him as the successor of St. Peter.

Pope St. Fabian led the Church in the era between persecutions and helped to stabilise the Church and grow, despite the rise of heresies and divisions in some segments of the Church. Pope St. Fabian sent bishops and missionaries to help settle this matter, and he dedicated himself passionately to the mission of the Church entrusted to him by God. And when the Roman Emperor Decius came to power, a new wave of brutal persecutions came to be, and Pope St. Fabian was among the first to be martyred for his faith.

Meanwhile, St. Sebastian was a high ranking Roman soldier, a captain of the Praetorian Guards, the Roman Emperor’s own bodyguards, who was a secret Christian at the time when being a Christian would mean certain suffering, persecution and death. St. Sebastian helped many Christians to escape torture and suffering under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, especially those who were condemned to death. Some of the people were even converted and strengthened by the faith of Sf. Sebastian while in prison

But eventually, St. Sebastian’s secret was discovered, and the Emperor, angry at this supposed betrayal by one of his closest confidants, made him suffer by tying him to a tree and made arrows to be shot at him many times until he was covered by them. Yet, miraculously, the arrows did not kill St. Sebastian. St. Sebastian miraculously recovered and reproached the Emperor for his persecution of Christians publicly. This was when St. Sebastian was beaten to death and finally had his martyrdom for his faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the great faith and examples set by Pope St. Fabian and St. Sebastian should inspire us all to also be faithful as they had been faithful, to follow God and to obey Him in every moments of our life. Let us all devote ourselves and be ever more faithful to God from now on, and let us grow ever stronger in faith and dedication to Him with each and every passing moments in our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Monday, 20 January 2020 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Mark 2 : 18-22

At that time, when the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting, some people asked Jesus, “Why is it, that both the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast, but Yours do not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the wedding guests fast while the Bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the day will come, when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”

“No one sews a piece of new cloth on an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear away from the old cloth, making a worse tear. And no one puts new wine into old wine skins, for the wine would burst the skins, and then both the wine and the skins would be lost. But new wine, new skins!”