Wednesday, 24 July 2013 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charbel Makhluf, Priest (Scripture Reflection)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the parable of the sower, the well-known parable in the Gospel Reading, and also the rebelliousness of Israel during their journey in the desert, in the First Reading today, complaining to the Lord that they had a much better and fulflling life in Egypt in slavery compared to their freedom in the desert.

The parable of the sower tells us that while the Word of God is truly available for all people to witness, to see, and to listen, but ultimately, it is how we as a person take in that Word of God and nurture it, that the Word of God, that is our faith, likened to the seed spread by the sower, can find good soil in our hearts and grow.

As all of you would have guessed, yes, the sower is none other than the Lord Himself, who gave His light to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, and from Him, the teachings came down upon us through His Apostles and their successors, our bishops and priests, who are also sowers and labourers in the fields of the Lord. We are the soil, the ground on which the seeds land on, and where the seeds will be able to grow, if the conditions are met and suitable, or perish if the conditions are unfavourable for the growth of the seeds.

The seeds that fall on the path, and then eaten by the birds are likened to those of us, whose faith and devotion to the Lord are weak, and therefore, the devil came and took away the seeds of faith from our hearts. He and his angels come like the birds, eating away the seeds of faith God has planted in us, because the seeds did not take root, and therefore, the faith easily became lost. This is what happened if we keep the Lord out of our hearts and the devil may therefore enter and occupy our hearts, corrupting us to do his purpose, that is sin and evil.

The seeds that fall on the rocky ground did not manage to grow long enough before they withered because of the scorching sun, their faith grew quickly like the seeds, because the soil is shallow, just as their faith is shallow, without deep roots to sustain their faith, and their growth. When difficulties and challenges of the world present themselves, with all the temptations of the world, those whose faith is likened to the seeds that fell on the rocky ground, will quickly lose their faith, just as the seeds’ plants withered.

This one particularly most closely represent the situation portrayed in the First Reading today, and the general attitude of the people of Israel during the duration of the Exodus from Egypt. The people of Israel were easily awed and made astonished by the display of the power of God, especially by the plagues and miracles made by Moses in the power of the Lord, against the Egyptians, and during the sojourn of Israel in the desert. Yet, just like the seeds on the rocky ground, which do not manage to have deep roots on the shallow soil, the faith of Israel was indeed shallow and weak.

They were terrified and amazed by miracles and shows of power of God, but their faith did not have strong roots, and when difficulties and trials came, with hunger and the suffering in the desert, they abandoned their faith in God and even tested God, whether He could help them and deliver them from the sufferings they faced. They became angry at the Lord and His servant, Moses, and they made complaints after complaints, even after the Lord had repeatedly made visible His power and authority to the people of Israel.

Their disobedience led to great sins, and the people worshipped pagan gods, beginning from the golden calf that the people had forced Aaron to make when Moses stayed with God on His mountain for forty days and forty nights. They did not give their trust and love for God, and instead believing more in their own power, the power of men. They did not love God but love His miracles. They did not love Him but love the food He provided them. This is a lesson for all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we did not become like them, to dwell in superficial things and the things of this world, satisfying our own desires, but lacking love for God. We have to love God as the first priority in our lives.

Then, let us also be wary of the worries of the world, because like the seeds that fell on thistles, the thistles grew around the plants and killed them. They are those of us who failed to keep up our faith, because they have been bombarded by countless worries and evils of the world, which brought much stress and worry to them, so that they have ended up forgetting the Lord their God. They have been blinded by their worry that they became blind to the Lord, and choked by those worries.

Those worries of the world, of what we are to eat today, of what we are to wear today, to our work or to party, or even what are we going to do today, and where are we going today, should not be our priorities in life. Indeed, that is because these worries will tend to divert our attention, which should be given to the Lord and doing good for the people of God, into thinking solely for our own sake, which breeds strong sense of selfishness. We must be selfless, brothers and sisters, and give ourselves in service to our brothers and sisters in need of love, in need of help.

We must strive to be like the seeds that fall on rich soil, on deep ground, well watered and filled with ample nutrition, that allows the plants to grow to great heights and remain healthy. The same too should happen to us and our faith and love to the Lord. We must nurture our faith at all times, as we journey through this life, and nurture it with good works, with a healthy prayer life, and devotion to the Lord and through the intercession of His saints. If we do so, we will grow stronger in our faith, and the love that is in us will blossom, and many will feel the love of God through us.

Today, we commemorate the feast day of St. Charbel Makhluf, a Maronite monk who passed away just over a century ago. He was a devout and very pious Maronite, who joined the religious order of monkhood, to dedicate himself fully to the Lord in prayer and love. Despite a relatively uneventful life, after his death, he became a source of many miracles, both through his intercessions and his uncorrupted body.

St. Charbel Makhluf is an example for all of us Christians, the children of God, to follow, so that we too can follow his example of holy life dedicated to God and the love that he expressed in his life through his actions, that we nurture the faith that is in us through strong devotion to God and constant prayers, so that we will always keep ourselves attuned to the will of God. That we may bear much fruits, hundredfold and manyfold of what has been planted, what has been given to all of us.

May God bless us, and may He strengthen us in our faith and our love, for Him and our fellow brethren, and inspired by the example and holiness of St. Charbel Makhluf, may we bear fruits, fruits of love and compassion, the blessed fruits of the Holy Spirit, for the good of everyone, and for our salvation. Amen.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Charbel Makhluf, Priest (First Reading)

Exodus 16 : 1-5, 9-15

The Israelites left Elim and the entire community reached the desert of Sin, between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after leaving Egypt. In the desert the whole community of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of YHVH in Egypt when we sat down to caldrons of meat and ate all the bread we wanted, whereas you have brought us to this desert to let the whole assembly die of starvation!”

YHVH then said to Moses, “Now I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to gather what is needed for that day. In this way I will test them to see if they will follow My teaching or not. On the sixth day when they prepare when they have brought in, they will find that there is twice as much as they gather each day.”

Then Moses directed Aaron to say to the whole community of Israel, “Draw near to YHVH for He has heard your complaints.” It happened that as Aaron was speaking to the full assembly of Israel, they turned towards the desert and saw the Glory of YHVH in the midst of the cloud.

Then YHVH spoke to Moses, “I have heard the complaints of Israel. Speak to them and say : ‘Between the two evenings you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have bread to your heart’s content; then you shall know that I am YHVH, your God!”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp. And in the morning, dew had fallen around the camp. When the dew lifted , there was on the surface of the desert a thin crust like hoarfrost. The people of Israel upon seeing it said to one another, “What is it?” for they did not know what it was. Moses told them, “It is the bread that YHVH has given you to eat.”

Tuesday, 9 July 2013 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Saints Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Psalm 16 : 1, 2-3, 6-7, 8b and 15

Hear a just cause, o Lord, listen to my complaint. Give heed to my prayer for there is no deceit on my lips.

Let my defense come forth from You; Your eyes see what is right. You have probed my heart, searched me at night, tested me by fire, and You have seen no wickedness in me.

Under the shadow of Your wings hide me. As for me, righteous in Your sight, I shall see Your face and, awakening, gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 : 8th Week of Ordinary Time (First Reading)

Sirach 35 : 1-15

Keeping the Law is worth many offerings. Being faithful to the commandments is like a peace offering. Returning kindness is an offering of fine flour; giving alms is a sacrifice of praise.

Renouncing sin pleases the Lord, and shunning injustice is a sacrifice of atonement. Do not appear before the Lord with empty hands. The commandment requires that you bring an offering.

When the offering of the righteous is burnt on the altar, the fat drips down and a fragrant aroma rises to the Most High. The sacrifice of the just man pleases God and will not be forgotten. Honour the Lord with a generous heart and do not be stingy with the first fruits of your harvest.

Offer your gifts with a smiling face and when you pay your tithes do it gladly. Give to the Most High as He has given to you; give generously to the Lord according to what you have; the Lord will repay, He will reward you sevenfold.

If you attempt to bribe Him with gifts He will not accept them; do not rely on offerings from dishonest gain. The Lord is judge and shows no partiality. He will not disadvantage the poor, He who hears the prayer of the oppressed.

He does not disdain the plea of the orphan, nor the complaint of the widow. When tears flow down her cheeks, is she not crying out against the one who caused her to weep?