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.

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

Liturgical Colour : Green

Psalm 85 : 5-6, 9-10, 15-16a

You are good and forgiving, o YHVH, caring for those who call on You. Listen, o YHVH, to my prayer, hear the voice of my pleading.

All the nations You have made will come; they will worship before You, o YHVH, and bring glory to Your Name. For You are great, and wonderful are Your deeds; You alone, are God.

But You, o YHVH God, are merciful, slow to anger, loving and faithful. Turn to me, take pity on me.

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

Liturgical Colour : Green

Wisdom 12 : 13, 16-19

For there is no other god besides You, One Who cares for everyone, who could ask You to justify Your judgments. Your strength is the source of Your justice and because You are the Lord of all, You can be merciful to everyone.

To those who doubt Your sovereign power You show Your strength and You confound the insolence of those who ignore it. But You, the Lord of strength, judge with prudence and govern us with great patience, because You are able to do anything at the time You want.

In this way You have taught Your people that a righteous person must love his human fellows; You have also given Your people cause for hope by prompting them to repent of their sin.

Saturday, 22 July 2017 : Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, a woman who was prominently featured and mentioned in the Holy Gospels, as one of the women who accompanied Jesus our Lord in His earthly ministry. It was told through the accounts of the Scriptures and by tradition, that St. Mary Magdalene was the woman from whom our Lord Jesus cast out seven demons, and who was also often associated with a former life as a prostitute and sinner.

In the story of St. Mary Magdalene, we saw the great story of conversion, from her former life filled with sin, wickedness and evil, into a new life filled with faith, devotion and commitment to God. As we can see and witness for ourselves, St. Mary Magdalene was henceforth after her conversion, a true disciple of the Lord, often accompanying Him on His journeys, and even walking alongside Mary, the Mother of our God, to the foot of the cross at Calvary.

She was also the one who witnessed the Lord's Resurrection firsthand, being the first one to whom Jesus our Lord revealed Himself after He had risen from the dead. St. Mary Magdalene therefore occupied a great position of honour among the saints and the disciples of the Lord, for her dedication to the Lord and for her faith. She is for us, an example and inspiration, of how all of us mankind, the people of God, can become, if we are truly changed by our interactions with the Lord.

All of us often forget this simple fact, as we reflect on the life and works of St. Mary Magdalene, that God wants from us conversion and change, a sincere repentance and turning back, away completely from our sins and from all of our past failures. We often thought that God is loving and merciful, and that He would forgive us all our sins. But is that the truth? No, God is indeed loving and merciful towards us, because He loves us, but He despises our sins, wickedness and disobedience.

He wants us to be wholly and thoroughly changed, by our conversion and change in attitude, as exemplified by St. Mary Magdalene in how God transformed her life. Jesus our Lord has also often mentioned to the sinners He had healed and encountered, to 'sin no more' and also to obey the Lord from then on. This is what many of us often overlooked, that in order for us to be thoroughly healed from our sins and to be reconciled with God perfectly, we must embark on the painful and difficult path of conversion, where effort is needed for us to remain true to the Lord in faith.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us spend some time to reflect on ourselves, on our lives and on how we have lived our lives thus far. Are we walking in the same path that St. Mary Magdalene had walked through? Or are we instead distancing ourselves further from God because of our sins and our refusal to turn away from those sins? It is time for us to realise that unless we do something with our lives, we are always at risk of falling into eternal damnation and the suffering prepared for the devil and all those who have been deemed unworthy by God.

God has given us many opportunities in order to redeem ourselves and find our way back to Him. He has shown Himself to St. Mary Magdalene first before all other of His disciples, in a very deeply symbolic meaning of the resurrection, which He shares with all of us who have decided to leave behind our life of sin and darkness behind, and embrace the new light of Christ, His love and mercy.

Through our baptism, we have been made to share in the death of Christ, as our old and past selves are forever cast away through water that destroyed our old lives filled with sin, and then the same water of baptism bring with it a new life, as life-giving water which God gives to us, sharing in the resurrection of our Lord as we receive this new life granted to us. St. Mary Magdalene had accepted her part, and we should also do the same as well.

We should find in ourselves the courage and the strength to do as St. Mary Magdalene had done, in her desire to love and to follow the Lord with all of her heart. We should be sincere and genuine in our faith, not just through mere words alone, but indeed through actions and deeds. We must seek out the Lord with all of our hearts and with all of our efforts.

Let us all draw therefore, closer to God and to His love. Let us embrace the loving sacrifice with which God had endeavoured to save us, through the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. And let us not forget, that there are many more people around us, who are also like Mary Magdalene before she was rescued by the Lord. Let us, through our faithful actions, bring the light of God and His salvation to them. May God bless us and remain with us always. Amen.