Saturday, 29 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we commemorate the feast day of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, herald of the Messiah, the messenger sent by the Lord to announce the coming of His salvation into the world. On this day we commemorate the courage which this great saint had shown, in defending the truth as he had revealed to the world, to prepare the way for the coming of his Lord and God.

The Scriptures today spoke of a servant which God had chosen and had called, whom He would make His mouthpiece and judge against the nations and all the ways of the world. And this was clearly alluding to St. John the Baptist, who was the servant mentioned, who spoke up against the wickedness and the vile things of the world, including even the sins which king Herod had committed in his adulterous behaviour.

The significance of today’s celebration and remembrance of what had happened that time during when St. John the Baptist went through suffering and injustice, and eventually leading to his martyrdom, when he was beheaded in prison. He had stood up for what is true, and he did not budge even in the face of opposition. And while he rose in glory, Herod and all those who have not heeded St. John’s call were condemned to hell.

The Passion of St. John the Baptist reminds us all of just how many and how large is the opposition that will be arrayed against us, if we are all remaining faithful to the Lord our God, and if we keep our faith and our devotion, following Him in all of His ways, we shall be facing the wrath of the devil, who does not wish to see us saved and liberated from the sins which have kept us chained under his tyranny all these while.

But we truly have no need to fear or be afraid, since we who have kept our faith in God shall be protected and blessed by the Lord, and we do not need to fear those who have no power over our eternal souls. The devil may be able to harm our bodies and our physical selves, but he can do nothing to harm us in a lasting manner. For we have to remember that this worldly existence is temporary and will soon be replaced by our fate after the end of our worldly life.

St. John the Baptist led the way for us, for he did not fear opposition or oppression, fame or popularity, when he went forth to proclaim the message with which he had come into this world. He brought with him the message of truth, which although it is the truth, but for many it may seem to be something that they would refuse to admit, and something that they would rather not have.

Mankind had grown comfortable with their way of life, settling into a life of worldliness, filled with many things and actions which are often contrary to the way of the Lord, and which are even at times abominable and horrendous in the sight of both God and men. Yes, people who disregarded the sanctity of marriage, by doing what king Herod had done, living in sin with those who were not righteously and justly regarded as one’s spouse.

And there are also those who were powerful and mighty, those with influence and affluence, those who oppress the weak and those who have nothing with them. There are also those who have given themselves to the materialistic lifestyles of this world, surrendering themselves to the desires of their flesh, and desiring ever more of the good things in this world, for the pleasures of the stomach, for the sexual pleasures and other forms of lustful pleasures and many others.

On this day, we are reminded that as the disciples and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a duty and an obligation to stand up for the truth and for our faith as St. John the Baptist had once done before us. We have to commit ourselves to help bring one another to the righteous path towards the Lord. Therefore, we must have the courage in us to remind one another when we fall into sin and are distracted on our way towards salvation.

Let us all be reminded as well that being a disciple of the Lord is not going to be easy, but is truly rewarding, for God is forever faithful and He will always bless and strengthen all those who keep their faith in Him. May Almighty God bless us and awaken in us the spirit to love one another and to help one another to remain truly faithful to the Lord, as St. John the Baptist had once done, and abandoning all forms of worldliness and sin. God be with us all. Amen.

Saturday, 29 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 6 : 17-29

For this is what had happened : Herod had ordered John to be arrested, and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her, and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.”

So Herodias held a grudge against John; and wanted to kill him, but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed, whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.”

The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of his bodyguards with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother.

When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

Saturday, 29 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 70 : 1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

In You, o Lord, I seek refuge; let me not be disgraced. In Your justice help me and deliver me, turn Your ear to me and save me!

Be my Rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for You are my Rock and my Fortress. Rescue me, o my God, from the hand of the wicked.

For You, o Lord, have been my hope, my trust, o God, from my youth. I have relied on You from birth : from my mother’s womb You brought me forth.

My lips will proclaim Your intervention and tell of Your salvation all day. You have taught me from my youth and until now I proclaim Your marvels.

Saturday, 29 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Jeremiah 1 : 17-19

YHVH said to Jeremiah, “But you, get ready for action; stand up and say to them all that I command you. Be not scared of them or I will scare you in their presence! See, I will make you a fortified city, a pillar of iron with walls of bronze, against all the nations, against the kings and princes of Judah, against the priests and the people of the land.”

“They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you – it is YHVH who speaks.”

Friday, 28 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, we celebrate the feast of a great pillar of the Church, one of its original and among the greatest of the Doctors of the Church, because of his numerous and countless contributions to both the Church and to the faithful as a whole, in leading them to Christ. He is St. Augustine of Hippo, a great man and a great saint, and yet with an interesting origin and story of his life, in how he became such a great servant of God.

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of St. Monica, his mother, a holy woman completely devoted to the Lord and to her family, particularly that of her son, St. Augustine himself. And we have to understand where they came from and what were their lives like, so that we can understand and benefit most from today’s sharing of the Scriptures and the lives of the saints.

St. Augustine of Hippo was born in a noble Roman family, between a rich Roman nobleman named Patricius who was a pagan worshipper, and St. Monica, his mother, who was already a Christian, and one who was truly devoted to the Lord. St. Augustine lived in a family well connected and in position to enjoy all the favours and benefits of worldly life, and therefore, he got the best education and treatment, and grew to be an educated person and a philosopher.

But all these could not satisfy St. Augustine, as he desired for something more to fill the emptiness in his heart. And so, influenced by his peers and friends at that time, he fell into the company of those who believed in the syncretic and pagan religion of Manichaeanism, where he gave in to the Manichaean ways and teachings of hedonism and worldliness, involving himself with various forms of the pleasures of the flesh.

Nonetheless, even though St. Augustine had started on a path towards sin and therefore towards ruination, it was the hard effort and ceaseless tears and prayers from his mother, St. Monica, who eventually turned St. Augustine back into the light. Firstly, his own father decided to be baptised on his deathbed and accepted fully the Lord Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, and then St. Augustine himself also realised the errors of his ways and repented.

St. Augustine went on to be a teacher, and growing more and more disillusioned with the ways and falsehoods of Manichaeanism, where he did not manage to find true satisfaction, he eventually gave himself to be baptised as well, as a member of the Church, and the prayers which his mother had made for his sake. And thereafter, St. Augustine dedicated himself to the service of God.

And by his many works, including the publications, the City of God and the Confessions which he had written, as well as various other discourses and traditions passed down to us by the other Church fathers, this once great sinner had indeed been transformed completely by the will and by the grace of God to be a great tool for the salvation of mankind and for the deliverance of mankind from our sins.

In today’s Scripture readings we also heard how Jesus told the people the parable of the five wise women and the five careless and foolish women. Many of us knew this story, but do we truly understand its significance? The wise women and the foolish women represent all of us, while the bridegroom represents the Lord who will come again even as He had promised all of us.

The examples of St. Augustine of Hippo should have shown us that all of us have a choice in this life, and this choice is for us to follow either the Lord and His ways, or whether we follow our own whims and our own heart’s desires. God always gives us opportunities, one after another, for He is loving as well as merciful, and despite all of our sins and wickedness, we still have the Lord on our side, holding us and keeping us against the tides of darkness rising against us.

Nevertheless, we should not take this for granted. The Lord loves all of us, for we are indeed the greatest and the most treasured and loved of all the things that God had created, but this does not mean that He just let us all be with all the things we are doing, or condoning all of our sins and wickedness. He continues to watch over us, and it is painful for Him to see how we continue to live in sin and in direct disobedience and rebellion against Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all learn from the examples of St. Augustine of Hippo and many other saints, who were once sinners and then they turned their lives around, and sought out a new life in God. This is also an inspiration for all of us to do the same. No one was born perfect, and no one was blameless, except for our Lord Jesus Himself. All of us made mistakes in some parts of our lives, but what matters, is whether we take those mistakes to task and learn from them.

May Almighty God be our help and our guide, as we walk in the footsteps of St. Augustine of Hippo, that we may also be like him and many other great saints, who took the step to get out of their past sinfulness, repent from those sins, and follow the Lord in all their ways, and by their righteousness, they were brought into eternal glory and life promised by our Lord. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 28 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 25 : 1-13

At that time, Jesus said to the people and to His disciples, “This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven : Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were careless, and the others were sensible.”

“The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were, and did not bring extra oil. But those who were sensible, brought with their lamps flasks of oil. As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight, a cry rang out, ‘The bridegroom is here, come out and meet him!'”

“All the maidens woke up at once, and trimmed their lamps. Then the careless ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’ The sensible ones answered, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you. You had better go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.'”

“They were out buying oil when the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast, and the doors were shut. Later the other bridesmaids arrived and called out, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered, ‘Truly I do not know you.”

“So stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Friday, 28 August 2015 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 96 : 1 and 2b, 5-6, 10, 11-12

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the distant islands be glad. Justice and right are His throne.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim His justice, all peoples see His glory.

You who love the Lord, hate evil, for He preserves the lives of His faithful, He delivers them from their foes.

He sheds light upon the upright, and gladness upon the just. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are blameless, and give praise to His holy Name.