Thursday, 15 February 2018 : Thursday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the readings first of all from the Book of Deuteronomy, in which we heard how Moses told the people of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt, the choices that they had, either that they choose to do what is good in accordance to God’s laws and ways, or whether they would rather choose to disobey Him and do things in contrary to His teachings.

What the readings mentioned was that, each of us mankind have been given the free will by God, to choose freely and consciously between God and His blessings, or the devil and his curses. We are given this choice in our own respective lives, and we must make a stand on which way we are to choose in our path forward. We cannot be lukewarm or be indecisive in this matter.

In the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus reiterated once again this choice that we have before us, as He plainly stated before His disciples, that He would be rejected, as the Son of Man condemned to suffer and to die on the cross. That means the disciples themselves would encounter the same rejection and persecution which their Lord and Master has once faced, should they continue to serve Him and to be faithful to Him.

The Lord mentioned that all those who followed Him must be ready to pick up their crosses, following the Lord and walking with Him with those crosses born upon their shoulders. What the Lord mentioned here does not mean that we are to literally shoulder the burden of the physical wooden cross which the Lord had carried all the way from Jerusalem to Calvary, and neither does it mean that we bear the crosses of our sins, as all of our sins have been taken up by the Lord Himself, Who died for us on the cross to redeem us from our sins.

He wanted us to realise that we must be ready to face the consequences should we choose to devote ourselves, our time and attention on the Lord. We cannot expect that becoming Christians and obeying God’s will then allow us to live our lives comfortably without any issues or problems. That is how some of us misunderstood the true essence of being Christians, that is to be ready to be counter-cultural and counter-norm, as the ways of Our Lord are not like those of the world, and what the world approves, may not be what is approved by the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, some of us worry that our crosses are burdens that are too difficult for us to bear, and that is why we tend to be lukewarm with our faith and refuse to stand up for our faith. But do you know that if we carry up our crosses faithfully, the Lord Himself will be with us and He will help us along the way throughout our journey? We are never alone, as God will always be with us.

The way forward for us is not going to be an easy one, and there will be moments when we may be seriously tempted to give up our journey and effort. The devil himself is always active trying to prevent us from finding our way to God, by alluring us to a different pathway, one that seems to be more promising, easier and less inconvenient for us. But we must not be short-sighted and focused only on what is present at the moment.

Ultimately, in God alone we can find true consolation and support. This is because if we choose the seemingly easier path shown to us by the devil, while we may have an easier time in our respective lives, but in the end, because we have not chosen Him, God will reject us and what awaits us will only be eternal damnation and suffering in hell. Rather than this, we should shoulder on and persevere in the path shown to us by the Lord, which may be filled with obstacles, but one in which we may hope because in the end of the day, God will always be faithful to the promises which He made with us.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all carry our crosses in life, being ready to accept whatever challenges that the world may throw at us as faithful disciples and followers of the Lord. Let us welcome the Lord into our hearts, especially in this season of Lent, during which we are called to a deeper understanding of ourselves, by means of reflection, prayer, fasting and abstinence.

Let us allow the Lord to enter into our hearts that He may transform our whole being, that we will draw ever closer to His righteous and generous love. Let us be more loving and compassionate beginning from this time of Lent, a time for renewal and spiritual refocusing, for us to draw closer to God, carrying our crosses and journeying together with Him. Let us remember that He will not abandon us, but instead, He will continue to love us and show us His generous mercy.

May the Lord be our source of courage and strength, as we continue to progress through this season of Lent, growing stronger in faith and in love. May we draw ever closer to God, and deepening our faith in Him, may we live ever more attuned to the ways that He has shown us. Let us willingly come to the Lord, seeking for His forgiveness and be reconciled completely with Him in love. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, 15 February 2018 : 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, 15 February 2018 : 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, 15 February 2018 : 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, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we began our Scripture reflections with the story from the Book of Kings, telling us about how Solomon, the mighty and great king of Israel and son of king David, another famous king of Israel, fell from grace and fell into sin, due to his weakness and submission to the many demands of his wives and concubines, giving in to the temptations of the flesh, as well as the temptations of human pride and worldly greed.

He turned away from God and became enslaved to sin, and therefore, God withdrew from Solomon and from his descendants, the promise of glory and well-being which He has promised them. That is because they had not been faithful to their part of the Covenant which they made with God Himself. Rather than putting their trust in God, they had allowed Satan to enslave them and to rule over them through sin.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of a different story, about a woman who came to Jesus begging for Him to heal her daughter who was beset by demons and evil spirits. The woman’s daughter suffered terribly under the enslavement of the evil spirits, and as such, the mother also suffered greatly as well. Knowing and indeed, believing that the Lord Jesus alone was able to help her and her daughter, the woman came to Him.

But the Lord was reluctant to help her, telling her that it was not right for Him to throw the bread intended for the children to eat, to the dogs to be eaten by them. What did He mean by this? It means that as at that time, the common belief was that the Messiah came only to save the people of Israel, then Jesus Who is the Messiah should not have dealt with non-Jewish people, including the woman who was a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Yet the woman persevered in her faith and commitment to see her daughter healed from her condition, and humbled herself such before God that she did not mind to accept what the Lord said to her, even though it might have sounded very insulting and demeaning to her. But in truth, the Lord did not mean to disrespect her, rather to show to all the people, having known what she would say to Him, that even among the non-Jewish people there was such a great faith.

We can see the contrast here, firstly of the famous king of Israel, Solomon, who willingly embraced the devil and his temptations to sin, going from a free state of being a son of God in good graces, into a state of slavery, because sin is indeed the enslavement of our souls under the forces of sin and evil. Then we see the contrast between that and the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, whose daughter was enslaved and wanted her to be freed from such slavery, and thus, begged the Lord to do so.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to reflect on ourselves and our lives as we internalise what we have heard from the Scripture passages today. We mankind have fallen into sin because of our failure to obey the Lord and His commandments, and we preferred to follow the rebellious ways of the devil, who thus enslaved us through sin and death ruled over us because of those sins.

Yet, throughout history, many of us have ended up like Solomon, failing to resist the temptations and the urges to sin, which are the stumbling blocks put in place by the devil, meant to be our downfall. We voluntarily enslave ourselves once again to sin, even though as we know, the Lord has liberated us all from sin, by His death on the cross. I am sure we can see just how ironic our actions sound like, when we come to think of it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be free, and indeed, desire strongly to be free, for unless our souls and our whole being are free from sin, we will still be enslaved to sin, and thus, in danger of eternal damnation. We need to take the concrete steps and make the conscious efforts to actively seek the Lord, just as the Syro-Phoenician woman had done, and beg the Lord to heal us and save us from our predicament.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, whose life and story truly fits into our narrative and theme today on humanity’s enslavement to sin and the need for liberation. St. Josephine Bakhita herself was a longtime slave during the early years of her life, living in the area now known as Sudan. From her young age, she had experienced slavery firsthand, having been snatched and abducted by slavers, sold as slave to the highest bidder in the slave market.

St. Josephine Bakhita went from master to master, and she suffered great indignities during her years of slavery, suffering and pain were her daily cup. Eventually, she came to be under the patronage of an Italian, who brought her away from the land of her suffering into Italy, where she eventually managed to obtain her freedom and she also came to accept the Catholic faith through faithful instruction, and eventually became a religious nun renowned for her great faith and piety.

St. Josephine Bakhita and her amazing story of conversion and liberation, not just from physical slavery of the body but also spiritual and mental slavery of sin is truly a very real and relevant example for us, as we reflect on what we have heard in today’s Scripture passage. Her experiences, together with that of the other saint we celebrate today, St. Jerome Emiliani, the patron saint of orphans renowned for his commitment to alleviating the sufferings of the poor and those who were orphaned, serve as reminders for us Christians.

All of us should first of all strive to be free from our enslavement to sin, by actively practicing our faith and shunning all that is wicked and evil from our own respective lives. And then, we should also help one another, especially when we see that some among us are in the danger of falling and slipping away into sin, that we should encourage one another to live faithfully and remind ourselves that we should resist the falsehoods and lies done by Satan to trap us.

Let us all pray, brothers and sisters, that all of us Christians may be truly free, free from all the chains and bonds of sin, which have prevented us from being able to be with God in all of our hearts, minds, souls and our whole beings. May the Lord be with us always, and through the intercession of the holy saints, particularly St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Jerome Emiliani, may we as sinners, come to seek the Lord’s most abundant mercy and receive His forgiveness. Amen.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Mark 7 : 24-30

At that time, when Jesus went to the border of the Tyrian country. There, He entered a house, and did not want anyone to know He was there; but He could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet.

Now this woman was a pagan, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she begged Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.”

But she replied, “Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.” Then Jesus said to her, “You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Thursday, 8 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saints and Virgins)

Psalm 105 : 3-4, 35-36, 37 and 40

Blessed are they who always do just and right. Remember me, o YHVH, when You show favour to Your people; rescue me when You deliver them.

They mingled with these nations and learnt to do as they did. In serving the idols of the pagans, they were trapped.

Into sacrificing children to demons. The anger of YHVH grew intense and He abhorred His inheritance.