Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s readings from the Scripture we heard about the contrast between what happened in the time of the Old Testament, when the prophet Jonah came to the city of Nineveh, preaching to them that the Lord would destroy their city within forty days for their sins and wickedness, and with what we heard in the Gospel passage today, of the Lord Jesus and His unhappiness over the people’s lack of faith as they kept demanding for signs and miracles.

At the time of the prophet Jonah, the people and ruler of the city of Nineveh, which was a great city and capital of the Assyrian Empire, the mighty kingdom that conquered and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and subjugated much of the Middle East at its heyday, they came to believe in all that the prophet Jonah said before them, that God would punish them for their sinful ways, and they immediately showed great repentance.

And all of that happened without the prophet Jonah even performing any miracles or wonderful deeds at all. They realised their sinful ways and wickedness, and they simply came to believe in the prophet. This is despite the Assyrians, deemed as barbarians and pagans in the eyes of the Israelites, as they worshipped pagan idols and did not believe in God, and despite all of their wicked and heinous deeds, they believed in God when He came to punish them.

Yet, it is a great irony that the people of God, who were supposed to obey the Law and listen to the will of their Lord, were themselves the ones who refused to believe in Him, when He Himself came in person into this world, and not through the intermediary of a prophet as what was the case between the prophet Jonah and the people and city of Nineveh. And the Lord came with many signs and wonders before His people through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus Himself performed many miracles and wonders, healing many who were sick, feeding multitudes of people by multiplying loaves of bread and fishes, casting out demons and many more, but the people still failed to believe. He has done so many wonders and yet, the people who had seen them kept asking for more signs and miracles, and for the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they continued to doubt Him and refused to believe in Him.

Why is this so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because they hardened their hearts and refused to believe in God, no matter what amazing things and miracles He has performed before them. If the hearts and minds have refused to believe, then it does not matter how much the eyes, the ears, the noses and all the senses experience, we will end up not believing, just as what the people had done.

In this time and season of Lent, all of us go through this moment of exceeding grace when we are given the opportunity to reexamine our lives through the daily readings of the Scripture and by deepening our relationship with God. Are we all able to rend our stubborn minds and hearts that once refused to believe, and open the doors to our minds and hearts wide, to allow God to enter into them and speak His will inside us?

We are called to repentance and to a change in lifestyle, following the examples of the Assyrians living in Nineveh. God has called us all to repent, just as He has done through the prophet Jonah. Are we willing to humble ourselves as the people of Nineveh had done, or are we rather like the people of the time of Jesus, when He came into this world, and they rejected Him and refused to believe in Him because of their pride and their prejudices against Him?

Let us all follow the example of the great saint whose feast we celebrate on this day, namely St. Peter Damian, great and holy servant of God, as bishop and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, an important figure in the Church at that time, who was remembered for his great piety and devotion, leaving behind everything he had to serve the Lord, and many followed his examples to life faithfully in God’s ways.

St. Peter Damian helped to reform the whole Church at that time, and he zealously sought for the renewal of the Church against the excesses of sin and wickedness which dominated many of the people at the time, even those who were among the clergy and the priests, those who were holding high and influential positions in the Church and among the faithful. St. Peter Damian was determined to get the Church to overcome the problem, and through his works, eventually the Church was able to overcome the problem it faced.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the zeal and commitment of St. Peter Damian should be reminder for us that we should also have the same kind of faith and devotion in our own life. Let us all during this season of Lent reflect on what he has done, and how he has devoted himself throughout his life to serve the Lord, abandoning the temptations of worldly power and glory, and sought nothing else other than the greater glory of God.

May each and every one of us draw ever closer to the Lord, and may we find in Him the source of true joy and happiness, and that we may turn our hearts and our whole being to Him, no longer held back by sin and by our refusal to listen to Him and by our stubbornness. May we grow to love Him more and more, every day of our lives. May God bless us all. Amen.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Luke 11 : 29-32

At that time, as the crowd increased, Jesus spoke the following words : “People of the present time are troubled people. They ask for a sign, but no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah became a sign for the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be a sign for this generation.”

“The Queen of the South will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and here, there is greater than Solomon. The people of Nineveh will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for Jonah’s preaching made them turn from their sins, and here, there is greater than Jonah.”

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 12-13, 18-19

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

You take no pleasure in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not delight in it. O God, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart, You will not despise.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Jonah 3 : 1-10

The word of YHVH came to Jonah a second time : “Go to Nineveh, the great city, and announce to them the message I give you.”

In obedience to the word of YHVH, Jonah went to Nineveh. It was a very large city, and it took three days just to cross it. So Jonah walked a single day’s journey and began proclaiming, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.”

The people of the city believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Upon hearing the news, the king of Nineveh got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. He issued a proclamation throughout Nineveh :

“By the decree of the king and his nobles, no people or beasts, herd or flock, will taste anything; neither will they eat nor drink. But let people and beasts be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call aloud to God, turn from his evil ways and violence. Who knows? God may yet relent, turn from His fierce anger and spare us.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not carry out the destruction He had threatened upon them.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we mark the beginning of the forty days of the season of Lent. On this Ash Wednesday, as we celebrate it every year, blessed ashes are imposed on the foreheads or heads of the faithful, reminding them of the penitential nature of this season. The time of Lent is a time of preparation for us to prepare ourselves in our hearts, minds and our whole being for the upcoming celebration of the mysteries of the Holy Week and Easter.

Ash Wednesday mark the beginning of this wonderful season and time, a time to turn inwards into ourselves and reflect about our lives, our actions and deeds thus far, whether everything has been going on well and whether we are in good standing with God, or whether we have lapsed and fallen along the way, due to the temptations we face in life, and due to our inability to resist the allures of the devil who is constantly trying to undermine us and drag us into sin.

On this day, the ashes are imposed on our heads with the words uttered by the priest, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ These words remind each and every one of us that we are mortals and mere creation, and that we were created from dust and had the breath of life given to us by God, as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Without God we are nothing, and without His love and grace, our existence is empty and meaningless.

Yet, many of us have forgotten about God and His love for us, and instead, we were busy with our many concerns and pursuits in this world. We spent most of our time trying to earn ourselves more money, more prestige, more worldly goods, praise from others, more pleasure and other things that led to our further slide deeper and deeper into sin.

Many of us are also too proud to admit that we have been wrong and mistaken, sinful and unworthy. We think that nothing can go wrong in our own lives, and that we are in control of everything we do. We think that we are the masters of our own lives and everything have to go in accordance to what we desire it to be, and when things do not go according to our desire, we end up becoming angry, jealous and negative.

In the world we live in today, we are inundated and often overwhelmed from every possible sources with the subliminal and often hidden messages, which are the ways that the devil tempt us with, of the materialistic and hedonistic way of life many of us are familiar with. We are presented with a way of life centred on our very selves, on the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ at the main focus, and we are conditioned to be selfish, to put our needs and desires ahead of others.

But let us ask ourselves, what does gaining more power, more wealth, more glory in this world, more prestige and status and all the other things we often desire in our lives can do to us? Can all these things last forever? Can all of them withstand the test of time, fire and all other things that often cause us sorrow because they can destroy all these things we deem to be precious to us?

Can any of those things I mentioned extend our life in this world for even a single second, or even a small fraction of a second? No! None of these will come to any use when the time appointed by the Lord for each and every one of us come upon us, the time of our death. That is the fact and reality which all of us must understand and be aware of, that all man must die. Death is the only certainty in life, and nothing else is less certain than the time of death.

That is why beginning from this Ash Wednesday and throughout the season of Lent, we are all invited to take a break from our daily schedules, business and all the things that have preoccupied us all these while. Year after year, the season of Lent represent a time for us to prepare ourselves, in mind, heart and body, to be able to celebrate the most important mysteries and aspects of our faith with proper disposition and understanding.

We must realise that we are mere mortals, and we will one day die, and we have to face this fact. Many of us are in fact obsessed and desiring to find ways to prevent death, or at least postpone the onset of death. We spent many hours and much money trying to find ways to keep ourselves healthy and looking young, some even resorting to medicines and physical surgeries and modifications, in order to make ourselves look younger and healthier, but how do all these things benefit us?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as I have mentioned earlier, our existence and life has no meaning without God, for it is God Who gave us our life, the breath of life He has given to each one of us. And just as He has freely given this life to each one of us, He is also free to take back the life at the time of His choosing, and it is not for us to decide when we are to die. Today, we all receive the ashes on our foreheads as reminders for our mortality and our sins.

For sin has corrupted us all, as the disease that is slowly consuming us from within. Sin is caused by our disobedience and refusal to follow the Lord’s will, and instead, following our own desires and wants, we rebelled against God and sin entered into our hearts. And unless if we do something about our sinful and corrupted state, we will not be allowed to enter into the new life and the eternal glory which God has prepared for us, His people.

We must be purified and cleansed before we are considered worthy of the Lord, and in order to achieve this, we must be willing to repent and turn away from all the sins and wicked things we do in life. Some of us are afraid to do so, because we are afraid that God is angry with us and therefore we hide from Him, and pretend as if everything is going fine. But if we do so, we are only lying to ourselves, and just as He knew about the sins committed by Adam and Eve, who pretended at first not to know anything about what they had done, God Who knows everything also knows every single sins we have committed, from the smallest to the greatest.

God knows that we have sinned, and He is disgusted and angry at all the sins we have committed. But His great love for us is far greater than His anger and disgust at us, and instead of being angry, He is rather more worried about us, on what will happen to us should we continue to walk in our path of sin. He is always ready to give us another chance, to show us the way back to His embrace and to love us once again fully with all of His most loving heart. However, it is us mankind who have always been stubborn and rejected His attempts to reconcile us with Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, as we enter into this sacred and contemplative season of Lent, and as we receive the blessed ashes on our forehead, let us first and foremost recognise that we are sinners and we are in need of help. And there is no one else we can turn to besides the Lord Himself. He is ever ready to welcome us back and to love us back fully as He had done before, but are we willing to open ourselves to accept His free offering of love and forgiveness?

During this season of Lent, we practice fasting and abstinence, as ways for us to restrain our human desires and to open ourselves to contemplation and direct our thoughts towards the Lord. However, when we fast and abstain from certain pleasures in life, we must also keep in mind that we must do them with the right reason in mind, or else, as mentioned in the Gospel today, we will end up falling back into sin. Do not fast or abstain for the sake of being praised by others, but rather because we want to return to God’s loving embrace.

Let us all then renew our faith in God, and commit ourselves to a new life, turning away from all the past sins we have committed, discarding from ourselves, the anger, the jealousy, the greed, the worldly desires and all that have thus far been obstacles in our journey back towards the Lord. May this time of Lent be a turning point in our lives, that we may reorientate ourselves towards God, to He Who loves us and reconcile ourselves with Him. May God be with us always, throughout this journey of faith. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 6 : 1-6, 16-18

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be seen in the synagogues and in the streets, in order to be praised by the people. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.”

“If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father, Who sees what is kept secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.”

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father Who is with you in secret; and your Father Who sees what is kept secret will reward you. When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so that people can see they are fasting. I tell you this : they have already been paid in full.”

“When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearances or for people, but for your Father Who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, Who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.”

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 : Ash Wednesday (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

2 Corinthians 5 : 20 – 2 Corinthians 6 : 2

So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the Name of Christ, as if God Himself makes an appeal to you through us. Let God reconcile you; this we ask you in the Name of Christ. He had no sin, but God made Him bear our sin, so that in Him we might share the holiness of God.

Being God’s helpers we beg you : let it not be in vain that you received this grace of God. Scripture says : At the favourable time I listened to you, on the day of salvation I helped you. This is the favourable time, this is the day of salvation.