Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are first confronted with the great wickedness of the people of Israel who refused to believe in God and committed all sorts of sin, despite everything that God had done for their sake. He has protected them many times, brought them out of their troubles, as the Exodus from Egypt was mentioned, the time when God liberated the Israelites and freed them from their slavery and gave them their own land to live in.

In all those years God had patiently cared for His people, sending them help and protection, provision and guidance when they encountered troubles. When the Israelites faced troubles and persecution from their neighbours and when their enemies rose up against them and subjugated them, God raised up Judges one after another to lead the people and free them from their oppressors. And still yet, they did not remain faithful and instead, worshipped idols, disobeyed His Law and commandments.

He has sent prophets after prophets, messengers after messengers to lead His people down the right path, and even after all these, they still refused to believe, and many among them openly disregarded His messages and reminders, persecuting and even killing His prophets. It was with these background and history that we then heard the words of the Lord through His prophet Hosea, sent to the Israelites in the northern kingdom during its final days.

For the past more than one week during the weekdays we have been listening to the words of the prophet Hosea, as we heard the words of God’s anger and dissatisfaction with the constant disobedience showed by the people, and the upcoming judgment, reckoning and consequences they had to suffer for their sins. And all those things were about to happen, as not long after the prophet Hosea spoke of those words, the northern kingdom was destroyed in the conquest by the Assyrian Empire, and many of its people brought into exile in far-off lands.

But we have also then heard, strangely, in between the anger and the premonitions of destruction that were to come, the words of soothing love, compassion and mercy. And all these underlie the true intention of the Lord, and why He has always been so patient with His people despite their constant rebellion and disobedience. That is because He was always filled with love for all of us, His own beloved children. He has created us all for a good reason, and that is His ever-present love for us.

In God, we truly have a loving Father and Master, as One Who has always been concerned about us, and that was why, despite our constant waywardness and disobedience, we are still indeed beloved by God, and God patiently sent His messengers and servants to help guide us out of the wrong path, as He ultimately did through sending us the finest gift of all, His own begotten Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Through Christ, all of us receive the assurance and guarantee of God’s most wonderful love and providence, and all these He has freely given and revealed to us, sending out His Apostles and disciples two by two to go and proclaim the words of God’s truth, His wonderful love to many more people among us. But for all these, many among us His people refused to follow and stubbornly opposed Him, as their ancestors had done in the past.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is just how unfortunate the state of world truly is, with people refusing to believe in God even though He has always ever been so patient and loving, caring and forgiving. And for all these, many of the Lord’s servants, His Apostles and disciples, His prophets and messengers had suffered from the rejection and persecution that they had to endure for many occasions and through their many years of good service.

Today, all of us commend to our memory the great faith and dedication showed by the holy saints and martyrs who suffered in the great land of China, all the missionaries and the laypeople who have believed in God and received the faith, and were persecuted for that same faith and for their dedication to serve the people. St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions are truly great inspirations and examples for us, as to how we should live our lives as faithful Christians.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong was among one of the first Chinese to be ordained as priests, and he was sent out to serve the communities of the faithful, a truly difficult task not only for him but also for many other missionaries, as the Christian faith at that time was just barely tolerated at the very most, and in most circumstances, to be a Christian was frowned upon by the society as well as by the government. Many people had to practice their faith in secret, and many of the missionaries also had to spread the Word of God carefully.

At that time, the conflict between the Chinese court and the Christian faith had been a culmination of centuries of exchanges, in which misunderstandings and conflicting interests among various religious orders and missionaries sent to the mission in China led to the official persecution of the Church and Christians in China, as the instructions from the Church, misled by these misunderstandings led to great conflict with the authorities for many years.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong and many other Church missionaries and priests were persecuted, arrested and tortured, and eventually put to death for their constant dedication to the Lord, refusal to betray the Lord and abandon their faith. All of these persecutions were made worse in particular because they were complicated by the arrival of the foreign powers that quickly led to diplomatic and political conflicts. And as the Western powers continued to gain prestige, territories and privileges at the expense of the Chinese, the Christian missionaries, priests and the faithful were often caught in the crossfire and conflicts.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all those faithful people of God, both missionaries, priests and laypeople alike, all were faithful and committed to God despite the challenges that they had to endure. Many of them had to endure prison, unimaginable torture and painful sufferings, and yet, they remained firm in their conviction. This is something that each and every one of us should also be inspired with, even as we carry on living our own lives as Christians, as those whom God had called to be His followers.

As we can see, there is still much darkness in this world, and there is likely to be even more darkness, as mankind continue to walk down the path of sin and disobedience against God. Therefore, now as Christians all of us are challenged to be true and genuine witnesses of the Lord’s truth, His love for each and every one of us, and His willingness to forgive us our trespasses and sins as long as we are willing to repent from those many sins and mistakes we have committed.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, the Holy Martyrs of China, St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions. Let us all be shining beacons of light and hope in the darkness, especially amidst all the trials, challenges and difficulties we are all enduring throughout this year. May the Lord be our help and guide, and may He strengthen our resolve to be ever good and righteous in all our actions and to be able to devote ourselves more with each and every passing moments of our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 10 : 7-15

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Go, and proclaim this message : The kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. Freely have you received, freely give. Do not carry any gold or silver or money in your purses. Do not take a travelling bag, or an extra shirt, or sandals, or a walking stick : workers deserve to be compensated.”

“When you come to a town or a village, look for a worthy person, and stay there until you leave. When you enter the house, wish it peace. If the people are worthy people, your peace will rest on them; if they are not worthy people, your blessing will come back to you.”

“And if you are not welcomed, and your words are not listened to, leave that house or that town, and shake the dust off your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment, than it will for the people of that town.”

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3bc, 15-16

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Hosea 11 : 1-4, 8c-9

I loved Israel when he was a child; out of Egypt I called My Son. But the more I have called, the further have they gone from Me – sacrificing to the Baals, burning incense to the idols. Yet, it was I Who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; yet, little did they realise that it was I Who cared for them.

I led them with cords of human kindness, with leading strings of love, and I became for them as One Who eases the yoke upon their neck and stoops down to feed them. My heart is troubled within Me and I am moved with compassion. I will not give vent to My great anger; I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God and not human. I am the Holy One in your midst; and I do not want to come to you in anger.

Thursday, 2 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded of God’s love and generous compassion, His ever wonderful compassion and mercy that He extends to all of His people, to all of us who have disobeyed against Him and sinned. All of us are privileged to have the opportunity to receive this most wonderful grace from God, and we should heed His call for us to return to Him and be forgiven.

Yet, unfortunately, it is very often that we shut Him off and turned away from Him, refusing to listen to Him and His patient calls for us, despite all the efforts He had shown in trying to be reconciled with us. And the reason for this is because we are too proud or that we trust too much in our own power and capabilities, and we feel that we cannot be wrong, and in our ego and pride, we end up falling deeper and deeper into sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is what we heard in our first reading today, as the prophet Amos went face to face against the false priest Amaziah, the priest of Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel. That time, the northern kingdom was just recently established under the reign of king Jeroboam, who ruled over the ten tribes of Israel in rebellion from the House of David. King Jeroboam feared that the Israelites would turn from him and return to David’s descendants as they continued to go to Jerusalem to worship God, and hence, he established a rival centre of worship in Bethel and Dan in the two corners of his new kingdom.

But in doing so, Jeroboam led the people to sin against God, as he erected golden idols in those places and chose priests not from among the Levites as required by the Law, and therefore, led the people away from the true worship of God. God sent the prophet Amos to bring His words and warnings, to remind the king and the people of their sins and to return to the true way of the Lord, but the king and his people refused to listen.

And one of the priests of Bethel, named Amaziah as described in our first reading today, harassed Amos and went against him as he saw Amos as a rival and a threat to his own influence, and that was also why Amaziah went up to king Jeroboam complaining about Amos earlier before that. Amaziah wanted Amos to get out of Israel and return to the land of Judah, and perform his works in Israel and Bethel no more, although in truth, Amos was doing the work of God while Amaziah and king Jeroboam sinned against Him.

As the false priest of Bethel hardened his heart, likely driven by his ego and personal desires, he shut himself off from God, and Amos brought the word of the Lord’s warning, how the disobedience and sins committed would eventually lead to reckoning and grave repercussions. These same attitudes would unfortunately be adopted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law during the Lord Jesus’ time, as they refused to believe in Him, doubted Him and did many things in trying to put obstacles in His work.

In what we heard in our Gospel today, the Lord was met with a man suffering from paralysis, and He extended His mercy and compassion to the suffering man, healing him and saying to him, that his sins have been forgiven. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were angered by this and alleged that the Lord Jesus was a blasphemer and sinner simply because they consider that only God alone could forgive sins, and they refused to believe and to listen to the truth that Jesus Himself, is God Incarnate.

Similar to the case of the priest Amaziah, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were too engrossed by their pride and desire to maintain their prestige, status and power in the community, that they saw the Lord as their rival, and therefore tried all they could to try to undermine His works and authority. But the Lord rebuked them all, showing them that He is truly Who He has said He was, the Messiah of the world, the Son of God, and One with authority over life and death, over everything and anything.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we look upon the examples presented before us today, let us all reflect on them and look deep within our own lives. Have we also been like the priest Amaziah and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, refusing to listen to God and follow Him just because we are so full of ego and pride, and so easily tempted by our worldly desires and concerns? This is what happens if we allow ourselves to be controlled by those desires and other things that lead us away from God.

How do we then do our part to overcome these? It is by resisting the temptation of pride and desire, by being more humble and be filled with more generosity of heart and love for God and for our fellow men in our every words, actions and deeds. We have to learn to die to our ego, to our greed and personal ambitions, and instead of putting ourselves and our egoistic self in the forefront, we should put God as the centre and focus of our whole existence.

God has always been kind and merciful, compassionate and loving, and He is loving towards each and every one of us. God has been patient with us, sending help and assistance one after another to guide us down the right path. But are we willing to accept God’s help? Are we willing to commit ourselves to the Lord’s path? Let us all therefore pray for the humility and grace to accept God’s assistance and help, His strength and encouragement.

May the Lord guide us all, and may He empower us all to be good and faithful Christians, as witnesses of His truth and Resurrection, through our daily actions and deeds, at all times. May God bless us all in our every good endeavours, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, 2 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 9 : 1-8

At that time, Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the lake again, and came to His hometown. Here, they brought to Him a paralysed man, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, “Courage, My son! Your sins are forgiven.”

Some teachers of the Law said within themselves, “This Man insults God.” Jesus was aware of what they were thinking; and said, “Why have you such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say : ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But that you may know, that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralysed man, “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home!”

The man got up, and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to human beings.

Thursday, 2 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 18 : 8, 9, 10, 11

The Law of the Lord is perfect : it gives life to the soul. The word of the Lord is trustworthy : it gives wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right : they give joy to the heart. The commandments of the Lord are clear : they enlighten the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure, it endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true, all of them just and right.

They are more precious than gold – pure gold of a jeweller; they are much sweeter than honey which drops from the honeycomb.

Thursday, 2 July 2020 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Amos 7 : 10-17

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, then sent word to king Jeroboam of Israel, “Amos is conspiring against you in the very centre of Israel; what he says goes too far. These are his very words : Jeroboam shall die by the sword and Israel shall be exiled from its land.”

Amaziah then said to Amos, “Off with you, seer, go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there by prophesying. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is a king’s sanctuary and a national shrine.”

Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet or one of the fellow prophets. I am a breeder of sheep and a dresser of sycamore trees. But YHVH took me from shepherding the flock and said to me : Go, prophesy to My people Israel. Now hear the word of YHVH, you who say : No more prophesy against Israel, no more insults against the family of Isaac!”

“This is what YHVH says : Your wife shall be made a harlot in the city, your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, your land shall be divided up and given to others, and you, yourself, shall die in a foreign land, for Israel shall be driven far from its land.”

Thursday, 25 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are reminded by the words of the Scripture that we must have firm faith in the Lord, and place all of our trust and hopes in Him, that we will then have a firm foundation upon which to lay our lives upon. Without this secure and firm foundation, it is likely that we will falter and fail in life, and suffer the consequences of our own choice, our own unwillingness to put our trust in God.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking to His disciples on the matter of those who would enter into the kingdom of God and therefore receive the fullness of grace, as those who have built for themselves a firm foundation, which the Lord likened with a parable to a house built on the firm foundation of rock-solid stone, and those who have little faith and no genuine love for God as those who have built their houses on the foundation of sand.

By using those examples in the form of a parable, the Lord wanted to show that the Lord is the sure refuge and firm foundation of our lives, a firm foundation that surpasses any other foundations we may have in life. There is no greater assurance or source of hope or strength we may have besides that of the hope and strength we will find in God and gain through Him. Those whom the Lord said as those crying out ‘Lord! Lord!’ were also subtle rebuke against the ones who have acted pious and good outwardly, and yet, in their hearts and minds, God was not found in them.

Linking what we have heard in our Gospel passage to our first reading today, we have the narrative from the Second Book of Kings telling us about what happened during the last years of the southern kingdom of Judah, first under its penultimate king, king Jehoiachin, and then ended with the last king, Zedekiah. For some background of this narrative, king Jehoiachin ruled a much diminished kingdom of Judah that had become the vassal and under the influence of the neighbouring Egypt and the growing power of Babylonian Kingdom at that time.

Jehoiachin revolted against the Babylonian king, likely thinking that he could win his independence by depending on the backing from Egypt or from other additional allies. But he was very wrong, as none of his expected help came about and the king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem with a mighty army, and king Jehoiachin surrendered. Together with much of the population of Judah, the king and important people were deported to exile in Babylon.

And later on, his uncle king Zedekiah, who replaced Jehoiachin as king, would also revolt with the same reason, definitely not learning the futility of trusting in earthly powers and means rather than the power of God. That time, the king of Babylon destroyed the Temple, the city of Jerusalem itself and Judah, blinded Zedekiah, killed his sons and brought most of the population that remained into exile in Babylon, an exile that was to last for many decades.

This was exactly what building a house on the foundation of sand meant, as experienced by the sons and daughters of Israel themselves, as those wicked and sinful kings disobeyed God and worshipped pagan idols, choosing to trust in the power of foreign kings and earthly powers than to trust in God. The support of earthly powers, means and resources are unreliable and cannot be fully trusted, as they could change with the change of human desires and other factors often beyond control.

But if we trust in God, we will not be disappointed, as God will always be faithful to the Covenant He has established with us, and we need only to trust in Him to lead us down the right path. Surely, the path going forward will not be an easy one, but if we trust in God and place ourselves faithfully in His hands, we will be preserved and strengthened, and in the end, we will be triumphant together with Him.

Let us all from now on, deepen our faith in God and commit ourselves anew to Him, striving to spend more quality time with Him, through prayer and other actions glorifying His Name. Let us all put God at the centre of our lives and make Him our firm foundation. May the Lord give us His strength and the courage to be ever faithful, with each and every moments of our lives. Amen.

Thursday, 25 June 2020 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 7 : 21-29

At that time, Jesus said to the people, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not speak in Your Name? Did we not cast out devils and perform many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will tell them openly, ‘I have never known you; away from Me, you evil people!’”

“Therefore, anyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts according to them, is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house. But it did not collapse, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible collapse that was!”

When Jesus had finished this discourse, the crowds were struck by the way He taught, because He taught with authority, unlike their teachers of the Law.