Thursday, 27 February 2020 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we enter into the season of Lent that began yesterday with Ash Wednesday, we are constantly being reminded that as Christians our lives in this world will be filled with trials and challenges that we must be ready to endure, the crosses of our lives that we have to bear daily, in following Christ each and every moments of our lives.

If we have not had a difficult and challenging time in life, perhaps we have not truly been faithful in how we have lived our lives so far. I am not saying that we have to go through difficulties and challenges in life in being Christians, but rather that, maybe we have tried to avoid those challenges and difficulties by taking the easier way out by compromising on our Christian values and way of life, and instead adopting ways that are more acceptable to the world.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy was the words of the Lord that He had spoken and conveyed to His people, the Israelites through Moses towards the end of their Exodus and journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, on the matter of choosing between the life and path that God has provided and the path of worldliness. He pointed out that while one path leads to life and good, the other leads to evil and death.

This is the same choice that we have then heard being presented by the Lord Jesus to His disciples in our Gospel passage today, as He first revealed to them what He would have to endure as the Son of Man, to be betrayed and made to suffer before He was to die on the Cross, a most painful and humiliating death. And He said how those who believe in Him put their faith in Him ought to take up their crosses and follow Him, to lose their lives that they may gain in the eternal glory that is to come.

In this instance, the Lord also presented the same truth to us, on how we have a choice between enjoying all that this world has to offer us, all the materialistic pursuits and excesses of pleasures that are abundant in our world today, all the pursuits for satisfaction in money, possessions and wealth, in the accumulation of fame and glory, in the gain of prestige and honour, in satisfying our desire for the pleasures of the flesh in all kinds. All of these give us a great and enjoyable life in our world now, but the reality is that, all these things draw us further and further away from God.

The devil knows this very well, and this is why he is doing all that he can do tempt us, persuade us, force us and coerce us to fall into the many temptations present in our lives. The temptations to choose the path that seem more acceptable, easier and more profitable and beneficial to us, which is more often than not, the path of comfort and selfishness, the path of pleasure and indulgence, the path that leads us to temporary joy and satisfaction in this world but which leads us to damnation.

On the other hand, following God more often than not requires us to endure opposition and rejection, ridicule and persecution from others as what Our Lord Himself has experienced. It is a challenge for us to remain faithful as a Christian in our daily living, to be witnesses of our faith in the midst of our communities and among others who do not yet believe in God. And some of us have it more difficult than others, especially those who live in places where Christians are being persecuted daily.

There are many of our fellow brethren out there who are still struggling daily as they have to even hide their faith for being a Christian may mean certain death or suffering, where the worship of Our Lord is forbidden and difficult to get by, among other reasons. There are many out there who are prejudiced against, persecuted and rejected just because they believe in Christ, and these are those who share in the cross of Christ daily. But it does not then mean that if we do not suffer in the same way they do then we are not carrying our crosses.

Rather, to carry our cross means that we ought to be true disciples of Christ in everything, and not just in mere formality only. There are many of us who treat our faith as no more than just fulfilling the basic obligations of our faith, and we even did so grudgingly, preferring to make use of the time to satisfy our other desires and wishes instead. If we carry on living like this, it is what the Lord exactly meant by losing our souls and everything just so that we can gain the glory of the world. Is it worth for us to gain a temporary pleasure now and then suffer an eternity in suffering from which there is no escape? Let us think carefully about it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we enter into this season of Lent, each and every one of us are called to live our lives with a newfound faith and commitment to God. We are all called to be true witnesses of the Lord and dedicate our lives to the service of God from now on. Let us all reflect on this and see in which way we then can live our lives in a more Christian manner, by taking up our crosses in life daily, striving to love the Lord our God through our daily actions and deeds at all times. Let our Lenten observances, deepening ourselves through prayer, charitable works, fasting and abstinence bring us closer to God and away from the many temptations around us.

May God bless us all and may He grant us the courage and strength to be faithful even through the difficult challenges and moments of our journey in faith. May God also help us to resist the temptations to abandon our faith and seek instead the pleasures of life, that all of us may be reminded instead of the love which God has for each and every one of us, so that He was willing to bear the suffering and pain of the Cross and death, that each and every one of us may not perish because of our sins, but live. Amen.

Thursday, 27 February 2020 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be put to death. Then after three days He will be raised to life.”

Jesus also said to all the people, “If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me! For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for My sake, you will save it. What does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you destroy or damage yourself?”

Thursday, 27 February 2020 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.

Thursday, 27 February 2020 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 30 : 15-20

See, I set before you on this day life and good, evil and death. I command you to love YHVH, your God and follow His ways. Observe His commandments, His norms and His laws, and you will live and increase, and YHVH will give you His blessing in the land you are going to possess.

But if your heart turns away and does not listen, if you are drawn away and bow before other gods to serve them, I declare on this day that you shall perish. You shall not last in the land you are going to occupy on the other side of the Jordan.

Let the heavens and the earth listen, that they may be witnesses against you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving YHVH, listening to His voice, and being one with Him. In this life for you and length of days in the land which YHVH swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day each and every one of us are reminded of the need for us to dedicate ourselves to the Lord wholeheartedly, and be ready to commit ourselves to His path. On this day, the day after Ash Wednesday, we continue to uphold our resolve to live through this blessed season of Lent, spending our time to be closer to God, carrying our crosses with Him.

In the first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, God through His servant Moses communicated clearly to the people the choice that they had before them, as they went through their forty years of journey in the desert while waiting to enter into the land promised to them by God. Many of them had disobeyed the Lord and refused to follow His ways and His commandments, preferring to follow their own, sinful ways, and hardening their hearts and minds against Him.

And thus, through this we are reminded that we too have been given a choice, that is either for us to live in God’s way and obey His laws and commandments, or for us to abandon Him and turn instead to the ways of the world that is full of temptations and are seemingly easier and less challenging for us. We are presented with the choice between the seemingly tougher and less appealing way that God showed us, and the seemingly more enjoyable path of this world.

We are no strangers to the alternative path shown to us by the world, for indeed, we are surrounded by many of the temptations. At the time of the Israelites in the days of the Exodus, the people of Israel constantly grumbled before God and before Moses, complaining that they were hungry without good food, or thirsty without water and good drinks to enjoy. They refused to budge even after they have seen many of the miraculous deeds God performed before them through Moses.

They desired to return to Egypt, saying that it was better for them to go back to Egypt and suffer again under slavery, as they would at least be able to eat decently and not having to worry about dying in the desert without food or drink. They complained and refused to comply to the Lord’s will, just because they had little faith in God. If only they know just how much God loved each and every one of them, as He gave them everything they needed, and yet even those were not enough for those stubborn people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see the parallel between their examples and our own lives in this present world today. The path of the world seems to be easier to us, and it seems to be less arduous, less challenging and more promising to us, as this is the effort by the devil and all of his forces, trying to tempt us into sin, into disobedience against God, by presenting all sorts of wicked temptations that go straight into our pride and ego, our desires and our hearts’ greed.

Some of us may even think that just because we are Christians, then we should expect to have good lives full of graces and blessings, that we do not have to suffer but instead, with greater faith comes greater blessings in life, in physical and material terms. But this is the false ‘gospel of prosperity’ that is unfortunately adopted by some of our separated brethren in faith. We must not fall into that same trap of the devil, who tries to tempt us with worldly temptations.

The Lord made it clear, in our Gospel passage today, that He Himself was to suffer grievously at the hands of His enemies. This was fulfilled when He went through His Passion, suffering persecution and rejection, brutal pain and sufferings, as He was beaten and spat on, ridiculed and made to bear a heavy cross, stripped and nailed to that cross, and made to suffer and die for the sake of all of us mankind.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the suffering that our Lord had to endure, and all of that is caused by His love for us, which is so great that He was willing to even endure those painful torture and experience just so that by His selfless and loving sacrifice, we may be saved from certain destruction. And He Himself said that if we are to be His disciples, then we must follow Him and have a share in the cross that He bore out of love for us.

It does not mean that we will suffer forever. Instead, our suffering now on earth is just a temporary prelude of the greater glory and joy that is to come. God has promised that all those who are faithful to Him will not be disappointed, for in the end of the journey it is nothing less than an eternity of glory and true happiness being in the presence of God forever, where we will not suffer any longer, and all that we need are no longer there, for God alone is enough for everything.

The devil knows this, and he does not want us to be saved. And that is why he is so hard at work, trying to prevent us from finding our way towards Him. He is always at work, trying to lure us away from the right path, and turn us away from righteousness and faith. In fact, we will realise that frequently, we will have to go up even against our friends and those who are dear to us, and we have to make often difficult choices, to choose between obeying God and suffer, or to obey the devil instead and receive satisfaction from him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of two famous martyrs of the Church, two courageous women who defended their faith in God to the very end with great dedication and courage. St. Perpetua was a noblewoman while St. Felicity was a slavewoman, both of whom shared the Christian faith. At that time, during the height of the Roman Empire, Christians have been harassed and persecuted again and again by the authorities, and many had to practice their faith in secret.

But eventually some were found out to be Christians, and put in prison and made to suffer with the hope that they would abandon their faith in God and sought safety and good assurance in life for themselves. Some did fall to the temptations or yielded to the strong pressures and abandoned their faith, but many remained firm in their faith in God, such as St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. These two women were firm in their conviction to remain faithful to God.

Having endured much suffering and pain, opposition and challenges, even from those who were close to them, St. Perpetua, who encountered great challenges from her family, who wanted her to recant her faith, as well as St. Felicity, who suffered in prison while being pregnant with a baby, both of them chose to remain true to their faith, and died as courageous martyrs and examples of true faith and dedication to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are called to look upon the examples set before us by the holy saints and martyrs of God, particularly that of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity whose feast day we commemorate today. Are we able to make the same commitment and decision as they have done? They carried together the cross of Christ and endured the grievous sufferings just as the Lord had suffered, with the hope of eternal glory and salvation in the end of their earthly journey.

Let us all make good use of this season of Lent to reorientate ourselves and reorder our lives, so that from this moment onwards, we do not live any longer for ourselves, but rather, to serve the greater purpose of God, and to obey Him in all things, standing up to Him and remaining faithful to Him despite the challenges we may encounter in our daily lives. Let us all remain true to Him, and love Him ever more as we pass through this blessed Lent. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 9 : 22-25

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be put to death. Then after three days He will be raised to life.”

Jesus also said to all the people, “If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me! For if you choose to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for My sake, you will save it. What does it profit you to gain the whole world, if you destroy or damage yourself?”

Thursday, 7 March 2019 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 1 : 1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed is the man who does not go where the wicked gather, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit where the scoffers sit! Instead, he finds delight in the Law of YHVH and meditates day and night on His commandments.

He is like a tree beside a brook producing its fruit in due season, its leaves never withering. Everything he does is a success.

But it is different with the wicked. They are like chaff driven away by the wind. For YHVH knows the way of the righteous but cuts off the way of the wicked.