Friday, 24 July 2020 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the call of the Lord calling on us to return to Him and to be reconciled with Him, to be faithful and to give ourselves to Him with faith. In our Scripture passages, we heard of the Lord’s promise to His people through His prophet Jeremiah that He would redeem them and gather them in, to be reconciled with them and to be their God once again, and in our Gospel passage we also then heard the explanation on the parable of the sower by the Lord.

In our first reading today, as the prophet Jeremiah spoke of the Lord’s message and will to His people, we heard the Lord calling on His people showing clearly His intent on forgiving them and being reconciled with them, despite the sins that they had committed. He wanted to remind them of the love which He has always showed generously to them, and therefore, called them to return to Him and reject their sinful ways.

At that time, the people of Israel and Judah had veered so far away from the path of the Lord and fell into sin that they had lost the grace and guidance of God as they chose to follow false gods and pagan idols instead of entrusting themselves to the Lord. As a result, the enemies of the people of God had risen up and conquered them, humiliated them and defeated them, including the Assyrians who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and brought the people off into exile, and later on, the Babylonians would also conquered Judah and Jerusalem, and brought the people into exile as well.

Through the prophet Jeremiah God therefore spoke of how the sins of the people would lead them to destruction and suffering, and reminding them that they needed to resist the temptations to sin, and instead, embrace God’s generous mercy and desire to forgive all of them. And God promised that He would gather them back and return them to their land, and would bless them all once again, and He did all as He had promised, showing His faithfulness.

The Lord in our Gospel passage today explained the meaning of the parable of the sower to His disciples who asked Him about the meaning and purpose of that parable. And the Lord told them all how the seeds that fell in all sorts of different conditions and types of soil, all except those that fell on rich soil did not grow into healthy and fruitful plants. Those seeds that fell on the roadside were eaten up by the birds, symbolising those who had rejected the word of God and His truth, and as a result, the devil snatched the words of truth from them and brought them further and further away into the path of downfall through sin.

Those seeds that fell on the rocky ground were those who had superficial faith, as those people focused only on appearances, treating faith as a mere formality and as a result, they did not allow the faith and truth of God to grow strong, and they did not have genuine and strong love for God. As a result, they are also easily swayed and tempted to sin, and they had no strong foundation of faith and virtue.

Those that fell on the soil among thistles and brambles, thorns and weeds were those who encountered many challenges, temptations and difficulties in their faith life, and instead of enduring and persevering, they allowed themselves to be ‘choked’ with fear, being immobilised by their uncertainties and doubts, and as a result, they faltered and gave up the faith, and chose to turn to other sources of comfort and abandon God when trials and troubles come for them.

This is why all of us are reminded that we need to be like those seeds that fell on the rich soil and grow many fruits and provide bountiful returns, thirty-fold, sixty-fold and hundred-fold. We may be wondering what these phrases mean, and what it truly means for us to bear rich fruits of our faith. Here is when each one of us must realise that before a plant can produce such rich harvest and bountiful returns, it must first grow healthily from a single, small seed.

Unless we provide the seed the nutrition it needs, the right temperature and presence of sufficient amount of water for germination, sufficient sunlight and other efforts, including the removal of weeds and barriers to growth, the seeds will not be able to germinate well, and neither can they grow well into healthy, fruit-bearing plants. In the same way therefore, unless we prime ourselves, our lives and our actions in life to reflect a good condition for the growth of our faith, then our faith will remain dormant, meaningless and dead.

The Lord calls us all to follow Him and to listen to His words, to walk in His path once again and to be reconciled to Him. And if we do so, then in the end, we can be assured of a most fruitful and wonderful life. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is not going to be easy for us to walk this path, and we need to ensure that we nurture a life filled with faith and dedication, a life that is attuned to God and His will, a life that is prayerful and conducive for us to develop further in our relationship with God.

Perhaps then we can be further inspired by the examples of St. Sharbel Makhluf or St. Charbel Makhlouf, a renowned Maronite Christian saint, whose life was renowned for his great personal piety, his prayerful life and dedication to God, and also for the many miracles and wonders that occurred even after his death at his tomb. He was renowned for his piety since a young age, having been brought up in a pious family and eventually joined monkhood.

St. Sharbel Makhluf was remarkable in his life and commitment, leading a life of prayer and cultivating his faith daily, and through his efforts and prayer, many people were inspired by his examples and touched by the testimony of his faith. And then, even after his passing, numerous miracles were attributed to his tomb and incorrupt body, and many became believers after having witnessed such miracles themselves.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Sharbel Makhluf might have just been a simple monk, without worldly power and glory, without the abundance of material possessions and wealth, without earthly fame and influence, and yet, by his life and everything he has done in life, the magnitude of his impact on so many people cannot be understated and underestimated. And thus this is what each and every one of us are also called to do, that we also inspire one another in faith.

Let us not worry that we have no ability or little faith or little knowledge of our Christian faith. Rather, we must realise that it is by our small, little contributions and actions that we will inspire so many more people, by our little actions towards whoever it is that we encounter in life, and these people whom we have touched, they will then in turn influence even more people and that is exactly how we bear thirty-fold, sixty-fold and hundred-fold return in harvest.

May the Lord be with us as we journey together with Him in faith, and may He strengthen our faith and give us the courage and desire to love Him more and more, and let us all be more willing and driven to follow His path, being faithful at all times and be great inspiration to draw others closer to the Lord as well, just as St. Sharbel Makhluf had done. May God bless us always, in our every good deeds and endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 24 July 2020 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Matthew 13 : 18-23

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Now listen to the parable of the sower. When a person hears the message of the kingdom, but does not take it seriously, the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell along the footpath.”

“The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for the one who hears the word, and accepts it at once with joy. But such a person has no roots, and endures only for a while. No sooner is he harassed or persecuted because of the word, than he gives up.”

“The seed that fell among the thistles is the one who hears the word, but then, the worries of this life and the love of money choke the word; and it does not bear fruit. As for the seed that fell on good soil, it is the one who hears the word and understands it; this seed bears fruit and produces a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times more.”

Friday, 24 July 2020 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Jeremiah 31 : 10, 11-12ab, 13

Hear the word of YHVH, o nations, proclaim it on distant coastlands : He Who scattered Israel will gather them and guard them as a shepherd guard his flock.

For YHVH has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of his conqueror. They shall come shouting for joy, while ascending Zion; they will come streaming to YHVH’s blessings.

Maidens will make merry and dance, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness, I will give them comfort and joy for sorrow.

Friday, 24 July 2020 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Jeremiah 3 : 14-17

Come back, faithless people – it is YHVH Who speaks – for I am your Master. I will select one from a city and two from a family and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and prudence. And when you have increased and multiplied in the land in those days – it is YHVH Who speaks – people will no longer speak of the Ark of the Covenant of YHVH; it will not be remembered or missed, nor shall it be made again!

Then they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of YHVH’ and all the nations will gather there to honour the Name of YHVH; and no longer will they follow the stubbornness of their wicked hearts.

Thursday, 23 July 2020 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bridget of Sweden, Religious (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Religious)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we heard just how the Lord had loved us mankind so dearly and yet, He had to face rejection and stubbornness from His people, from those to whom He had tirelessly and constantly sent messengers one after another, servants and prophets to proclaim to them the love of God and His faithfulness.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah the words of the Lord’s sadness and anger at His people for their ingratitude and lack of faith, their constant disobedience and sinfulness, as they proved again and again to be rebellious and unwilling to embrace God’s love and His path, right up to the end of the kingdom in Judah, as how it was in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, who ministered to the people at the end of the southern kingdom just before its downfall.

God has ever shown His patience and kindness, His mercy and compassion through the generations, but the people abandoned Him, betrayed Him and left Him for the comfort and the false allures and pleasures of worldliness, putting their trust instead in the pagan idols and foreign gods like Baal, Ashtaroth among others. They had forgotten the wonders and the love that God had showed their ancestors, and allowed the devil to tempt them and sway them to the false paths.

Thus then it was also how the Lord Jesus as mentioned in our Gospel today stated that even till then, the people were still stubborn in refusing to believe in God, and held on to their flawed and sinful ways. This was when the Lord’s disciples asked Him on why He was often teaching them in parables and speaking in metaphorical terms especially when describing and explaining many of the concepts of the truth He had revealed.

And the Lord told them essentially how the people’s stubbornness and closed hearts and minds truly prevented them from being able to listen, appreciate and understand the love and the truth of God, blinding them to that truth and reason and made them to harden their stance against the Lord and His followers, as showed by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the chief priests and the Sadducees, many of whom often confronted and opposed the Lord in His works.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today through all of these each and every one of us are reminded of just how pride, ego, stubbornness, hubris and greed, all of these can be very great stumbling blocks and obstacles in our journey of faith towards God, His love and salvation. As all these prevented our ancestors from seeing reason and listening to the truth, and instead, leading many of them further down the path towards damnation.

Today, all of us are therefore reminded to turn away from this same path, and instead, embrace the path of renewal and forgiveness, the path of being loved by God and accept wholeheartedly the Lord’s compassionate mercy, and to grow ever more faithful in Him with each and every moments of our lives. And we should therefore look upon the good examples of our good and holy predecessors to help and guide us in our journey.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden, a great and renowned holy woman and servant of God, known as one of the Patron Saints of Europe remembered for her great piety and commitment to the Lord. And although she was born into one of the richest noble families and could count kings and nobles among her relatives, but she remained humble and committed to the Lord.

Throughout her life, St. Bridget of Sweden worked tirelessly to care for the poor and the sick, and also championed life of prayer and purity, establishing religious orders and congregations that inspired many people to follow her example and faith. By her dedication and commitment, St. Bridget inspired many to turn once again to God and abandon their past, sinful way of life, and this is something that all of us can also aspire towards.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able and willing to follow the good examples of St. Bridget of Sweden in our own lives? Are we willing to seek not for the pleasures of the world and for the glory of this human existence, but rather to grow ever stronger in faith, charity and hope, in our devotion towards God and in our virtues in life? Let us all discern these and think carefully of how we should proceed forward in life, especially in how we are going to act towards one another.

May the Lord, through the intercession of St. Bridget of Sweden and innumerable other holy saints, martyrs and holy servants of God, constantly bless us all and strengthen us, that each and every one of us may grow ever stronger in faith and in our commitment to follow Him and to serve Him with all of our strength. May the Lord be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.