Sunday, 22 March 2020 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, also known as the Laetare Sunday, which came from the Introit of this Sunday which goes like this, ‘Laetare Jerusalem, et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam…’ or ‘Rejoice o Jerusalem, and come together all you who love her…’. And here we gather together this Sunday looking forward to the wonderful joy that is to come, the reason why we have the rose coloured vestments this Sunday.

Just like Gaudete Sunday during the season of Advent before Christmas, on this Sunday we have a brief pause of the penitential nature of this Lenten season to focus on the more joyful aspect of our expectation for the coming of the glorious season of Easter, just as Gaudete Sunday expects the coming joy of Christmas. That is why on this day we ought to focus our attention on the Lord, to keep our gaze affixed on Him, knowing that everything we do in this Lent, all of our penitential rites and customs, practices and works are to purify us before we rejoice together with Him, having been reconciled with Him in love.

In today’s readings therefore, there is this emphasis on us all having received healing from God, and for those who are in need of healing and God’s grace, it is reassured and promised to us as a certainty as long as we are open and willing to receive this wonderful grace of God. That is why today we focus our attention on the joy that is to come in Easter to help in keeping us focused in the right direction, knowing that we are in God’s good hands despite whatever challenges we may be facing now.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Samuel, we heard of the story of the anointing of the new king of Israel, in which God had chosen one of the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem. Samuel was presented with six of his sons in the beginning, and while initially he saw that the eldest son was good in stature and appearance, but God told Samuel that He had chosen through what He has seen in the heart and not in the appearances. And that was how David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, a simple and young shepherd, was chosen and anointed as king of Israel.

David was a steadfast and firm believer in God, who loved God with all of his heart. Since his youth, David had been devout and committed to God, and after he had been chosen and anointed as king of Israel as the successor to king Saul, David had shown his faith and his upright attitude and actions in most of the circumstances. Yes, as a mortal man, David did make mistakes and he did commit some serious sins, such as his adultery with Bathsheba and his hubris in the census of Israel, but ultimately, his faith and love for God never changed.

The significance of this reading is to show that God sees in us the light present within all of us, including what He had seen in David. There is inherent good in all of us since after all, every single one of us are God’s good creations although tainted by sin. By God’s grace and help, all of us can follow in the example of king David, whom God had called and chosen, and king David allowed God to work through him, committing many wonderful deeds as king over the Israelites, in faith and obedience to God.

In our second reading, again we are reminded through St. Paul’s letter to the Church and the faithful in Ephesus that we ought to become children of the light in all things. St. Paul mentioned that while once we belonged to the darkness, now through God, we have belonged to the light, and we ought to act in the manner of the follower of God’s light. God is our guide and Shepherd, just as our Psalm today on the famous Good Shepherd Psalm reminds us that God is leading us as our Shepherd to the good and righteous path.

Through sin and darkness, all of us have been corrupted, tainted and afflicted, but God wants us all to be healed and liberated from our sins, and He alone has the power and ability to do so. In our Gospel passage we heard of the story of how the Lord Jesus healed a man who had been born blind, and suffered from that blindness for so many decades. Yet, through his faith in the power of the Lord Jesus, he was healed completely, his eyes opened and his sight restored, a great miracle of God, but one which was protested and contested by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

The blind man was healed by Jesus and he could see again, and yet, the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the Law could not believe that the blind man had been healed, and not by the Lord Jesus Whom the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law then treated as a pariah and One that is not welcome in the Temple, because of the friction and difficulties that arose as the Lord ministered to the people and healed many of them, even on the Sabbath day which the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law vigorously defended as a day on which nothing including good deeds could be done.

Thus, these people gathered the people and conducted a trial over the blind man, as they doubted that he had been healed by Jesus, and then they even doubted that he had been born blind or blind at all. And they kept on asking the blind man for the details of his healing, repeatedly, showing that they still stubbornly refused to believe that Jesus could have healed the blind man. To them, Jesus was a sinner for His disobedience against their way of observing the Law, and a sinner could not have healed another person.

They even then became nasty against the blind man and angered against him, condemning and judging him as a sinner, as they were offended and their pride was hurt by the formerly blind man’s suggestion that they kept on asking him because they were interested to become the disciples of Jesus. This is exactly the problem that we need to take heed of, the matter of pride and ego that prevented so many of us from finding forgiveness for our many sins and our salvation in God.

In this season of Lent, as we focus our attention today on the Lord and on this joyful hope of His salvation and also on our own inner light and goodness, all of us are called to purge from ourselves all sorts of pride and ego, all hubris and hard-heartedness that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had, which made them to be ‘spiritually blind’, as they were ignorant of the truth of God even when they had seen and witnessed for themselves for more than a few occasions, what the Lord had done for His people through Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to open our hearts and minds to welcome the Lord with humility like that of the blind man? Pride kept us away from being able to seek God’s forgiveness, and we ought to be humble, realising that we need God’s healing and forgiveness for our sins. And then, are we able and willing to seek God for healing, that He may bless us and forgive us from our many sins, purifying ourselves from our corrupted state due to our sins? Let us seek to be God’s children, worthy and as bright children of the light, rejecting the darkness of sin, for the righteousness and faith in God. Our true joy and happiness is in the Lord, Our God and Saviour, and it is Him that we ought to look towards and focus our attentions on.

As we look forward towards the glorious joy of Easter, let us all renew our efforts to be ever closer to God, to be more devoted in each and every moments of our lives from now on. Let us deepen our relationship with God and be righteous and good in all of our actions and deeds. Let us be more loving and charitable towards our fellow brothers and sisters, and let us all be generous in caring for the needs of those who are needy, poor, unloved and rejected by others. Let us share the joy of Christ with one another, and hope that one day we may glorify God together and be worthy of God and His eternal kingdom as we enter into the new and heavenly Jerusalem.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He continue to strengthen us with faith and the resolve to live our lives daily, that we may walk ever faithfully in His path, and draw ever closer to His grace. May God bless us all and all of our good works and endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, 22 March 2020 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

John 9 : 1-41

At that time, as Jesus walked along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Master, was he born blind because of a sin of his, or of his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither was it for his own sin nor for his parents’ sin. He was born blind so that God’s power might be shown in him. While it is day we must do the work of the One Who sent Me; for the night will come when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”

As Jesus said this, He made paste with spittle and clay, and rubbed it on the eyes of the blind man. Then He said, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.” (This word means sent.) So the blind man went and washed and came back able to see. His neighbours, and all the people who used to see him begging, wondered. They said, “Is this not the beggar who used to sit here?” Some said, “He is the one.” Others said, “No, but he looks like him.” But the man himself said, “I am he.”

Then they asked him, “How is it that your eyes were opened?” And he answered, “The Man called Jesus made a mud paste, put it on my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went, and washed, and I could see.” They asked, “Where is He?” And the man answered, “I do not know.”

The people brought the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made mud paste and opened his eyes. The Pharisees asked him again, “How did you recover your sight?” And he said, “He put paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, for He works on the Sabbath”; but others wondered, “How can a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” They were divided, and they questioned the blind man again, “What do you think of this Man who opened your eyes?” And he answered, “He is a Prophet!”

After all this, the Jews refused to believe that the man had been blind and had recovered his sight; so they called his parents and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind, but how is it that he now sees?” The parents answered, “He really is our son and he was born blind; but how it is that he now sees, we do not know, neither do we know Who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is old enough. Let him speak for himself.”

The parents said this because they feared the Jews, who had already agreed that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ was to be expelled from the synagogue. Because of that his parents said, “He is old enough, ask him.” So a second time the Pharisees called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Tell us the truth; we know that this Man is a sinner.”

He replied, “I do not know whether He is a sinner or not; I only know that I was blind and now I see.” They said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He replied, “I have told you already and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

Then they started to insult him. “Become His disciple yourself! We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses; but as for this Man, we do not know where He comes from.” The man replied, “It is amazing that you do not know where the Man comes from, and yet He opened my eyes! We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone honours God and does His will, Hod listens to him. Never, since the world began, has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born a sinner and now you teach us!” And they expelled him. Jesus heard that they had expelled him. He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said, “You have seen Him and He is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and worshipped Him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world to carry out a judgment : Those who do not see shall see, and those who see shall become blind.” Some Pharisees stood by and asked Him, “So we are blind?” And Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But you say, ‘We see’; this is the proof of your sin.”

Alternative reading (shorter version)

John 9 : 1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

At that time, as Jesus walked along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth.

As Jesus said this, He made paste with spittle and clay, and rubbed it on the eyes of the blind man. Then He said, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.” (This word means sent.) So the blind man went and washed and came back able to see. His neighbours, and all the people who used to see him begging, wondered. They said, “Is this not the beggar who used to sit here?” Some said, “He is the one.” Others said, “No, but he looks like him.” But the man himself said, “I am he.”

The people brought the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made mud paste and opened his eyes. The Pharisees asked him again, “How did you recover your sight?” And he said, “He put paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, for He works on the Sabbath”; but others wondered, “How can a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” They were divided, and they questioned the blind man again, “What do you think of this Man who opened your eyes?” And he answered, “He is a Prophet!”

They answered him, “You were born a sinner and now you teach us!” And they expelled him. Jesus heard that they had expelled him. He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said, “You have seen Him and He is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and worshipped Him.

Sunday, 22 March 2020 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Ephesians 5 : 8-14

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Behave as children of light; the fruits of light are kindness, justice and truth in every form. You yourselves search out what pleases the Lord, and take no part in works of darkness that are of no benefit; expose them instead.

Indeed it is a shame even to speak of what those people do in secret, but as soon as it is exposed to the light, everything becomes clear; and what is unmasked, becomes clear through light.

Therefore it is said, “Awake, you who sleep; arise from the dead that the light of Christ may shine on you.”

Sunday, 22 March 2020 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Sunday, 22 March 2020 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

1 Samuel 16 : 1b, 6-7, 10-13a

YHVH asked Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil and be on your way to Jesse the Bethlehemite for I have chosen My king from among his sons.”

As Jesse and his sons came, Samuel looked at Eliab the older and thought, “This must be YHVH’s anointed.” But YHVH told Samuel, “Do not judge by his looks or his stature for I have rejected him. YHVH does not judge as man judges; humans see with the eyes; YHVH sees the heart.”

Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel who said, “YHVH has chosen none of them. But are all your sons here?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, tending the flock just now.” Samuel said to him, “Send for him and bring him to me; we shall not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

So Jesse sent for his youngest son and brought him to Samuel. He was a handsome lad with ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes. And YHVH spoke, “Go, anoint him for he is the one.” Samuel then took the horn of oil and anointed him in his brothers’ presence.

Saturday, 21 March 2020 : 3rd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are reminded that for us to be reconciled with God, what we need is a lot of humility, openness and willingness to listen to God and to change ourselves, to rid ourselves off all pride and ego, of greed and all other things that have kept and prevented us from truly being able to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, as we heard in our Scripture passages today.

In the first reading today taken from the Book of the prophet Hosea, again we are reminded of the great mercy of God, which we need to appreciate through our humility and willingness to accept His great love and mercy, by our self-denial and self-control, by our regrets and sincere repentance from all of our faults, mistakes, our selfishness, wickedness, all of our sins and evils. The prophet Hosea has called on us all to return to God with all of our hearts, that He assuredly will restore us and heal us.

At the same time, we are also reminded that the surety of judgment against all our sins is due, because as long as we have sins with us that are not repented and have not been forgiven, then we will be judged and condemned for those sins. We must realise that all kinds of sin are abominations and wicked before God, Who is all good and perfect, and there is nothing imperfect and corrupted like sin can exist in His presence. That is why so far we have been sundered from Him and separated from the fullness of His grace.

What is important is our attitude towards being forgiven by God and our willingness to accept His forgiveness, and all these depend on whether we are able to humble ourselves and recognise our sinfulness, as what we then see in our Gospel today of the comparison between the actions of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the parable told by the Lord Jesus to His disciples and the people to highlight this importance. For the Pharisee was filled with pride and hubris, while the tax collector was utterly sorrowful and humbled himself very deeply.

The Lord used that parable with the context of knowing how the two archetypes of people, Pharisees and tax collectors were viewed in the Jewish community. The Pharisees were very highly respected, honoured and even feared at times because of their great intellect, their great position and prestige in the community, their pious observance and enforcement of the laws of Moses and the other customs and traditions of the Jewish people according to the oral traditions handed down over the generations.

Meanwhile, the tax collectors were reviled and hated by much of the community, and were looked down upon especially by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law because they were considered as traitors to the Jewish people and nation for their nature of work, in collecting the taxes and other monetary demands from the Romans, who were the rulers and overlords of the Jews and much of the Mediterranean world at that time. They were seen as people who were corrupt and wicked, as great sinners together with others like prostitutes and criminals.

And using these common prejudices at the time, the Lord showed how things were not as what many people often thought of, as He showed that it was in fact the tax collector in the parable who humbled himself so much before God, fully aware of his sins and wicked ways that he was forgiven from his sins, as compared to the Pharisee who proudly boasted of his achievements and piety before God and even made a judgment and demeaning comparison between himself and the tax collector. The Pharisee in his pride and hubris did not get the forgiveness for his sins.

Unfortunately, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the attitude which we often show to our fellow brothers and sisters, both within the Church and to those who are outside of the Church. We often look down on those whom we do not approve of, and we often think that we are better and more worthy than them, that we are closer to God than they are, and that we are more righteous and less of a sinner than they are.

This is exactly what the Pharisee had done, and unless we recognise it, we are likely to end up behaving as the Pharisee has behaved, in allowing our pride and ego, our hubris and attitude to be a great obstacle in the way of our reconciliation with God and our salvation. Instead, we should all come to realise how each and every one of us are fellow sinners before God, and instead of focusing on how we compare with each other in our journey towards God, in our piety and righteousness, let us all be more charitable and be willing to help one another in our respective journeys.

Let us all humble ourselves, knowing that all of us are sinners, no matter whether our sins are large or small, serious or trivial, and instead of being proud and haughty, let us all allow God to enter to us and heal us from our sins through humility, recognising our brokenness and how each and every one of us are in need of God’s healing grace and mercy, and sincerely repent from all the sins which have separated us from God.

May God be with us always in our journey and may He give us the strength and courage to live our lives from now on with faith, dedication and desire to love Him and also to love our fellow brethren sincerely, that we may glorify His Name with our actions and deeds at all times. Amen.

Saturday, 21 March 2020 : 3rd Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 18 : 9-14

At that time, Jesus told another parable to some people, fully convinced of their own righteousness, who looked down on others : “Two men went up to the Temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector.”

“The Pharisee stood by himself, and said, ‘I thank You, God, that I am not like other people, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and give a tenth of all my income to the Temple.’ In the meantime the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’”

“I tell you, when this man went back to his house, he had been reconciled with God, but not the other. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised up.”

Saturday, 21 March 2020 : 3rd Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 18-19, 20-21ab

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart, You will not despise.

Shower Zion with Your favour : rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then, You will delight in fitting sacrifices.

Saturday, 21 March 2020 : 3rd Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Hosea 5 : 15b – Hosea 6 : 6

For in their anguish they will earnestly seek Me.

“Come, let us return to YHVH. He Who shattered us to pieces, will heal us as well; He has struck us down, but He will bind up our wounds. Two days later He will bring us back to life; on the third day, He will raise us up, and we shall live in His presence.”

“Let us strive to know YHVH. His coming is as certain as the dawn; His judgment will burst forth like the light; He will come to us as showers come, like spring rain that waters the earth.”

“O Ephraim, what shall I do with you? O Judah, how shall I deal with you? This love of yours is like morning mist, like morning dew that quickly disappears. This is why I smote you through the prophets, and have slain you by the words of My mouth. For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice; it is knowledge of God, not burnt offerings.”

Friday, 20 March 2020 : 3rd Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we draw ever closer to the most important time in the entire year, that is the celebration of the Passion of the Lord in the Holy Week and His Resurrection in Easter, all of us are called to embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness, as He is truly merciful and kind, compassionate and loving. He wants us all to be reconciled to Him, but this requires us to make the effort to seek Him and to change ourselves to embrace His mercy.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Hosea, is that classic reading for this season of Lent, calling all of us God’s people to repentance and to seek forgiveness for our faults and sins. Through that passage we hear the strong reassurance from God through His prophet Hosea, of the Lord’s desire to be reconciled with us, of His kindness and willingness to welcome us back to His presence and to make us worthy once again of Him.

At that time, the prophet Hosea lived through the final years of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which had been battered hard by their enemies and all those seeking to conquer them. And all of that were caused by their disobedience against God, generations after generations of following the false prophets and worshipping the false, pagan idols and refusing to follow the Law and the commandments of the Lord that their ancestors had once followed. But despite all of these things, God still loved His people as He revealed to them through Hosea.

Indeed, that is why love is a fundamental reason for our creation and our relationship with God, Who is always ever loving and filled with compassion towards each and every one of us. Without God’s love, there would have been no reason for Him to spare us all when we disobeyed Him, just as the Israelites of old disobeyed Him and chose to worship the pagan idols and commit all sorts of wicked actions and deeds throughout their lives. God could have easily willed them all to destruction and annihilation, but He did not do so because of His great love.

This ties in well with what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, in the encounter between the Lord Jesus and a teacher of the Law who asked Him of what is the most important Law of all the commandments and Law God has given to His people, probably to test Him and see His answer. The Lord then answered that the most important Law and truly, the essence of the Law and the commandments can be summarised into two main commandments, that is first of all, to love God with all of our strength and might, and to show the same love to our fellow brothers and sisters.

As we can see, love is the foundation of the Law and also the foundation of what we all need to do as God’s people, in being faithful to Him. Unless we have this love within us, sincere and genuine, no matter how many things we do, no matter what piety and pious actions we commit, all the commandments, rules and laws, all these will mean nothing because instead of bringing us closer to God and making us grow deeper and stronger in our love and devotion towards Him, we may end up like many among the Pharisees who were hypocrites in faith, seeking to advance their own personal agenda and desires in their observances of the Law.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all called to have this love for God and also for our fellow brothers and sisters, our neighbours and fellow men, even strangers and also even those who hated us and had wronged us. This is the challenge that God is giving us this Lent, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the upcoming time of the Holy Week and Easter. Are we able and willing to show genuine, sincere and selfless love in our actions and interactions with our neighbours and all we encounter?

We are all challenged to spend more quality time with God, to love Him and to serve Him with ever greater devotion from now on, that we deepen our relationship with Him through prayer, through regular and meaningful participation at the Holy Mass, through our obedience to the laws and commandments He has entrusted to His Church, and which we ought to follow and obey with understanding and desire to purify ourselves of our sins and faults.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reject sin firmly and endeavour to turn ourselves to the love and mercy of God. Let us all devote more time and attention to be closer to God and to distance ourselves from the many temptations present all around us, being firm in our desire to be reconciled and saved by God’s grace and love. May God be with us always, and may He strengthen us all in our faith, and continue to love us all throughout our lives. Amen.