Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to two stories, one from the Book of the Maccabees, where we listened to the continuation of the tale of the struggle of the Jewish people who were faithful to the Law of God against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and then in the Gospel we heard of the argument that arose between the Sadducees and Our Lord Jesus regarding the belief in the resurrection from the dead and the afterlife.

In the first reading, we heard about what happened to king Antiochus IV Epiphanes during the time of the Maccabees rebellion. According to history, the Seleucid king was a man who sought to reclaim the lost glory of his ancestors, and that was why, if we read the Book of the Maccabees, he attacked Egypt, a rival kingdom at the beginning of the first book of the Maccabees. His initiatives to unite his kingdom under one worship of the Greek pagan gods were likely also part of this effort.

Yet, in the end, we heard of how the faithful Jews under the leadership of the Maccabees family managed to overturn the king’s orders and undid all the abominable and wicked deeds he had committed. And then, he also failed in his effort to gain for himself more power, through worldly efforts, and he then laid dying. And in the first reading today, we heard of the regret which the king had as he laid dying, failing in many of the things he had wanted to do.

This will be relevant to what we heard in the Gospel passage today, but let me briefly go through the historical perspective linking the Scripture readings today. Ever since the time of the Seleucid persecution of the Jews, the Jewish society has been polarised into two groups, one of which proposed close collaboration with the king, abandoning the laws and customs of their ancestors, namely the Hellenic party. Meanwhile, the others, represented by the Maccabees, opposed the king and wanted to remain true to the laws and customs of Moses.

Eventually, even after the defeat of the Seleucids, this division would continue on to the time of Jesus, and this we see throughout the Gospels, two prominent major groups, one of which is the Pharisees, who are the ones inheriting the thoughts and ways of the Maccabees, holding tightly to the customs and laws of Moses. This is also why the Lord Jesus encountered so much trouble from the Pharisees, because the Pharisees misunderstood and misjudged the Lord’s intent, and saw Him as a rival and dangerous influence on the people.

Then, how about the Sadducees? The Sadducees had similar mindset as the Hellenised Jews, who was the rather worldly and practical group of people, who did not believe in many aspects of the faith of the Jews at the time. They rejected concepts such as the afterlife, spirits, Angels, heaven, and all other spiritual things that their worldly senses could not perceive. They were people who were rich and influential in the society, and enjoyed plenty of benefits and goodness from the world.

They were against the Lord and His teachings, especially because He kept on mentioning about the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees firmly refused to believe in, as with any other spiritual matters. The Sadducees were very practical and worldly in their views, and as a result, today in the Gospel we heard how they argued heatedly with Jesus about the resurrection, using the example of a woman who had seven husbands who died, and asked Him who was the man that the woman would be wife to.

They thought in worldly terms and treasured the worldly things they possess over anything else. That is why they did not believe in anything beyond death, because to them, death is a truly horrible thing that all people had to endure, and it separated them from what they loved, all wealth, prestige, fame and worldly glory they had attained. And the Lord Jesus spoke of exactly what they despised, as He taught the people that they must not seek for themselves treasures in this world, but instead build for themselves treasures in heaven.

The Lord rebuked the Sadducees and showed them that the way of this world is different from the ways of the Lord, and what seems to be common and acceptable to the world may not be what is acceptable for the Lord. They put their trust in man’s power and abilities, and yet, none of these will be available to them, at the time when they are to meet with their Lord and give an account of their lives, unless they have been faithful and done what the Lord has commanded them to do.

Linking this to what we have heard in the first reading today, we remembered how all the plans of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to ruin and bore nothing, despite all of his power and riches, all of his fame and glory, and despite all the means by which he had assembled for himself a great majesty and greatness among the other kings. In the end, he had to remember his own mortality, that he is just a mere man, a creation of God, who would have to render an account of his life to God.

Today, we celebrate also the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a holy woman and virgin, who dedicated her life to the Lord. She lived during difficult time in the history of the Church, when the Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted the faithful and the Church greatly, and many suffered and died. St. Catherine of Alexandria was known for her intellect and great beauty, so much so, that it was told that her beauty captivated the Roman Emperor’s attention.

Her wisdom inspired by God was such that no matter what the Emperor tried to do, he could not overcome her great intellect, and was soundly defeated in the debates regarding the faith. And no amount of persuasion or worldly riches, as it was told in some accounts that the Emperor wished to marry her, was able to turn St. Catherine from her faith in God. She remained steadfast in faith to the very end, towards her martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us today spend some time to reflect on our own lives. Have we thus far been spending too much time trying to gain for ourselves a great standing, fame, recognition, wealth and satisfaction from the world? Or have we instead been active in building up for ourselves the true treasures in God? What does this mean? That means, have we been spending some time amidst our busy daily schedules, in order to show love and care for our fellow brethren, instead of just being so focused and distracted with our own needs and wants?

Let us ponder on this matter even as we move forward in life. Let us waste no more time in trying to reach out to the Lord and His salvation. May the Lord be our Guide on our way towards His everlasting glory, that each and every one of us as Christians may be able to do our best in our lives, what the Lord wants each one of us to do, by being truly faithful to Him, loving Him and placing Him at the centre of our lives, and then, by loving one another as well. May God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Luke 20 : 27-40

At that time, then some Sadducees arrived. These people claim that there is no resurrection, and they asked Jesus this question, “Master, in the Law Moses told us, ‘If anyone dies leaving a wife but no children, his brother must take the wife, and any child born to them will be regarded as the child of the deceased.’”

“Now, there were seven brothers : the first married, but died without children. The second married the woman, but also died childless. And then the third married her, and in this same way all seven died, leaving no children. Last of all the woman died. On the day of the resurrection, to which of them will the woman be a wife? For all seven had her as a wife.”

And Jesus replied, “Taking a husband or a wife is proper to people of this world, but for those who are considered worthy of the world to come, and of resurrection from the dead, there is no more marriage. Besides, they cannot die, for they are like the Angels. They are sons and daughters of God, because they are born of the resurrection.”

“Yes, the dead will be raised, as Moses revealed at the burning bush, when he called the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For God is God of the living, and not of the dead, for to Him everyone is alive.”

Some teachers of the Law then agreed with Jesus, “Master, You have spoken well.” They did not dare ask Him anything else.

Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Psalm 9 : 2-3, 4 and 6, 16b and 19

Let my heart give thanks to YHVH, I yearn to proclaim Your marvellous deeds, and rejoice and exult in You; and sing praise to Your Name, o Most High.

For my enemies fell back in retreat, they stumbled and perished before You. You have turned back the nations; You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their names forever.

The feet of the pagans were ensnared by the trap they laid. For the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

Saturday, 25 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

1 Maccabees 6 : 1-13

When king Antiochus was making his way through the upper regions of Persia, he received news about Elymais, a city renowned for its wealth in silver and gold. They kept in the wealthy temple of their city golden armour, breastplates and weapons, left there by the Macedonian king, Alexander, the son of Philip, the first sovereign of the Greeks.

So Antiochus went there. But the inhabitants came out armed against him when they learnt of his intention, so his attempt to take the city failed. He had to turn back; and he returned much embittered to Babylon. While he was still in Persia, it was reported to him that the armies sent to Judea had been defeated. They told him that although Lysias had gone with a strong army, he had to flee before the Jews, who had been strengthened with the weapons and the abundant booty taken from the neighbouring armies.

He heard, too, that the Jews had destroyed the abominable idol he had erected on the altar in Jerusalem; and had rebuilt the Temple walls to the same height as before; and had also fortified the city of Beth-zur. When he received this news, he was terrified and deeply upset. He fell sick and became greatly depressed because things had not turned out the way he had planned.

So he remained overcome by this terrible anguish for many days. He felt he was dying, so he called his friends and said to them, “Sleep has fled from my eyes and I am greatly crushed by my anxieties. And I keep on asking why such grief has come upon me – I who was generous and well-loved when in power – and now I am so discouraged.”

“Now I remember the evils I did in Jerusalem, the vessels of gold and silver that I stole, the inhabitants of Judea I ordered to be killed for no reason at all. I now know, that because of this, these misfortunes have come upon me; and I am dying of grief in a strange land.”

Friday, 24 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s readings, we see a common theme between what we have heard from the Book of the Maccabees and from the Gospel passage according to St. Luke. In the first reading from the Maccabees, we heard an account of how the forces of the Israelites triumphed against their enemies, the Seleucids, and seized a very important place in Jerusalem, none other than the Temple of God in Jerusalem.

On that day, the victorious Jewish forces under the leadership of Judas Maccabees overthrew all that the Greek invaders had imposed on the Temple, the defilement and all the wickedness, all the pagan idols, altars and corruption which have been placed there by king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had wanted to eradicate the faith of the Jewish people by imposing on them the worship of the Greek pagan gods.

The old altar that had been defiled were corrupted, and it had to be removed and destroyed, to be replaced with a new altar, free from defilement of the pagan idols. That was what the victorious Jews did, and after the necessary preparations, they rededicated the Temple of God through great festivities and celebrations, which were highly symbolic as the sign of the overthrowing of the great oppression and persecution imposed on them by the Seleucid king.

Then, in the Gospel passage today, we listened to the well known passage, of how Jesus became angry at the state in which the Temple of God, the House of God His Father, has become, because it was filled with many merchants and money changers, with people plying their trade and worse still, cheating their customers by overcharging them and tricking them as they changed their money and purchased the sacrificial animals.

Thus, Jesus chased all of them out of the Temple courtyard with a whip, in His righteous wrath, and rebuked all those who had defiled His Father’s house, which ought to be a house of prayer and instead had been made into a den of robbers and wicked people. This act surely surprised even His followers, as if we see throughout the Scriptures, Jesus mostly used non-violence and peaceful means to spread His teachings.

But the Lord was rightful and just to be angry, as those people had desecrated the sanctity of His holy place by their actions, just as the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had done with the pagan idols and wickedness placed on the altars of the Temple during the time of the Maccabees. It was in fact merely only less than two centuries before the time of Jesus, and the Jewish people had forgotten how they fought hard to reclaim their Temple and House of God, and toiled to rededicate it to God.

What is the significance of all these to us, brothers and sisters? Each and every one of us are God’s Temple, where God resides in this world. He Himself has given us all His own Precious Body to eat and Precious Blood to drink. As a result, God Himself in His real and holy Presence is present fully in each and every one of us, and we are in charge of each of these Temples, that is our Body and our whole Being.

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth spoke of our bodies, our hearts and minds, and our whole being as the Temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, we ought to maintain their sanctity and holiness. We must not do things that compromise the sanctity of these Houses of God, ourselves or else, what the Lord’s anger had done to those wicked merchants and also the wicked forces of the Seleucids will befall us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not easy for us all to maintain this sanctity, as there are many temptations and challenges in life, which we will surely encounter on our way, and many of these will weaken our resolve to live a faithful life, that many of us failing to reach God’s salvation. But we should then heed the examples of our holy and dedicated predecessors in faith, especially those who we commemorate today, St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his many companions in faith, martyrs of the Lord and His Church in Vietnam.

During those years, around two to three centuries ago, there were great works of evangelisation among the peoples in areas such as Vietnam and Korea. However, the government and the authorities were suspicious against the missionaries who were sent to preach the Gospel to the people, and eventually, persecution against Christians began, both towards the missionaries and to the people they converted.

St. Andrew Dung-Lac was among the first priests to be ordained from the local community, and he and his many companions had to endure great difficulties as they had to practice their faith in secret to avoid the authorities, and at the same time, they still had to minister to the faithful in many places. They persevered through, and when they were arrested and tortured, demanded to abandon their faith or die, they refused to do so.

To the very end, these saints and martyrs are our examples of how we should live our lives in accordance with our faith. We should not be lukewarm with our faith, but instead should try our best to be faithful, keeping ourselves obedient to the Law and commandments of God. There will indeed be trials and tribulations, but we should not give up to the demands of those who want us to abandon our faith and corrupt ourselves with sin.

Let us all therefore renew our commitment to the Lord and draw ourselves ever closer to Him. Let us put our trust in Him, for it is He alone Who is worthy of all trust, and through our steadfast faith in Him, God will reward each and every one of us bountifully at the end. May God bless us all. Amen.

Friday, 24 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Luke 19 : 45-48

At that time, Jesus entered the Temple area and began to drive out the merchants. And He said to them, “God says in the Scriptures, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of robbers!”

Jesus was teaching every day in the Temple. The chief priests and teachers of the Law wanted to kill Him, and the elders of the Jews as well, but they were unable to do anything, for all the people were listening to Him and hanging on His words.

Friday, 24 November 2017 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Chronicles 29 : 10, 11abc, 11d-12a, 12bcd

May You be praised, YHVH God of Israel our ancestor, forever and ever!

Yours, YHVH, is the greatness, the power, splendour, length of days, glory; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is Yours. Yours is the sovereignty forever, o YHVH.

You are supreme Ruler over all. Riches and honour go before You.

You are Ruler of all; in Your hand lie strength and power. You are the One Who gives greatness and strength to all.