Saturday, 24 July 2021 : 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, today as we listened to the words of the Lord speaking to us with regards to the matter of faith and believing in God, which is something that each and every one of us have to take seriously, and which we have to ponder and discern so that we know the path going forward in life as God’s faithful people, and not fall into the many traps or obstacles that threaten us in our way towards God and His salvation.

In our first reading today, we heard how the people of Israel made and renewed the ancient Covenant that their ancestors had established with God, as they all solemnly bound themselves to the Lord and committed themselves in that solemn Covenant, promising to obey the Lord and to follow His Law and Covenant wholeheartedly as they should. This happened not long after they had disobeyed and refused to believe in the Lord, making a golden calf idol to be a god over themselves, even though they had themselves seen and witnessed the wonders of the Lord, His love and might.

This is related to what we then heard from our Gospel passage today, with regards to the parable that the Lord had used to teach His disciples and the people, regarding the sowing of seeds of good wheat and the sabotage by an enemy who sowed the seeds of weeds that harm the wheat. This is used by the Lord often, in referring to farming and agriculture in His parables because many among the people were involved in that field and most of the people would have been familiar with the concepts that the Lord used to explain His ideas and teaching.

The enemy referred to the devil and all those seeking our ruin, while the sower and owner of the field is the Lord. We are the field on which the Lord had sown His good seeds, the seeds of faith, hope and love, the seeds of Christian charity, justice and righteousness. Yet, as we heard, at the same time, the devil and his forces also sowed the seeds of doubt, fear, infidelity and pride, the seeds of human greed and ambition, and the seeds of rebellion and selfishness, wickedness and evil. Through all these, the enemy wants us all to perish, by choking the good out from us, just as the weeds if left unchecked, would kill the wheat.

In agriculture and farming, the farmers always struggle to maintain the balance between the crops and the weeds, constantly making sure that the good plants thrive while the weeds are controlled, prevented from growing and thriving, and removed. Unless this is done meticulously and patiently, the wheat and all the good crops will perish or will not end up well. That is why, linking back to the first reading today, we are all reminded to put away from our hearts and minds, all the corruptions of our sins and evil ways, and turn wholeheartedly towards the Lord.

We ought to excise from our hearts, our minds, bodies and souls, from our whole beings, the weeds sown by the devil. We must be vigilant lest we fall into the many temptations we find all around us. We must be careful and do whatever we can to resist the lures of evil and seek the Lord with commitment and zeal. In order to do this, we ought to look at the Lord and His faithful servants, all of our holy predecessors whose lives had been worthy and good, in their obedience to God and in their pursuit of sanctity and righteousness in all things.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Sharbel Makhluf, also known as St. Charbel Makhlouf, a renowned holy man from Lebanon, a truly holy and pious servant of God, whose life and even stories of what happened after his passing still inspired many Christians to this very day. St. Charbel Makhlouf was a Maronite Christian who was drawn from an early age to a life of piety and faith in the Lord, responding to God’s call and became a monk, dedicating his whole life to the Lord. As a monk and later on a solitary hermit, St. Charbel Makhlouf led a life wholly dedicated to God.

Yet, wonderful things happened when he passed away and miracles began to happen at the saint’s tomb, which led to many people, even non-Christians who came to believe in the Lord through the many miraculous things that happened at St. Charbel’s tomb. His piety and faith also inspired many others to walk in his footsteps and follow in the way of how he had lived his faith. We too should be inspired by how this saint and holy predecessor of ours had lived his life, and we should follow his examples and commit ourselves to the Lord in the same manner.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore seek the Lord and commit ourselves to the Lord, to His Law and commandments, and walk in His path from now on wholeheartedly. Let us grow in faith, and remove from ourselves, from our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, from our whole beings any distractions and temptations that may tempt us away from the Lord and His salvation. May God bless us all, and guide us to the right path, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 24 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

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.'”

Saturday, 24 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Psalm 49 : 1-2, 5-6, 14-15

The God of gods, YHVH has spoken; He summons the earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting. God has shone from Zion, perfect in beauty.

Gather before Me, My faithful ones, who made a Covenant with Me by sacrifice. The heavens will proclaim His sentence, for God Himself is the Judge.

Yet, offer to God a sacrifice of thanks, and fulfil your vows to the Most High. Call on Me in time of calamity; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.

Saturday, 24 July 2021 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Exodus 24 : 3-8

Moses came and told the people all the words of YHVH and all His laws. The people replied with one voice : “Everything that YHVH has said, we shall do.”

Moses wrote down all the words of YHVH, then rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve raised stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. He then sent young men from among the sons of Israel to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice bullocks as peace offerings to YHVH.

And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins; and with the other half of the blood he sprinkled the altar. He then took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. They said, “All that YHVH said we shall do and obey.”

Moses then took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying, “Here is the blood of the Covenant that YHVH has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

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.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019 : 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 listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the moment when the Israelites rebelled against the Lord in the desert from the Book of Exodus, and then from the Gospel passage we heard from the Lord Himself speaking to His disciples on the parable of the sower.

In the first reading today, we listened to the anger and rebelliousness of the people of Israel who did not show gratitude to the Lord for having freed them from the slavery in the land of Egypt. They grumbled and complained against the Lord and Moses, His servant and their leader who had led them out of the land of Egypt, saying that they would rather be enslaved in Egypt and enjoy the bountiful food and drinks there rather than to suffer in freedom in the desert.

And yet, the Lord continued to provide for them patiently, promising them food and drink, providing them with nothing less than bread from heaven, and also flocks of birds to give them meat to eat daily, as well as crystal-clear, clean and sweet water to drink. And all of these God gave to His people Israel, for the entirety of the forty years during which all of them journeyed through the desert, where there was no life, nothing to eat and nothing to quench a person’s thirst with.

Sadly, that would not be the last time that the people disobeyed God and refused to listen to Him and to Moses. They would constantly grumble, rebel, disobey and work against the Lord, as the people continued to complain that life had been better in Egypt, or that the food and drink that the Lord provided to them were not as good as what they had expected or what they thought they had experienced in their former life in Egypt.

And let us all keep all of those in mind as we move on into our Gospel passage today, in which the Lord mentioned the famous parable of the sower to His disciples and to the people. In that parable, we heard of how the sower spread the seeds to several different places, and depending on where the seeds landed, they ended up and grew differently based on the conditions of the locations where they landed at.

Those seeds that fell on the rocky ground, or by the roadside, or those that fell among the thistles and brambles were those seeds that fell on unfavourable grounds that did not allow those seeds to grow properly, and therefore preventing the seeds from growing into a well developed plant that can bear rich and bountiful produce or fruits, unlike those seeds that fell on the rich and fertile soil.

And this is what had exactly happened to the Israelites as mentioned in our first reading today, as those people have received the ‘seeds’ of faith from God, having received the truth of God and His laws through Moses, and yet, they did not let the seeds of faith to grow deep in their hearts and minds. They were bogged down and distracted by the concerns of the world and by their desires for worldly pleasures.

That prevented them from being truly faithful to the Lord, and that was why they constantly rebelled against God, again and again. They did not provide the good and fertile soil for the seeds of faith to grow well in them, and as a result, they did not have a genuine faith for God. That was why they continued to slip and fall into sin, again and again. They did not allow God to enter into their hearts.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we going to be like them as well? God has also given us the same seeds of faith, and unless we do differently from what the Israelites had done, we will end up falling into the same trap of faithlessness and disobedience against God. And therefore, today, we should look up to the examples shown to us by one of our holy saints, whose feast we celebrate today, namely that of St. Sharbel Makhluf.

St. Sharbel Makhluf, also known as St. Charbel Makhlouf was a Maronite monk and priest, whose piety and commitment to the Lord was truly exemplary and legendary, as many people came to regard him as a paragon of virtue and faith, in how he dedicated himself completely to the Lord in prayer and through a holy life. He allowed the Lord to make use of his life as a wonderful display of what being true Christian means for all of us.

Many miracles and wonders happened after he passed away, and his body was found to be incorruptible and in excellent condition even decades after be passed away. This is the truly good example of how the Lord’s sown seeds of faith have grown wonderfully and bountifully in a fertile and rich soil, that is the rich and fertile soil of our hearts and minds that are fully attuned towards the Lord and are centred on Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore devote ourselves to serve the Lord from now on with all of our hearts, with all of our strength and courage, and with all of our abilities, and not allowing ourselves to be distracted and tempted by sin and the desires and greed within our hearts. May the Lord be our guide and may He empower us all to live faithfully from now on. Amen.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Matthew 13 : 1-9

At that time, that same day, Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. Many people gathered around Him. So He got into a boat, and sat down, while the crowds stood on the shore; and He spoke to them in parables about many things.

Jesus said, “The sower went out to sow; and, as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path; and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly, because the soil was not deep. But as soon as the sun rose, the plants were scorched; and they withered, because they had no roots.”

“Again, other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. Still, other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop : some a hundredfold, others sixty, and others thirty. If you have ears, then hear!”