Tuesday, 21 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Sacred Scriptures, each and every one of us as Christians are called to be righteous and good, worthy of our Lord, virtuous and full of God’s grace in all things. All of us are called to be humble and good disciples and followers of our Lord, doing His will and committing ourselves to His cause first and foremost in our lives, and not giving in to the many temptations all around us, the temptations of pride and our human ego, and of worldly greed and desires, which can lead us down the wrong path of sin and evil. This is particularly timely and apt considering that we are going to begin the season of Lent tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, and hence, today we should spend some time to reflect on what we have just heard in the Scriptures.

In our first reading today, we heard from the prophet Sirach the words of reminders and encouragement which he spoke to the people of God regarding the matter of following the Lord and obeying His Law and commandments. The prophet Sirach told the people of God that they ought to be righteous and to do good always in their lives, in their every actions, and that they should be ready to endure challenges and trials for the sake of the Lord and for their faith in Him. He reminds all the faithful that their calling as the people of God is to keep their faith and trust in God even in their darkest and most difficult moments in life, and they ought to remain focused on God and His path despite the many temptations, pressures and coercions to do otherwise.

Contextually, the Book of Sirach was written by the author about two centuries prior to the birth and life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a few centuries after the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon. During all those centuries and right up to the time of the prophet Sirach, the people of God had often been disobedient and rebellious against God, often not following the Law and commandments that He has set before them and preferring to do things in their own way, and allowing themselves to be led by their own wicked desires and ambitions, their pride and ego, which led them to their downfall. The prophet Sirach himself lived at a time of renewed difficulty for the faithful as it was during the beginning of the persecution of the faithful by the Greek authorities of the Seleucids, which would eventually lead to the Maccabean Revolt.

Hence, the prophet Sirach’s words were timely reminder to the people of his time and even to all of us that they must always remain true to their faith in God despite the many trials and challenges that they might have had to face along their life and journey. The prophet told them all to remain strong in faith and to do what the Lord had taught and commanded them to do so that in all things they would be truly worthy of God, and be righteous and good examples in the midst of their own community and as inspirations and good role models for many others all around them. All of them are reminded to be humble in accepting God’s help, grace and guidance in every single moments of their lives. They should inspire others to live their lives faithfully as well and not instead be sources of scandal for the Lord and their faith because of their actions.

In our Gospel passage we then heard of the Lord speaking to His disciples and teaching them that, in order for them to truly become His disciples, they all must be ready to abandon their prideful and ambitious thoughts, and their many temptations of worldly glory and status, power, influence, fame and more, among many other things. This happened just after the disciples failing to cast out the evil spirits from a boy who was possessed and struck deaf and mute, as we heard in the Scripture readings yesterday. The disciples were unable to do so because they were lacking in faith, and were likely swayed by pride and hubris, thinking that all the miracles and wonders they performed were due to their own powers and abilities, and forgetting that they did all that by the grace and power of God.

They were all reminded that in following the Lord they must be humble and obedient to God, and to put themselves after Him and others around us. Basically, pride, hubris, ego, ambition, greed and all those things will not bring us any good things at all. It will only end up leading us down the wrong path in life, bringing us further and further away from the righteousness of God. All of us as disciples and followers of the Lord must be like what the Lord Himself said, as He took up one child and told them that their faith ought to be like that of the little child. Why is that so? That is because the faith of a child is truly pure, pure in faith and purpose, as unlike all of us who are laden with worldly concerns, desires and attachments, a child had none of that yet. Essentially as Christians, all of us are reminded to have the same kind of faith and life, wholly centred on the Lord and His truth.

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Peter Damian, a great saint and Church father, whose life and works can truly inspire all of us to be faithful to the Lord in many ways, as he himself led a good and devout life, filled with faith and dedication to God. St. Peter Damian was a great intellectual and theologian who gave up the greatness of secular and worldly life to become a Benedictine monk. He was renowned for his great piety and dedication to his mission and works, in his efforts in reforming the Church and Christian faithful, beginning with his own Benedictine community, and then in tandem with the efforts of a few Popes of that time, beginning with Pope Gregory VI and up to Pope St. Leo IX and his friend, Pope St. Gregory VII.

Back then, the corruptions of worldly vices, attachments, ambitions and sins have slowly crept up into the Church and into its various communities, affecting both the clergymen and the laity alike. St. Peter Damian helped to reform the Church through his great vision and desire to root out from the Church those worldly corruptions and vices which had caused so many scandals and for so many of the faithful to fall into sin and evil ways. He rooted out corrupt practices and helped to straighten the ways of many of the faithful, in his various capacities as Papal envoy and legate, and as a member of the College of Cardinals, his role as a Cardinal and hence close Papal confidant and advisor was crucial in the reestablishment of order and virtue in the life of the Church of that time. And despite his high office and influential position, St. Peter Damian remained humble and thoroughly committed to his calling, and not swayed by worldly temptations of power and glory.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern what we have just discussed, including the life and examples of St. Peter Damian in remembering that as Christians each and every one of us are also expected to live our lives with genuine faith in the Lord, and root out from ourselves, from our hearts and minds, the corruption of sin and temptations of pride, ego, ambition, hubris, greed and others. Let us all remind ourselves of this as we are embarking on the journey through the season of Lent beginning tomorrow on Ash Wednesday, that through this penitential time and season, we may always be growing ever closer to God and distance ourselves from sin and its wickedness. May God bless us in our every good efforts and endeavours, all for His greater glory, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 21 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Mark 9 : 30-37

At that time, after leaving the place where He cast out evil spirit from a deaf and dumb boy, Jesus and His disciples made their way through Galilee, but He did not want people to know where He was because He was teaching His disciples. And He told them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, but three days after He has been killed, He will rise.”

The disciples, however, did not understand these words and they were afraid to ask Him what He meant. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they did not answer, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest.

Then He sat down, called the Twelve and said to them, “If someone wants to be first, let him be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child, placed him in their midst, and putting His arms around him, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes a child such as this in My Name, welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me, welcomes not Me but the One Who sent Me.”

Tuesday, 21 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Psalm 36 : 3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40

Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and live on it. Make the Lord your delight, and He will grant your heart’s desire.

The Lord watches over the lives of the upright; forever will their inheritance abide. They are not crushed in times of calamity; when famine strikes, they still are satisfied.

Do good and shun evil, so that you will live secure forever. For the Lord loves justice and right, and never forsakes His faithful ones. The wicked instead will perish and their breed will be cut off.

The Lord is the salvation of the righteous; in time of distress, He is their refuge. The Lord helps them, and rescues them from the oppressor; He saves them for they sought shelter in Him.

Tuesday, 21 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Sirach 2 : 1-13 (Greek Septuagint version – Sirach 2 : 1-11)

My son, if you have decided to serve the Lord, prepare yourselves for trials. Keep your heart upright and remain resolute; do not be upset in the time of adversity. Hold fast to the Lord, do not separate yourself from Him so that you may be successful to the end of your days.

Accept all that happens to you, be patient when you are humbled, for as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in Him.

You who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy and do not turn away lest you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust Him and you will not lose your reward. You who fear the Lord, hope for all good things; hope for eternal joy and mercy. Remember what happened to your ancestors. Who has ever trusted in the Lord and been confounded? Who has persevered in fear of the Lord and been abandoned? Who has called upon Him and not been heard?

For the Lord is compassion and loving kindness; He forgives our sins and saves us in time of distress.

Monday, 20 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord contained within the Scriptures, each one of us are reminded to have faith in the Lord and to entrust ourselves to the Wisdom and the providence that God has provided us with, as He has always ever been faithful to the Covenant which He had made with us and our ancestors. All of us should keep in mind to do what the Lord has told us to do, living our lives wholeheartedly to walk in His presence at all times. Each one of us are called to be good and faithful disciples of the Lord, giving our time, effort and attention to Him, and to do His will at all times, and to follow Him with faith, making sure that we remain well connected and attuned to Him in our lives so that we may truly be close to Him, and committed to Him in each and every moments of our lives, being good examples and role models to each other.

In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Sirach, we heard the words of the prophet Sirach speaking about the Wisdom of God, which He has imparted on all those who trust and believe in Him, as He is the source of all Wisdom, knowledge and truth. The prophet Sirach also highlighted how there are many things in this world, in this universe and existence that are not known to us, and even the best of our human intellect and understanding cannot comprehend the full truth and knowledge of the universe, as we can only behold parts and pieces of the knowledge and the truth. But through the Lord and the Wisdom He has imparted to us, all of us have received greater understanding and appreciation of the truth from God, and we have better understanding of how God has loved us so much and did so much wonders all around us, all these while.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of how there were argument between the disciples of the Lord and the teachers of the Law who disagreed with the Lord and His disciples, as the disciples of the Lord there then also failed to heal the possessed son of a person who brought him to them, hoping that the disciples could heal him and cast out the evil spirits and demons from him. It was there then that the Lord admonished the people and His disciples, all those who still did not have genuine faith in Him and His power, and instead depending on their own flawed and imperfect knowledge, power and intellect rather than to trust in the Lord and to believe in His Wisdom and power. That was why those disciples failed to cast out the demons from the possessed son, as they did not have enough faith in God to do so.

Rather, they most likely must have trusted more in their own power and abilities, or might likely even think that it was by their own power and greatness, their own abilities and intellect that they had cast out the demons and evil spirits, performed other miracles and great deeds that they had done in the past. However, they forgot that they all did everything by the grace of God, guiding them and providing for them. It was the Lord Who gave them the authority, power and ability to forgive sins, to heal the sick and to cast out demons, and to make whole those who have been afflicted with various sickness and troubles. Yet, those disciples had grown proud and ambitious, and thought of themselves as greater than they were supposed to be, as if it was by their own power and abilities that they had performed all those miracles. That was why they could not heal the possessed son.

At the same time, those teachers of the Law and the Pharisees who doubted the Lord, His power and authority, were also those who were blinded in the similar manner by their own achievements, position and ambition, as they thought that they were the sole possessor of wisdom and power over the people of God. They were always highly regarded and respected by the rest of the community, and this made them to be very careful and particular in guarding their privileges and powers, not allowing those like the Lord and His disciples to threaten them in any way. That was why, despite their supposedly superior knowledge, intellect, capacity and expectation, and despite their knowledge and understanding of the Law and the Prophets, they failed to recognise the Lord’s coming, His truth and His Wisdom which He had often made truly evident and real before them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having discussed and discerned the words of the Lord contained within the passages of the Scriptures today, let us remind ourselves how the season of Lent is coming very soon, as it begins just this Wednesday with the Ash Wednesday celebration. All of us should make good use of the opportunities provided to us to get ever closer to Him, to renew our relationship and bond with God so that we may come to understand better His truth and love for us, and everything that He had done for our sake. We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the temptations of pride, ego and ambition, and all the worldly desires and wickedness present all around us which may end up causing us to fall into the path of rebellion and sin, and to fail in our faith just as the disciples of the Lord and those Pharisees and teachers of the Law had done in the past.

Let us all hence continue to live our lives and moving forward with faith, renewed and rejuvenated, strengthened and encouraged by all that we have heard today. God has always been generous with His love, kindness and wisdom, and He has given us everything we need to progress forward in His path, showing us His guidance and help through various means. Now what is left is for us to have the humility in our hearts and minds, to allow Him to lead and guide us down the right path. We also ought to have faith and trust in the Lord, and do whatever we can to let His Wisdom and strength to encourage us to continue to struggle and to persevere even amidst the toughest challenges and hardships, and continue to do what we can as good and faithful disciples and followers of our Lord.

May the Lord continue to guide us in our faith journey especially as we are about to enter into the season of Lent this week. May He guide us in all of our actions, words and deeds, empowering us with the Wisdom and providence, allowing us to do great and wonderful things for His greater glory, now and always, at all times. May God bless us all in our every good efforts and endeavours, and may He bless us always and more, and inspire us all to be ever good role models and examples, for the help of others around us. Amen.

Monday, 20 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Mark 9 : 14-29

At that time, when Jesus and His disciples, Peter, James and John came to the place where they had left the disciples, they saw many people around them and some teachers of the Law arguing with them. When the people saw Jesus, they were astonished and ran to greet Him.

He asked, “What are you arguing about with them?” A man answered Him from the crowd, “Master, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit, deaf and mute. Whenever the spirit seizes him, it throws him down and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth and becomes stiff all over. I asked Your disciples to drive the spirit out, but they could not.”

Jesus replied, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to Me.” And the brought the boy to Him. As soon as the spirit saw Jesus, it shook and convulsed the boy, who fell on the ground, and began rolling about, foaming at the mouth.

Then Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “From childhood. And it has often thrown him into the fire and into the water to destroy him. If You can do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “Why do you say, ‘If You can?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe, but help the little faith I have.” Jesus saw that the crowd was increasing rapidly, so He ordered the evil spirit, “Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you : Leave the boy and never enter him again.”

The evil spirit shook and convulsed the boy and with a terrible shriek came out. The boy lay like a corpse and people said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him and the boy stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not drive out the spirit?”

And He answered, “Only prayer can drive out this kind, nothing else.”

Monday, 20 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 92 : 1ab, 1c-2, 5

The Lord reigns, robed in majesty; the Lord is girded with strength.

The world now is firm, it cannot be moved. Your throne stands from long ago, o Lord, from all eternity You are.

Your decrees can be trusted; holiness dwells in Your house day after day without end, o Lord.

Monday, 20 February 2023 : 7th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Sirach 1 : 1-10

All wisdom comes from the Lord and endures with Him forever. The grains of sand, the drops of rain and the days of eternity, who can count them? The height of heaven, the extent of the earth and the depths of the abyss, who can measure them?

Wisdom was created before all things and the prudent intellect before the beginning of time. To whom was the source of Wisdom revealed? Who has known her secret designs? One alone is wise and greatly to be feared. The One Who is seated upon His throne.

The Lord Himself created Wisdom. He looked on her and knew her value. He poured her out over all His works; upon all mortal beings, in accordance with His goodness. He lavished her on those who love Him.

Sunday, 19 February 2023 : Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Sunday, which marks the last Sunday before the beginning of the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday just this coming Wednesday, all of us are reminded to be holy and loving, to be filled with all righteousness, virtues, goodness and justice so that we may truly become worthy disciples, followers and children of our Lord and God. We are all reminded that as Christians, as God’s followers and people, all of us are expected and called to be His holy people, as the ones to be the examples and beacons of His light and truth in this world, and this call is truly timely and right for us at this moment, just as we are about to enter into this holy season of Lent in preparation for the most solemn and joyful celebration of the Holy Week and Easter.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Leviticus in which God spoke to His people, the Israelites, reminding all of them of the obligations that each and every one of them have as His people, in doing His will and obeying His Law and commandments, in being holy and devout people, that are truly worthy of being called His children and His flock, as the people whom He had rescued by His own hands from their enslavement in Egypt. God reminded all of His people that they all have to be righteous, virtuous, holy and good just as He is holy, or else, if they did not do so, they would scandalise their faith and the Lord Himself. He told them all to be loving to one another as well, which is essentially doing what He has decreed and taught them through His Law and commandments.

Then, in our second reading passage today from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth, we heard of the call of the Apostle telling all the faithful to keep themselves holy and truly worthy of the Lord, echoing what the Lord Himself had told Moses in the Book of Leviticus. St. Paul told the faithful and hence to all of us that we have to keep in mind that we are all Temple of the Lord’s Holy Presence, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus because we are the dwelling place of the Almighty and Most Holy God Himself, we must not defile this Temple that is our body, mind, heart and soul, our whole being with wickedness of sins and our unworthy actions, words and deeds that bring about scandal to our faith and lives as good and dedicated Christians.

Contextually, we must understand that the Temple of God is a most holy and sacrosanct place where God Himself dwelled, His Presence coming down from His Heavenly Throne to be with us all His people. In the earliest days, during the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites built the Holy Tent of Meeting as the centre of their entire community, and it was upon the Holy Tent that God’s very own Holy Presence descended upon, to the Ark of the Covenant placed inside the Holy of Holies within the Holy Tent, with God Himself seated upon the Cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy Tent and especially the Holy of Holies was considered so holy only those who were allowed could be permitted entry, and like the later Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem, the House of God, even the High Priest was only permitted to enter the Holy of Holies only during one solemn occasion in the whole entire year.

Similarly, the Ark of the Covenant was also considered so holy and sacrosanct that touching it is considered taboo, and in fact, an incident happened earlier on in the Scriptures where a priest of the Lord died on the spot the moment he touched the Ark upon trying to hold it and prevent it from slipping and falling down to the ground as it was being transported by King David to Jerusalem. The point that I want to highlight here is that, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies of the House of God, where historically God’s Holy Presence resided, were all considered so holy and sacrosanct that no imperfections, wickedness and sin can or should ever be in its presence and place. How is it related to us all then, as the aforementioned Temple of the Holy Spirit, as the Temple of God’s Holy Presence?

Each one of us have received the Lord Himself, wholly in the flesh, in His own Most Precious Body and Blood that He has given us all most generously and lovingly in the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist, that He has instituted Himself at the Last Supper, and passed down to us through His Apostles and other disciples, through their successors in the Church, right up to our Pope, bishops and priests, all those who have been given the faculty and the authority and power, in their role as Alter Christus, in offering the same gifts that the Lord Himself has offered, and turned the bread and wine into the very essence, reality and Holy Presence of God, in the Most Precious Body and Blood, the Most Holy Eucharist that we all have partaken and received.

As we believe that the Lord Himself has come into our midst and dwelled within us through the Eucharist, which is not just mere symbol or reminder, but real Body and Blood of Our Lord, hence, how can we not then endeavour to keep ourselves holy, blameless and spotless just as the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies of the House of God were kept holy and sacrosanct? In addition, as St. Paul mentioned, we are also the Temple of the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit has also come upon us through the Church, since the day of the Pentecost right up to now, as all of us who have received the Sacrament of Baptism has also received the Holy Spirit from the Lord Himself, and for all of us who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, this gift of the Holy Spirit has been further reaffirmed and strengthened in us all.

That is why as Christians, all of us must do what we can to keep our lives holy and worthy of the Lord, distancing ourselves from sin and wickedness of the world, from the excesses of worldly desires and ambitions, and from the corrupting nature of sin. We must resist the temptations of sin, and do what we can to help and inspire one another to continue keeping our beings, the Temples of God’s Holy Presence, good and worthy of Him. How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is by heeding what we have heard from the Gospel passage today, in which the Lord highlighted to all of His disciples and hence to all of us, what it truly means to become one of His disciples and followers, to be truly filled with love of God, and the righteousness and virtues that He has taught us all.

As we heard from our Gospel passage today, what is important for us as Christians to do with our lives is essentially to love, to be filled with God’s love, which in itself is already obeying God’s Law and commandments. The Lord Jesus Himself in another occasion, before the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had summarised the Law as a whole into two main commandments, that is to love God first and foremost with all of our hearts and strength, and then to love our fellow brothers and sisters in the same way, just as much as we love ourselves. It is our Christian calling and vocation for all of us to be always grounded in love, in our every words, actions and deeds, so that by our love everyone may truly know God’s love and that we truly belong to the Lord, and hopefully more and more people may be inspired to follow our examples and believe in the Lord as well.

We have to love sincerely and generously, and as the Lord mentioned in our Gospel passage today, we should not just love because there is something in it for us, or that we stand to benefit from loving that person, as that kind of love is not the kind of true, Christian love that we are called to show. We have to show what the Lord Himself has shown us by His own examples, that in loving us all so greatly, all of us who have often hurt and betrayed Him, abandoned Him and rebelled against Him, He chose to willingly embrace His Cross, bearing upon Himself the whole burden of the innumerable sins of the world, of all mankind, past, present and future, so that by loving us that way, He may bring us all to eternal life. Christ Himself has shown us how we ought to live our lives with genuine Christian love, as He Himself had done, and now, the question is, what are we going to do then, brothers and sisters?

Let us all therefore embark on a new journey of faith, and renew our conviction to remain faithful to God, as we are about to enter into the season of Lent this Wednesday with the Ash Wednesday. Let us all renew our conviction to love the Lord wholeheartedly once again, and with the resolve to love one another most generously, forgiving those who have hurt or pained us, and helping one another to grow ever stronger in faith, by living our own lives most worthily and by doing what God has taught and shown us all to do. Let us all make good use of whatever time and opportunities that God has given us all, and do our best to make our whole beings truly worthy and holy Temples of His Holy Presence, not just for this upcoming Lent, Holy Week and Easter, but for the rest of our lives, till the day we encounter the Lord once again in His heavenly abode. May God bless us all and be with us always in our journey of faith and life, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 19 February 2023 : Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 5 : 38-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You have heard that it was said : An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you this : do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer the other. If someone sues you in court for your shirt, give him your coat as well.”

“If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give when asked, and do not turn your back on anyone who wants to borrow from you. 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.”