Monday, 18 November 2013 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of Basilica)

1 Maccabees 1 : 10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-64

From the kings who followed Alexander (the Great), from their descendants there came a godless offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus, who had been held as hostage in Rome. He became king in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the Greek era (175 B.C.).

It was then that some rebels emerged from Israel, who succeeded in winning over many people. They said, “Let us renew contact with the peoples around us for we had endured many misfortunes since we separated from them.”

This proposal was well-received and some eagerly went to the king. The king authorised them to adopt the customs of the pagan nations. With his permission, they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem in the pagan style. And as they wanted to be like the pagans in everything, they made artificial foreskins for themselves and abandoned the Holy Covenant, sinning as they pleased.

Antiochus issued a decree to his whole kingdom. All the peoples of his empire had to renounce their particular customs and become one people. All the pagan nations obeyed and respected the king’s decree, and even in Israel many accepted the imposed cult. They offered sacrifices to idols and no longer respected the Sabbath.

On the fifteenth day of the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five, Antiochus erected the “abominable idol of the invaders” on the altar of the Temple. Pagan altars were built throughout the whole land of Judea; incense was offered at the doors of their houses and in the squares. There wicked men tore up the books of the Law they found and burned them. They killed anyone they caught in possession of the book of the Covenant and who fulfilled the precepts of the Law, as the royal decree had ordered.

But in spite of all this, many Israelites still remained firm and determined not to eat unclean food. They preferred to die rather than to make themselves unclean with those foods prohibited by the Law, that violated the Holy Covenant. And Israel suffered a very great trial.

Alternate Reading (Mass for Dedication of the Basilicas)

 

Acts 28 : 11-16, 30-31

After three months, we boarded a ship that had spent the winter at the island. It belonged to an Alexandrian company and carried the figurehead of Castor and Pollux as insignia. We sailed for Syracuse, staying there for three days and, after circling the coast, we arrived at Rhegium.

On the following day, a south wind began to blow, and at the end of two days we arrived at Puteoli, where we found some of our brothers who invited us to stay with them for a week. And that was how we came to Rome.

There the brothers and sisters had been informed of our arrival and came out to meet us as far as the Appian Forum and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he gave thanks to God and took courage.

Upon our arrival in Rome, the captain turned the prisoners over to the military governor, but permitted Paul to lodge in a private house with the soldier who guarded him.

Paul stayed for two whole years in a house he himself rented, where he received without any hindrance all those who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught the truth about Jesus Christ, the Lord, quite openly and without any hindrance.

Saturday, 14 September 2013 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 77 : 1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

Give heed, o My people, to My teaching; listen to the words of My mouth! I will speak in parables. I will talk of old mysteries.

When He slew them, they repented and sought Him earnestly. They remembered that God was their Rock, the Most High, their Redeemer.

But they flattered Him with their mouths, they lied to Him with their tongues, while their hearts were unfaithful; they were untrue to His covenant.

Even then, in His compassion, He forgave their offenses and did not destroy them. Many a time He restrained His anger and did not fully stir up His wrath.

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, 23 July 2013 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Bridget of Sweden, Religious (Scripture Reflection)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God our Lord is also our Father, and He cares deeply for all of us without exception. He blesses us with many things good and makes sure that all of us have enough for our daily lives. He strengthens us when we are weak, and supports us when we are down. He protects us from harm and delivers us from the evil one. The Lord has shown His power on the day when He saved the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.

With His powerful breath and His hand, He split open the Red Sea before His people, allowing them to pass through the dry sea, towards their freedom, towards the Promised Land He promised to His people and their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He raised them up from their slavery to be His beloved people, with power and majesty, as wielded by the greatest of their kings, David and Solomon, whose kingdom passed to Jesus, the descendant of David and the Son of God, the Saviour.

Those who remain in His love and favour will indeed receive much love and grace from our Lord, and their lives will be blessed. No one will be able to harm them, and they will live long and prosper until the day that the Lord calls them again to His side. But to those who disobey His will, and to those who had brought up the anger of the Lord, they will be cast aside into the lake of fire and eternal suffering with Satan and his fallen angels, all the evils of the world, because they will be judged and found unworthy of the Lord and His perfection.

Yet, many of us today have forgotten what it actually means to be the children of God, the same God who had delivered the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians. We have forgotten what it means to serve the Lord, and we have turned away from His truth and His path, that we are in danger of veering off into the path towards damnation in hell.

Throughout history of salvation, the history of mankind and the history of the people of Israel, countless prophets sent by the Lord had been slaughtered and murdered by the people who preferred to continue living in the state of sin rather than repenting and returning to the Lord their God. They worshiped pagan gods and did things abominable in the eyes of God. The warnings and the prophecies of prophets they had ignored, until the Lord brought plague upon them as punishment and ultimately scattered them among the nations.

The people who had been brought away from Egypt and their slavery upon the eagle’s wings had hardened their hearts against the very One who had saved them. They rebelled constantly and continued to do things horrible in the eyes of God. They turned deaf ears to the heeding of the prophets and messengers of the Lord. And eventually, they too would turn their backs against the One that the Lord Himself had sent, that is Himself in human form, Jesus Christ, the very Messiah that the prophets had been proclaiming and the very One that the people of Israel had supposedly awaited for.

Yet He remained ever faithful to us, despite all our numerous and countless transgressions against Him, despite all the evils we have committed that is loathsome in His eyes. Such is His compassion and mercy, that He is willing to welcome us back despite our faults. But yet, we must not continue what the people had done all those while brothers and sisters, because, there is a limit to God’s patience, and He is also a jealous God and a God of justice, who will not let transgressions, when done without regard for the Lord, to go free easily.

Today, brethren, we also commemorate the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden, a pious and faithful religious who lived more than six hundred years ago, and she is one of the six patron saints of Europe. She established religious order now known as the Brigittines, and she received many visions on the Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and through these visions, the Church and the faithful had been indeed blessed with greater understanding of the Lord and His mission, that is to save all mankind from death and hell, just as He had once saved the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

To St. Bridget had been given the visions and knowledge of God, just as the Lord had given to the prophets of the past, so that we may also know Him and seek to return to Him, sinning no more and begin earnestly our path to salvation. Let us follow the Lord and His ways, and earnestly begin our path to salvation, by offering the Lord our repentance and our contrite hearts.

With inspiration of the examples made by St. Bridget and many other saints and holy men and women of God, let us go forth and proclaim Christ our Lord to all the nations, the Christ our Lord who died for our sake, as the Lamb of sacrifice, whose Blood saves all mankind from their fate that is death. Death no longer has any power over us who believe in Christ and His saving power, just as the Pharaoh no longer had any power over the Israelites after the Lord saved them from the land of Egypt. He smote Satan just as He had smitten the Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. How great is His love for us indeed! Amen.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflection)

Christ reminds us today that what justifies us is not the externals, or rather I would say, not just the externals, but even more important is the internal. If our soul is not clean, and we do not keep ourselves pure in heart and filled with the love of God, we will not be able to justify ourselves before God, even if we do all the rites correctly and follow all the traditions. Christ today is not about abolishing all traditions and rites, as arguably many who misunderstood and misinterpreted these words of the Lord as the abhorrence against all sorts of tradition, including the Apostolic Tradition of our own Holy Roman Catholic Church, would believe, and therefore would even attack the Church Christ has established, just because we keep the Tradition and follow closely the teachings passed down to us from the Apostles.

What Christ meant was that, we should not and indeed must not follow traditions blindly. Tradition is good, and indeed it is necessary, but to follow the tradition just because for the sake of following it or just because it is there is ultimately empty. What Christ wants is that we understand the Traditions, and follow the Tradition with the correct heart and alignment of our being towards God through these traditions. For these Traditions, unlike those of the extreme Laws made by the Jewish leaders at that time, should serve to make one closer to God, by the correct orientation of our hearts towards Him, through greater understanding of our faith, through the Tradition!

The Jews has a total of 613 laws that was crafted from the laws given by God to Moses in the Mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb. These laws govern many things in the Jewish community, from etiquette, marriage, and even to simple matters like the washing of hands and eating utensils as mentioned in today’s Gospel passage. However, strict adherence to these laws, including that of the Sabbath often mentioned, has made man actually subservient to these laws, being no more than just slaves to the Tradition these elders created from the laws of God given to Moses.

These laws, while they were good, they were there because of the rebellious nature of the people of Israel against God at that time. Remember that while Moses was up on the mountain, the people of Israel revolted and forced Aaron to build for them a golden calf for them to worship as their god. This and many other instances of disobedience has caused the Lord to be tough against the people of Israel, all out of His love for them, desiring their salvation, and did not wish them to falter again and fall into hell due to them worshipping pagan gods instead of the One, True God.

However, Christ had come, not to abolish all the laws and Tradition, but rather to perfect them. He was there to make the understanding of these Tradition and laws much clearer to us. For in Christ, the greatest thing is love, and nothing is greater than love, either one’s love for God, or one’s love for his or her brethren. It is in the love of God that we have to base our Tradition, and He was set to make all the rules and Laws truly pure again, that is to have these laws solely for the purpose of glorifying God and to make all of us closer to God, and not instead make us slaves to these laws and be suppressed by them.

For God, who had created the world, the entire universe, had created mankind, in His image, to be the greatest and the most beloved of all His creations. To us, He has given authority over all creation, and over the world. These laws are there, because as administrators of this world, we must be responsible administrators, and use the resources given to us wisely. Otherwise, being weak as we are, we would readily succumb to greed and wanting for more and more. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin at the Garden of Eden, mankind had been subject to the sin of greed and avarice, to desire more and more from what is given to them by God, even to the extent of causing suffering and death to their fellow men. This is what the Lord does not want from us, as He wants us to rule over creation, but rule responsibly and wisely.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, we who have received the Good News of the Lord, and who through the Apostolic Tradition and teachings passed down to us from the Apostles through our bishops and priests, should strive to follow and understand the Sacred Tradition and the faith that we have, utilising both in our race and journey towards the Lord. For faith without nurturing will not grow, and through the beauty of the Tradition, manifested in the Liturgy of the Church, we can grow deeper in faith, if we open ourselves to understanding more on the Liturgy and the Tradition we have.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to appreciate the Liturgy, to seek to fully understand every rites and parts of our Liturgy in the Mass and other celebrations, and to fully participate through our greater understanding, that whenever we attend the Mass, as frequently as we can do so, we will grow ever greater in our faith and love of the Lord, so much that not only that we are brought closer to the Lord who created us, and who loves us so much to send His Son, Jesus Christ to explain to us about the Traditions, and to shed more light to us so that we can understand our faith in Him better through these Sacred Traditions and rites; but also to be good and responsible stewards of this world and its resources, as given by God to be our right, but also to be our responsibility to take care of.

Let us therefore pray that all of us will be able to grow deeper in our understanding of the Liturgy of the Church, and through it the Sacred Tradition and teachings given to us through the Apostles, and finally to grow ever deeper in our love and passion for the Lord. May God always bless all of us, all the days of our life. Amen!