Monday, 31 July 2017 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard the story of how the Israelites rebelled against God in the first reading from the Book of Exodus, telling us about that time when the people of Israel chose to build for themselves a pagan idol, a golden calf to be worshipped as god instead of the One and only True God Who had brought them out from the land of Egypt.

They have rebelled against God and forgotten the love and mercy which He had shown them, when He brought them out of the land of their slavery. They suffered grievously in Egypt under the tyranny of the Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and God remembered them and the promise which He had made with Abraham and their forefathers. God sent ten great plagues upon Egypt which forced the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, and when he reneged on that and sent his chariots after the Israelites, God destroyed the entire armies of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

But despite the wonders that He had shown them, and despite the guidance and help which He had given them throughout their journey, the Israelites still chose to commit sin by raising up for themselves a pagan idol, a god that they established to be their god and saviour, as the one who brought them out of Egypt, just because Moses went up the Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to receive God's laws and commandments.

They thought that God had abandoned them, and therefore, they quickly lost faith in Him and turned to alternative sources of comfort and hope, that is in the pagan worship of the false gods and idols, one that they must have been exposed to during their time in Egypt. A golden calf is one among the many deities worshipped and held sacred by the Egyptians, and thus Israel sinned against God.

We may be wondering why did the Israelites do such a thing, that is to rebel against God and to disobey His commandments. But the answer to this is really the fact that the Israelites did not allow the Word of God and His truth to develop inside of them. They witnessed all the miraculous deeds of God and listened to His words and covenant, as delivered unto them through Moses, but they did not allow them to grow in them. Their faith was a superficial faith.

In the Gospel today, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the two parables related to each other, one in which Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven being likened to a mustard seed, which is a very small and insignificant seed, compared to other fruits which have much larger seeds. However, from that very small seed, when placed in a fertile soil and provided with the optimum condition for germination and growth, the mustard seed will grow into a large mustard plant, far larger than what we would normally expect for seed of such a small size.

Then, Jesus continued with the story of another parable, of when yeast is added into three measures of flour shaped into a dough, the yeast will cause the whole dough to rise from a flat and small piece of dough into a large, expansive and soft piece of bread. Yeasts are very small and microscopic in size, and yet under the right conditions, the yeast can cause marvellous works to happen, including the fermentation of grapes into wine, and as mentioned, the formation of the leavened bread.

Therefore, after hearing and discussing all of these, what then, is the message which all of us should take note from today's Scripture readings? There are two key messages which we should take heed of, first of all, it is that we must provide a good condition and environment in our lives, in order for our faith to grow and develop within us. As we see from the parables of Jesus, using the examples of mustard seed and yeasts, mustard seed cannot grow and germinate without sufficient water in the soil, oxygen and suitable temperature, and yeast similarly cannot carry out its function unless oxygen is present.

Similarly therefore, our faith cannot grow without us providing a good condition and environment in which that faith we have can flourish. Otherwise, our faith will continue to remain dormant and will be useless to us. Thus, we have to provide a conducive environment, through love and dedication of ourselves to our fellow men, and through our commitment to God. And it is important for us to develop ourselves spiritually, by having an active prayer life, in which we constantly pray from our hearts, seeking to communicate with God.

And then, the second message is that, it does not matter how small we think our faith may be, even when compared to others who are seemingly more faithful and more pious than us, just like the small mustard seed, as long as it is given the right condition for optimum growth, eventually the seed will blossom and become fruitful. Thus, we ourselves do not need to worry or be concerned that we have little faith, for in whatever little faith we may have, as long as we are genuine in that faith, we will find our way forward.

We should thus begin from ourselves and from those who we are interacting with, from our families and friends. We should live our faith actively and sincerely through our daily actions, by loving our brethren, and showing mercy to those who have hurt us. We should increase our charity and generosity to those who are in need, and be ready to provide ourselves out of love for them.

Perhaps, we all should be inspired by the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, or also known as the Jesuit order. The Jesuits are now the largest religious order in the Church, with enormous contributions in the field of evangelisation and charity works in the Church. But their origins traced to the humble beginnings under St. Ignatius of Loyola and his companions.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born a nobleman into an influential family in what is now Spain, destined to lead a life of privilege, wealth and fame, and he was thus brought up in that manner, seeking for worldly glory and fame, as he became a knight involved in conflicts and wars raging at that time. However, as he lay wounded in one occasion after a great battle, it came to him that whatever glory and fame he sought in the world, whatever valour and honour he sought through battle were meaningless and empty.

Thus St. Ignatius of Loyola chose to leave everything behind and devote himself to the works of the Church. He gathered fellow minded men who desired to spearhead the efforts of the Church in evangelisation and charity. As it happened, it turned out that the religious order that St. Ignatius of Loyola founded went on to become a very important player in the Church's effort of Counter-Reformation in resisting and fighting back the tide of heresy of Protestantism throughout Christendom, as well as in the evangelising works of St. Francis Xavier, another Jesuit and companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The examples shown by St. Ignatius of Loyola show us that even though we may think that our faith is small, weak or insignificant, but if we have the desire to grow in our faith, and take the concrete steps necessary, we will be able to cultivate the faith we have in us, and we can have truly great and far-ranging effect, as shown in how St. Ignatius of Loyola, once a young nobleman with worldly ambitions and lacking in faith, after he had devoted himself to God's cause, he began the good works which impacts are still felt even to this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all ask St. Ignatius of Loyola to intercede for us, that God may move our hearts which are filled with doubts and indecision, so that we may be more courageous and be more capable of taking concrete actions and steps to be ever more faithful and committed to our faith in God. May the Lord bless all of our good works, and may He give us the courage day after day to serve Him with all our might. Amen.

Monday, 31 July 2017 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 13 : 31-35

At that time, Jesus offered His disciples another parable : "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is smaller than all other seeds, but once it is fully grown, it is bigger than any garden plant; like a tree, the birds come and rest in its branches."

He told them another parable, "The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast than a woman took, and hid in three measures of flour, until the whole mass of dough began to rise." Jesus taught all these things to the crowds by means of parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. This fulfilled whag was spoken by the Prophet : 'I will speak in parables. I will proclaim things kept secret since the beginning of the world.'

Monday, 31 July 2017 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 105 : 19-20, 21-22, 23

They made a calf at Horeb and worshipped the molten image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of a bull that eats grass.

They forgot their Saviour God, Who had done great things in Egypt, wonderful works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Sea of Reeds.

So He spoke of destroying them, but Moses, His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him to shield them from destruction.

Monday, 31 July 2017 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Exodus 32 : 15-24, 30-34

Moses then returned and came down from the mountain carrying in his hands the two tablets of the Testimony, tablets written on both sides, back and front. These tablets were the work of God and the writing graven on the tablets was the writing of God.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people who were shouting he said to Moses, "There is a sound of war in the camp." But Moses answered, "It is not a victory song, nor the cry of defeat that I hear, but the sound of singing."

When he drew near to the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burst forth and he threw down the tablets he was holding, shattering them at the foot of the mountain. Then he seized the calf they had made and burnt it in the fire, grinding it into a powder that he scattered over the surface of the water, and this he made the Israelites drink.

Moses said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you that you brought such a great sin on them?" And Aaron said, "Do not let your anger be roused. You know these people and how evil they are. They said to me : 'Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.' I then said to them that whoever had gold was to give it over to me. I threw it in the fire and out came this calf!"

The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a very grave sin, but now I am going up to YHVH; perhaps I will obtain pardon for your sin." So Moses went towards YHVH and said, "Ah! These people have committed a very great sin; they made a god out of gold. And now please forgive their sin… if not, blot me out of the book You have written."

YHVH said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out from My book. Go now! Lead the people where I told you. My Angel will walk before you and on the day of punishment I will punish them for their sin."

Sunday, 30 July 2017 : Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scriptures which called us all to reflect on our lives, and one important question that all of us must ask ourselves, that is 'what is it that is most precious to us?' This is something that many of us ignored or refused to reflect on, but it is actually something that we need to do, so that we can know how we ought to proceed on with life from now on.

In the first reading today, all of us heard the prayer of King Solomon of Israel, son and successor of the famous King David. In his young age and inexperience, King Solomon prayed to God asking for a favour, that He might grant him wisdom, the wisdom to discern what is good from what is evil, the wisdom to make the right decision and judgment. He did not ask for wealth, power, influence or worldly fame; which are all the things that we normally would have desired.

He sought for a greater treasure, one that is far surpassing the treasures of this world. For there is no greater treasure in this world than the treasure of the wisdom and knowledge of God. There can be no greater gift than the gift of the love of God, for His love is eternal and to come to the presence of God is what all of us should be aiming for. His grace and inheritance is everlasting while the goods and glories of this world are fleeting and merely temporary.

This is what the Lord Jesus in our Gospel reading today told His disciples, and which we have heard as well. He spoke about the kingdom of heaven, using a parable, as a way to convey the message of His truth to the people, many of whom at the time were farmers, fishermen, merchants and shepherds. He spoke to them of the kingdom of God as represented by a very valuable treasure hidden in a field, as a pearl of great and exceptional value, and as a great and big fishing net spread out, catching numerous fish of all kinds and sizes.

Through those parables, God wanted to reveal to His people, what a great treasure that they had coming upon them, which He had given them through none other by the revelation of His love through Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus did not only come into this world in order to reveal the truth of God to mankind, but He also came to bring all mankind closer to God, to be their Saviour and Redeemer, liberating them from the chains of their sins.

If we reflect deeply on the history of man, and how we mankind ended up living in this world today, we will realise that how mankind had chosen what is lesser in value in terms of the treasures we seek, and threw away the greater treasure that we have once had in the Lord. Our ancestors were created by God and were destined for an eternity of happiness, enjoying the goodness and the fruits of the earth in Eden, in perfect harmony with God. We were intended to enjoy forever a life of true joy and bliss.

However, the devil, Satan, our great enemy, came to tempt us through persuasions, sweet talks and lies, by which he managed to turn the hearts of mankind away from God, beginning from the time of Adam and Eve, when they chose to submit to the temptations of Satan who offered them the knowledge over good and evil, by eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge.

Satan was using our humanity's natural curiosity and the desires in our hearts to trick and to tempt us into sin. We are curious to know more, and we desire to have more, and this is part of our humanity. And as Satan used this opportunity to strike at us, it is indeed important for all of us to look up into what each and every one of us value in life, and what we think of as our priorities in this life.

Many of us are often too preoccupied with our work, with our career and our businesses. Many of us work many hours, often at the expense of our relationships with our loved ones, with our families and friends, because we want to accumulate for ourselves more money, more possessions and wealth, as we want to live a more comfortable or even luxurious life. And it does not help us that we live in a world inundated with so many worldly temptations, and with so many commercial materialism.

We often judge and think of others based on their possessions and wealth, or based on their status or influence in the society. We labour hard, hours after hours seeking for more of these, wealth or fame, renown or praise from others. But we have to realise that whatever it is that we have received and gained, it is unlikely that we will be satisfied with whatever we have. It is our human weakness that we are easily tempted to want and to desire for even more of what we have gained.

It is the greed in our heart that cause us to desire for more, and never be satisfied by all the goods and the blessings that we have received. The saying is indeed true that power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts everything. The more it is that we have, in power, wealth and fame, the more that they may corrupt our minds and our hearts, and twist us into committing sin against God and mankind alike.

That is why many kings and rulers of the world, while some were good and just, but many others were wicked and tyrannical in their rule. They oppressed the people and their subjects, levying high taxes on them, and demanding unjust exactions and pressures on them, in order to advance their own interests, to make themselves be more wealthy and powerful, and gain greater esteem and influence among their fellow rulers and kings.

This applies to others as well, because even in little things, we often get into feud and rivalries, conflicts and troubles as we are incapable of letting go of our desires. When our desires and wants come into conflict with each other, we end up in dispute and even infighting among ourselves, and such were the reasons for wars and atrocities that happened in the history of this world. And we will never be happy or be satisfied, for as I mentioned, when we have more, we will want even more.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us ask ourselves, the same question that I have placed at the very beginning of this discourse, 'What is it that is most precious to us?' or if I rephrase it, 'what is our priority in life?'. Let us ask ourselves what it is that we live for, that whether it is to accrue for ourselves the wealth and treasures of this world? Remember, the Lord Himself said that if we gather up these treasures of the world, all would end up with nothing.

After all, it does not matter how much wealth we obtain, how great a fame and position that we have attained, how far in life we have gone, nothing of these we will carry with us to the life that is to come. We may have attained the wealth and capability to purchase and own the biggest houses, the most luxurious lifestyle and all, but in the end, when we face the Lord in judgment, none of this will be able to help us, less still if we commit vile and wicked deeds in order to attain and gain all those possessions we have.

What King Solomon had done, in asking God for true wisdom in his prayers is something that we all should also do, instead of asking for more power, more wealth, more affluence or fame. As King Solomon has resisted the temptation for all those worldly desires, all of us should do the same as well. Instead, let us all as Christians seek to become ever closer to God, and indeed pray for the wisdom to understand God's will, that He will show us the way forward in how we should live a life faithful to Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all not be swayed by the lies and the falsehoods spread by the devil, who is always constantly trying to lure us away from God and to trap us in his insidious traps. Let us strive to do what is right and just in life, turning away from sin and by dying to our pride and selfishness. Let us be humble in life, and instead of seeking personal enrichment and satisfaction, let us be focused on obeying the will of God and be righteous in all that we do. Seek not what can be destroyed by human means, but seek the eternal treasure found in God alone.

How do we do this, brothers and sisters? We begin from ourselves and from those who are around us. Through our little actions and deeds in life, by showing love, care and concern for others, and by sincerely sharing the love and the blessings we receive, especially with those who have little or none, with those who are suffering and those who have no one to love them, we have done what God wants us to do.

Spend our time to do what is beneficial to everyone rather than being too busy with ourselves, with our work or with our businesses. And the Lord Who knows all of our actions and deeds, will give us His everlasting treasure, the eternal glory of heaven. We shall not want again, and we shall be God's people forever. Amen.

Sunday, 30 July 2017 : Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 13 : 44-52

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field. The one who finds it, buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, in order to buy that field."

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a trader, who is looking for fine pearls. Once he has found a pearl of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it."

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a big fishing net, let down into the sea, in which every kind of fish has been caught. When the net is full, it is dragged ashore. Then they sit down and gather the good fish into buckets, but throw the bad away."

"That is how it will be at the end of time; the Angels will go out to separate the wicked from the just, and to throw the wicked into the blazing furnace, where they will weep and gnash their teeth."

Jesus asked, "Have you understood all these things?" "Yes," they answered. So He said to them, "Therefore, every teacher of the Law, who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven, is like a householder, who can produce from his store things both new and old."

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Matthew 13 : 44-46

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field. The one who finds it, buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, in order to buy that field."

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a trader, who is looking for fine pearls. Once he has found a pearl of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it."

Sunday, 30 July 2017 : Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Romans 8 : 28-30

We know that in everything, God works for the good of those who love Him, whom He has called, according to His plan. Those whom He knew beforehand, He has also predestined, to be like His Son, similar to Him, so, that, He may be the Firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

And so, those whom God predestined, He called; and those whom He called, He makes righteous; and to those whom He makes righteous, He will give His glory.