Monday, 24 July 2017 : 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 account of the liberation of Israel from the Book of Exodus, at the time when God brought His people to the Red Sea, pursued by the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, intent on reclaiming the Israelites who had once been their slaves. But God certainly did not want to see His people to be enslaved once again by the Pharaoh, and therefore, He showed forth His might, opening up the Red Sea before His people and destroyed the chariots and armies of Egypt in the middle of the sea.

That was the sign which God had shown His people, who trembled and complained at the seashore as they saw the chariots and armies of the Egyptians coming upon them. They still did not have faith in God, even though they had seen many times, how God sent ten great plagues against the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, while the people of Israel were safe from all those plagues and troubles.

God had showed His signs and wonders many, many times, and yet they still refused to completely place their trust in Him. They still trusted in their own human intellect, wisdom and power instead of trusting in the power of God's love and providence. The very same attitude was shown by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as we heard it ourselves in the Gospel passage today.

They demanded signs from Jesus, to show them and to make them believe that He was indeed the One, the Messiah promised by God. But those same people had been observing what Jesus had done, and they had even followed Him and encountered Him in many places, witnessing what He had done among the people, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and casting out demons from those who were possessed.

And despite having seen and witnessed all of these occurrences, which mankind, all their intellect and knowledge were incapable of explaining the rationale for those miracles performed by the Lord, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law refused to believe in Jesus, continuing to doubt Him and in harassing Him and His disciples, asking for more signs and miracles. In fact, they even accused the Lord of having cast out the demons and performing those miracles by the power of the princes of demons.

In all these, we can see how if mankind hardened his heart against God, no matter what they have witnessed and seen before them, all those miraculous experiences and wonders will not sway them to believe or stir them to have faith in God. The Pharaoh himself had seen how mighty God's power was and how great the terrors and sufferings which had been imposed on him and the Egyptian people, and yet, because he hardened his heart before God, he ultimately refused to back down and chased the Israelites right to the Red Sea.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were blinded by their pride, their trust in themselves and in their ways, believing that only their ways and methods were correct. That was why they were not able to bring themselves to believe in what Jesus had taught and preached. Despite all that they have seen, they still thought that it was impossible for them to be mistaken in their ways.

Now, brethren, let us now look into ourselves and find out how our lives have been thus far. Have we been truly faithful to God and place our trust in Him? Or have we been stubborn in our lives, refusing to listen to God? He has showed us all His love and kindness, through all of His works, and culminating in nothing less than His own crucifixion, the time when He died on the cross. That is the sign which He mentioned to the Pharisees, the sign of Jonah, and as He gave to us the ultimate gift of His love, He is calling us into a new life, blessed with faith.

Through His death on the cross, He became and example to all of us, showing us just how much God had done for our sake, for our liberation from our sins and wickedness. Instead of being stubborn and refusing to appreciate God's love, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done, we should embrace God's love, and allow Him to come into our hearts, in order to transform us completely, from beings of hatred and darkness, into beings of light and love.

Let us be humble before God and seek to serve Him through all the things we say, act and do. This is what all of us as Christians must do in our respective lives. And therefore, it is perhaps good that we should heed also the examples of St. Charbel Makhlouf or St. Sharbel Makhluf, a holy saint and servant of God whose feast day we celebrate on this very day.

St. Sharbel Makhluf was a Maronite Christian, who lived in a place now known as Syria in the present day. St. Sharbel Makhluf was inspired by the examples of some among his family who devoted themselves to the Lord as priests and religious, and he followed suit in his own devotion to the Lord. He entered the monastery and led a truly righteous and devout life.

He was renowned for his holiness and dedication to the Lord. He inspired many other people to follow in his footsteps and to persevere in their faith, even in the face of persecution and temptation to abandon their faith in God. And therefore, God made him an example to many people, not just during his lifetime, but even also after his death. Many miraculous deeds and amazing, unexplainable things happened at his tomb, and many miracles were attributed to St. Sharbel Makhluf, a holy servant of God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all from now on have no more reservations or doubts in our hearts, but give ourselves wholeheartedly to God, as St. Sharbel Makhluf had done. Just like him, if we give ourselves completely and trust the Lord fully with sincere devotion, then the Light of God Himself will shine through us, and we will rejoice because we have found our true joy, none other than God, Who provides us with everything we need.

May the Lord empower us all to live faithfully in accordance with His will. And may He help us to remain humble and to remain open to His love, and not to be filled with greed and pride, that we will not end up being stubborn and resisting God's love because of all the ego and the temptations which the devil is actively trying to place in our path towards the Lord. May God be with us all, and may St. Sharbel Makhluf intercede for our sake before Him. Amen.

Monday, 24 July 2017 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Matthew 12 : 38-42

At that time, some teachers of the Law and some Pharisees spoke up, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." Jesus answered them, "An evil and unfaithful people want a sign; but no sign will be given them except the sign of the prophet Jonah. In the same way, as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

"At the judgment, the people of Nineveh will rise with this generation, and condemn it; because they reformed their lives at the preaching of Jonah, and here, there is greater than Jonah. At the judgment, the Queen of the South will stand up and condemn you. She came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and here, there is greater than Solomon."

Monday, 24 July 2017 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Exodus 15 : 1bc-2, 3-4, 5-6

I will sing to YHVH, the Glorious One, horse and rider He has thrown into the sea. YHVH is my strength and my song, and He is my salvation.

He is my God and I will praise Him; the God of my father : I will extol Him. YHVH is a Warrior; YHVH is His Name. The chariots of Pharaoh and his army He has hurled into the sea; his chosen officers were drowned in the Red Sea.

The deep covers them; they went down like a stone. Your hand, o YHVH, glorious and powerful, Your right hand, o YHVH, shatters the enemy.

Monday, 24 July 2017 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Exodus 14 : 5-18

The king of Egypt was told that the people had fled; then Pharaoh and his ministers changed their minds with regard to the people. "What have we done," they said, "in allowing Israel to go and be free of our service?" Pharaoh prepared his chariot and took his army with him. There were six hundred of his best chariots; indeed he took all the Egyptian chariots, each one with his warriors.

YHVH had hardened the mind of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who set out in pursuit of the Israelites as they marched forth triumphantly. The Egyptians – all the chariots and horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army – gave chase and caught up with them when they had encamped by the sea near Pihahiroth, facing Baalzephon.

The Israelites saw the Egyptians marching after them : Pharaoh was drawing near. They were terrified and cried out to YHVH. Then they said to Moses, "Were there no tombs in Egypt? Why have you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not what we said when we were in Egypt : Let us work for the Egyptians. Far better serve Egypt than to die in the desert!"

Moses said to the people, "Have no fear! Stay where you are and see the work YHVH will do to save you today. The Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again! YHVH will fight for you and all you have to do is to keep still."

YHVH said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. You will raise your staff and stretch your hand over the sea and divide it to let the Israelites go dryfoot through the sea. I will so harden the minds of the Egyptians that they will follow you. And I will have glory at the expense of Pharaoh, his army, his chariots and horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am YHVH when I gain glory for Myself at the cost of Pharaoh and his army!"

Sunday, 23 July 2017 : Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, all of us heard the message of the Scriptures, telling us all to be righteous in all of our ways, heeding all that the Lord had taught us to do, by obeying the laws and rules of the Church, and by living a genuine life of faith, filled with love for God and with love for our fellow men. This is what all of us as Christians have been called to do, to be true disciples of our Lord in all of our words and deeds alike.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard how Jesus our Lord spoke to His disciples in parables, and then revealed to them the meaning of those parables. Through those parables, God through His Son, Jesus, wanted to reveal to us, the truth about Himself and how we all ought to strive to achieve our salvation through Him, that is by obeying Him and by walking righteously in His path. This is where we should indeed take heed of what we have heard from the Word of God in the Scriptures today, that we may know how we ought to go forward from now on.

First of all, we heard about the parable of the weeds, in which a sower sowed good seeds in a field, and hoped to see good plants and crops growing in due time, only to see weeds growing amongst the good crops because an enemy had come in the dark and sowed the seeds of the weeds amongst the crops. The enemy surely wanted the crops to fail, and the weeds were scattered among the crops in order to compete against the crops for nutrients, and for the whole crop to be less desirable as a whole.

This parable showed us the works of God amongst us mankind, for God Himself is the sower, who sowed good seeds, that is the seeds of faith in our hearts. The field itself is the world, encompassing all of us mankind, in whom God planted His goodness, His Spirit and presence in all. However, the enemy, that is the devil, is out there, actively trying to undermine the good works of God, by spreading the weeds among us, that is sin and the temptations to sin.

But did God in the parable of the sower immediately ordered all of the wheat crops to be thrown away with the weeds? No, He did not do so. He allowed the wheat to grow first, and mature into mature wheat crops with bountiful fruits, and the weeds also grew alongside them. That is because all of us mankind, who have been tainted by sin ever since our forefathers disobeyed God and His commandments, are still ultimately beloved by God, our Lord and Creator.

He wanted to give us all a second chance, the opportunity for us to redeem ourselves, and that was why, He allowed us to continue to grow and develop in this world, with all of our imperfections in us, all the good and evil within us. What we all need to take note of, is then, what the Lord Jesus then continued to tell His disciples, comparing His heavenly kingdom with the parable of the mustard seed and the rising bread.

The Lord mentioned that the kingdom of Heaven is like that of a mustard seed, very small compared to the other seeds and fruits of more noticeable trees and crops. However, that very small seed, when planted in a good soil, will grow into a large tree, larger than many other trees and scrubs, certainly much larger than what people would normally think such a small seed would grow into.

There are many symbolisms in this particular parable, as the mustard seed represents the faith in all of us. The faith might have begun as a small seed, which we ourselves often do not realise that we have with us. However, given the right conditions, when planted in a good soil, meaning that when we realise that gift of faith present in each one of us, and then doing what we can to cultivate that faith, through our actions in life, through the love which we show to God and to our fellow men, and through our justice and righteousness, we will allow the faith to grow in us.

And indeed, as in the other parable not mentioned in today's readings, the parable of the sower, the seed that fell onto the rich and good soil bear its fruits a thirtyfold, a sixtyfold and even a hundredfold and more! That means, if we are truly faithful to the Lord, and truly practice what we believe in our lives, we are allowing ourselves to grow in the sight of the Lord, like a growing stalk of wheat that is healthy and bountiful.

Otherwise, if we do not do what the Lord had told us to do, but instead preferring to follow the temptations of the devil, we are like those wheat crops that were outcompeted by the weeds and whose life is choked out of it by the wheat. That is the reality of sin, brothers and sisters in Christ. The devil is always trying to tempt us with sin, and indeed sin can often feel very pleasurable and enjoyable. It is easier to do what is considered as sin before God, rather than to obey the will of the Lord.

But if we do not make an active effort to resist the encroaching allures of sin, we will often end up falling into those temptations and commit sin before God, and in the end, as the sower and master of the field ordered his servants to collect all the weeds and burn them in the fire, He will also collect all the unworthy wheat, all those corrupted and destroyed by the weeds, and throw them into the fire, for they are useless and meaningless as a harvest.

We need to ask ourselves, and look deep into our lives, brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we doing what the Lord wants us to do? Or are we instead too busy with our wants and desires, with our busy daily schedules and preoccupations in life to take note of what it is that God really wants us to do with our lives? If we are not providing the best condition for God's good works to be realised in us, then how will our faith in God grow and develop?

Just like in the parable of the flour rising as a dough when yeast is added to the flour and mixed in it. All those who have baked before will know that yeast cannot cause the rising of the dough into a fluffy and soft, spongy bread without the proper condition. It requires a seal from outside air, since yeast will only cause fermentation of the flour and creating the fluffy texture of the bread in the absence of oxygen.

Similarly, if our lives are not devoid of all of its wickedness and all of the sins which we have committed, and if we do not make the conscious and active effort in order to turn ourselves away from those sins, how will we then grow closer and more devoted to God? We will only draw further and further away from Him, and when the time of judgment comes upon us, we shall end up on the wrong side of the judgment. Do we want to end up in the eternal torment prepared for the devil and all of his fellow fallen angels? Do we want to be counted among those rejected by God?

Now, indeed, it is the right time for us to do something with our lives. Many of us often like and prefer to delay and to put off doing what we can in fact do now, at this very moment, beginning from this minute. But, do we realise that our lives are at the mercy of God? Do we all realise that we may just meet the end of our lives at any moment that God wishes it? Should we wait until it is too late for us and then regret about it?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all begin from this moment on, in every little things we do in our respective lives, to be faithful to God in all of our ways. In this manner, slowly we are providing for ourselves a rich and fertile soil for the seeds of faith inside each one of us to germinate and to grow, providing rich fruits of the Spirit inside us. And the Lord, Who knows all that we are thinking and doing, will reward us in the end.

Let us all make it a habit to do what is good according to God's will, by loving our brethren, by showing mercy and forgiveness to those who have caused us hurt and suffering. Let us all show our faith by example, and not just by mere words alone. Let us all be ever more devoted and committed disciples of the Lord, so that in the end, all of us will share the eternal joy and glory of our Lord in His kingdom in Heaven. May God bless us all forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, 23 July 2017 : Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Matthew 13 : 24-43

At that time, Jesus told the people another parable, "The kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a man, who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep, his enemy came, and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, the weeds also appeared. Then, the servants of the owner came, and said to him, 'Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?'"

"He answered them, 'This is the work of an enemy.' They asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?' He told them, 'No, when you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat with them. Let them grow together, until harvest; and, at harvest time, I will say to the workers : Pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them; then gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Jesus offered them 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 that 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 what was spoken by the Prophet : I will speak in parables. I will proclaim things kept secret since the beginning of the world.

Then He sent the crowds away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." Jesus answered them, "The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed are the people of the kingdom; the weeds are those who follow the evil one. The enemy who sows the weeds is the devil; the harvest is the end of time, and the workers are the Angels."

"Just as the weeds are pulled up and burnt in the fire, so will it be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send His Angels, and they will weed out His kingdom all that is scandalous and all who do evil. And these will be thrown into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the just will shine, like the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. If you have ears, then hear."

Alternative reading (shorter version)

Matthew 13 : 24-30

At that time, Jesus told the people another parable, "The kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a man, who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep, his enemy came, and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, the weeds also appeared. Then, the servants of the owner came, and said to him, 'Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?'"

"He answered them, 'This is the work of an enemy.' They asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?' He told them, 'No, when you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat with them. Let them grow together, until harvest; and, at harvest time, I will say to the workers : Pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them; then gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Sunday, 23 July 2017 : Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Romans 8 : 26-27

Likewise, the Spirit helps is in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us, without words, as if with groans. And He, Who sees inner secrets, knows the desires of the Spirit, for He asks for the holy ones, what is pleasing to God.