Archive for July, 2017

US risks being seen as ‘kleptocracy’ under Trump: former ethics chief

July 31, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | Police officers outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is at risk of being viewed as a “kleptocracy” under President Donald Trump, the former head of the US government ethics office said in an interview published Monday.”His actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency, and the appearance here is everything,” Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), told the Guardian newspaper.

“The fact that we’re having to ask questions about whether he’s intentionally using the presidency for profit is bad enough, because the appearance itself undermines confidence in government,” Shaub said.

“It certainly risks people starting to refer to us as a kleptocracy,” he added. “America really should stand for more than that.”

Shaub, who stepped down from his post in July, said Trump did not appear to be violating any laws but the intermingling of his business and political interests presents problems.

“We can’t know whether his decisions are motivated by his policy aims or his financial interests,” he said.

Upon reaching the White House, Trump put his vast real estate, golf course and merchandising empire in a trust run by his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

But Trump, since taking office in January, has spent numerous weekends at his golf course properties and has also dined at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

?It’s wildly inappropriate for him to be running a hotel that he’s leasing from the federal government,” Shaub told the Guardian. “As a president, you shouldn’t be doing business with the United States government.

“He’s his own landlord at this point.”

Shaub said Trump should refrain from frequenting his own properties while he is in the White House.

“But he’s not willing to do that because he’s too busy running around giving free advertising to his properties,” he said.


Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, August 1, 2017 — Like us, Moses does not listen carefully to his God — In spite of the Lord‘s promise to send His angel to help

July 31, 2017

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 402

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Moses prostrated himself in awe and worship by Gebhard Fugel

Reading 1 EX 33:7-11; 34:5B-9, 28

The tent, which was called the meeting tent,
Moses used to pitch at some distance away, outside the camp.
Anyone who wished to consult the LORD
would go to this meeting tent outside the camp.
Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise
and stand at the entrance of their own tents,
watching Moses until he entered the tent.
As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down
and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent,
all the people would rise and worship
at the entrance of their own tents.
The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,
as one man speaks to another.
Moses would then return to the camp,
but his young assistant, Joshua, son of Nun,
would not move out of the tent.

Moses stood there with the LORD and proclaimed his name, “LORD.”
Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,
continuing his kindness for a thousand generations,
and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin;
yet not declaring the guilty guiltless,
but punishing children and grandchildren
to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness!”

Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O LORD,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people;
yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own.”

So Moses stayed there with the LORD for forty days and forty nights,
without eating any food or drinking any water,
and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant,
the ten commandments.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 103:6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13

R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
The LORD secures justice
and the rights of all the oppressed.
He has made known his ways to Moses,
and his deeds to the children of Israel.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.


R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower;
All who come to him will live for ever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 13:36-43

Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the Evil One,
and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”


Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore


01 AUGUST, 2017, Tuesday, 17th Week, Ordinary Time


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Ex 33:7-1134:5-928Ps 102:6-13Mt 13:36-43  ]

We have read how the people sinned against the Lord by breaking the foundational commandment which is not to worship others gods. Furthermore, the Lord commanded, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”  (Ex 20:3f) As a consequence, God decided to stop leading the people to the Promised Land.  He told Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you.”  (Ex 32:33f)  Again, the Lord reiterated, “Depart, go up hence, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites  ….  Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”   (Ex 33:1-3)

Without the Lord journeying with them, it would have been difficult for them to enter the Promised Land in spite of the Lord‘s promise to send His angel to help them.  Moses was insistent that God must be with them if he were to continue leading the people.  “If thy presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in thy sight, I and thy people? Is it not in thy going with us, so that we are distinct, I and thy people, from all other people that are upon the face of the earth?” (Ex 33:15f)   Moses undertook the task of leading the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land only because the Lord assured him earlier that He would be with him.  So if the Lord were to withdraw His presence, Moses would be totally defeated.

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It is true for us all.  The presence and support of those who appoint us for a task is very important if we are to carry out the work well.  That is why it is important that superiors give their moral support to their subordinates, and speak on their behalf or defend them in their actions.  This is not to say that we try to protect them from the consequences of their mistakes but we need to be supportive of them in good and bad times.  When they make mistakes, the superior must be ready to offer them encouragement and compassion.   If we have the moral presence of our superiors and our loved ones, we can always overcome the trials of life.   We can appreciate why Moses appealed to the Lord to reconsider His decision not to journey with them personally to the Promised Land.

The Lord relented.  He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex 33:14)  And so Moses asked the Lord, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.” (Ex 33:18)  And the Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”  However, there was a condition, “But, you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.  Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”  (Ex 33:18-23)   Indeed, no one can see the fullness of the glory and the majesty of God and live.  We are morally imperfect and the splendor of God would be too much for us to encounter.

So where can we locate His presence with us in our lives?  Precisely, in the effects of His work.  This is what it means when God told Moses that he could only see His back.  In other words, we can see God only where He passed by, like the shadow of a person that passes us.  God is known by what He does and how He acts.  We cannot understand fully who God is unless He reveals Himself.  So in Jesus, we see who God is, in the humanity of Jesus, not in His glory.  This is what the Lord told Philip.  “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.”  (Jn 14:9-11)  In Jesus, we see the fullness of the Father, but in a veiled form under the lowliness of the humanity of Christ.

He revealed his identity not so much by what He said to Moses but by what He was.  He proved His nature

by the way He dealt with the people of Israel.  He demonstrated His mercy by relenting through the intercession of Moses.  When the people sinned grievously against the Lord, it was Moses’ mediation that prevented God from destroying the people.  (Ex 32:10-14)  When God forgave them and allowed them to enter the Promised Land, He withdrew His personal presence and instead asked His angel to follow them.  Again, after Moses’ intercession, He relented and agreed to let His presence go with them to Canaan.

What, then, is the character and nature of God that He came to reveal to us?  When God revealed His glory to Moses, He said, “The Lord, the Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin, yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.”  The glory of God is seen in His nature.  By revealing to Moses His innermost nature, which is one of compassion and justice, God showed forth His glory.  This God unites within Himself, compassion and forgiveness with justice and truth.  This is what the responsorial psalm says,  “The Lord does deeds of justice, gives judgement for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses and his deeds to Israel’s sons.  The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry for ever.”

On one hand, God forgives us for all our sins.  On the other hand, He also punishes.  This is what the psalmist says, “He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. For as the heavens are high above the earth so strong is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins. As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear him.”  But God also punishes those who fail to repent and continue in their sins.  Indeed, even though God forgave them, He said, “’Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.’”  And the Lord sent a plague upon the people, because they made the calf which Aaron made.”  (Ex 32:34bf)  They had to suffer the consequences of their sins, if not, it would be the future generations.  This is what the Lord meant when He said that He would punish the children that comes after them.  The truth is that our sins do not just affect us but our descendants.  It does not mean that God would arbitrarily punish the generations following our sins.  But the inevitable truth is that children will suffer for the sins of their parents, as in a divorce, criminal offence, abuses, etc.   While these effects of our sins are obvious, the subtler effects are the values that we hand to them.

This same truth is illustrated in Christ’s teaching on the parable of the darnel.  Jesus explained the compassion and justice of God.  For Jesus, now is the time of grace.  Judgment and punishment will come at the end.  Now the Lord gives us the grace and the opportunity to do good, live a holy life and if we fail, He gives us time to repent.  This is the meaning of the parable.  God is always forgiving and He will not punish anyone who repents.  However, justice would have to be served in the end, for what we reap is what we sow.

Jesus is the incarnation of God’s grace, mercy and justice. St John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”  He added, “And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”  (Jn 1:16-18)

As Christians, we are fortunate to have seen the face of God.  We must act like Him, in mercy, compassion and with integrity and truth.  We are called to imitate Moses who found favour with God. God talked to him like a friend.  He was a loyal friend of God.  Like Moses, we must pray to God as a friend, in intimacy as Jesus did.  Only when we are able to share this intimacy with God as Moses did, can we then feel the pain, grief, love and mercy of God for His people.  When God grieved, Moses grieved.  When God suffered, Moses suffered.  This explains why he was enraged at the obstinacy of the people when he came down from the mountain to see them worshipping a false god.  Let us through a deep prayer life, follow Moses and enter into the heart of God and understand His ways, so that we too in union with Him would also act like God in our relationship with our neigbours, not judging them on earth but allowing God to be their judge.  Presumptuous judgement can destroy people, good or evil, rather than help them to come to know and love God.  Let God be our savior and our judge.  Let Him be with us in our journey, giving us the strength as He did for Moses who was given supernatural strength and supernatural food “as He stayed there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing.”

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore



Moses and God in Exodus 33 — A Reflection

“Moses said to YHWH, “Look, you were saying to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not made it known to me whom you will send with me; yet you have said, ‘I know you by name and also you have found favor in my eyes'” (Ex 33:12). What exactly is Moses saying here? First, you told me to bring the people up (out of Egypt?), and I have done that. Second, you promised me earlier (Ex 4) that you would send Aaron with me to speak to pharaoh. He did that, but now he has brought great evil on the people. So, whom do I get now to help me in the great task of bringing the people into the land of promise? Third, you have claimed to know me intimately, by name, and have made me your friend. Furthermore, I have found “favor” in your eyes just like my ancient ancestor, Noah (Gen 6:8).

Moses’ list of his accomplishments and God’s apparent approbation of them leads the lawgiver to make an extraordinary demand on his God. “If I have really found favor in your eyes, then let me know (or “show me”) your ways in order that I can know you and find favor in your eyes” (Ex 33:13). This is what Moses appears to want. If I am genuinely favored by you, if I am really like the fabled Noah, then reveal to me what it is you actually do. I mean, how you finally can be defined. That way I can know you, understand who you are, and then be convinced that I have in fact found favor with you. Moses appears to want nothing less than a peep at YHWH’s selfhood, God’s essence, perhaps even God’s being. And he adds, “Please note that this nation (goy) is in fact your people.” That addition seems to bolster Moses’ demands to know God more intimately; after all, if the people YHWH has called Moses to lead are actually YHWH’s people, and not Moses’, then Moses must know God deeply, truly, if he is to do the work that God has called him to do with precisely this people.

But YHWH appears to put Moses off a bit. “My face (presence) will go with you and I will give you rest” (Ex 33:14) (We note that the word “rest” is built from the root from which the name Noah comes.) YHWH does not show Moses God’s “ways” but promises instead God’s presence and rest (remember Ex 3:12 when God’s promise of presence with Moses at the bush is apparently not heard by the fearful man, anxious to escape the call to Egypt). And again here Moses does not hear God clearly. Moses responds to God’s promised presence, “If your face will not go, then do not carry us up from this place. How will it be known that I have really found favor in your eyes, I and your people, if you do not go with us? Only then will we, I and your people, be distinct (or “be extraordinary”) from all peoples on the face of the ground” (33:15-16). YHWH’s certain promise of presence is met with Moses’ fear that God will not go with them at all!

I can only imagine that the reluctant and recalcitrant Moses at the bush has reappeared here. He does not listen carefully to his God, and he demands absolute assurance of God’s presence before he takes one more step toward the land of promise. But once again the graceful YHWH reassures God’s choice. “YHWH said to Moses, ‘This thing which you have asked I will do, because you have found favor in my eyes and I do know you by name!'” (Ex 33:17). In effect, God says, do not miss what I have now said twice: you are favored and known by your God.

And Moses now demonstrates that he has listened at last by asking the most astonishing thing of God he could ever ask: “Reveal to me now your glory!” (Ex 33:18). More than God’s ways, God’s actions, Moses wants to look right into the heart of YHWH. But he has now gone too far.

“I will cause all my goodness (tov) to pass before your face, and I will announce before your face the name ‘YHWH;’ I will show favor to whomever I show favor and mercy on whomever I show mercy. But you are not able to see my face, for no human being shall see me and live!” (Ex 33:19-20). You may know my name, says God, as mysterious as that is, and you may know that I am free to act with favor and mercy with anyone I choose, including you, but my face, my glory, my essence, my person is forever hidden from any human being, even from you, Moses, my great friend.

And YHWH then directs Moses to a “place near me,” a rock where Moses will stand. YHWH then pointedly announces that YHWH’s “glory” will pass by Moses, but he will not see it, because YHWH’s hand will cover Moses’ face. Thus, Moses’s request to see YHWH’s glory is flatly denied. But after YHWH has passed fully by, God’s hand will be removed and “you shall see my back (acher), but my face will not be seen” (Ex 33:21-23). This notoriously ambiguous “back of God” has caused no end of speculation, some of it less than holy. Is it possible, some have asked, that God is mooning Moses, perhaps as a way to punish him for his cheeky requests to know more of YHWH than he can? Well, perhaps, but finally unlikely.

The power of the passage is in fact found in its ambiguity. Moses’ very specific requests to see God’s ways and God’s glory are rebuffed, and all he, and we, are allowed to see is God’s…whatever! Wake? Train? After? So it is with this God. YHWH is holy and other and fleet and is not to be seen so easily or readily or clearly. In the next chapter Moses and we will see God all right, but not quite in the way either of us had in mind.


Commentary on Matthew 13:35-43 From Living Space

Today we have an interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds or darnel. It begins by telling us that Jesus left the crowds and went to “the house”. This is the nameless place where Jesus is at home with his disciples. As we suggested earlier, it is the place for the ‘insiders’, those who are close to Jesus in the sense of following him and accepting his way and is a symbol of where communities of Christians gathered in the early Church. Here Jesus is alone with his own disciples, away from the crowd.

His disciples ask for an explanation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds. Likely enough, what follows is less the actual words of Jesus than a reflection of the early Christian community applying the parable to their own situation. The parable, which basically makes one point, is now turned into an allegory where each part has a symbolic meaning of its own.

The sower is Jesus himself;

the field is the world;

the good seed represents the subjects of the Kingdom;

the darnel, the subjects of the evil one;

the enemy who sowed the weeds, the devil;

the harvest is the end of the world;

the reapers are the angels.

Whereas in the original parable the emphasis seems to be more on the necessary and unavoidable coexistence of good and bad within the Christian community, the emphasis here is more on what will happen at the end: the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the good.

Let us pray that we may be found among the good seed of the Kingdom. We do that by opening ourselves fully to Jesus our King and Lord and following the way he asks us to follow.



Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
The Gospel today presents the explanation of Jesus, at the petition of the disciples, of the parable of the wheat grain and the darnel. Some experts think that this explanation, which Jesus gives to his disciples, is not Jesus’, but of the community. This is possible and probable, because a parable, because of its nature, requires the involvement and the participation of the persons in the discovery of the significance. Like the plant is already contained within the seed, in the same way, certainly, the explanation of the community is in the parable. And it is precisely this objective that Jesus wanted and wants to attain with the parable. The sense which we are discovering today in the parable which Jesus told two thousand years ago was already enclosed, contained, in the story that Jesus told, like the flower is already contained in its seed.
Matthew 13,36: The request of the disciples to Jesus: the explanation of the parable of the wheat grain and the darnel.
The disciples, in the house, speak and ask for an explanation of the parable of the wheat grain and the darnel. (Mt 13,24-30). It has been said many times that Jesus, in the house, continued to teach his disciples (Mk 7,17; 9,28.33; 10,10). At that time, there was no television and people spent together the long winter evenings to speak about the facts and events of life. On these occasions, Jesus completed the teaching and the formation of his disciples.
Matthew 13: 38-39: The meaning of each one of the elements of the parable. Jesus responds taking again each one of these elements of the parable and giving them significance: the field is the world; the good seed are the members of the Kingdom; the darnel is the members of the adversary (the evil one); the enemy is the devil; the harvest is the end of time, the reapers are the angels. And now reread the parable (Mt 13, 24-30) giving to each one of these six elements: field, good seed, darnel, enemy, harvest and reapers, the right significance. In this way the story assumes a completely new sense and it is possible to attain the objective that Jesus had in mind when he told people the parable of the darnel and the good seed. Some think that this parable should be understood as an allegory and not as a parable properly so called.
Matthew 13, 40-43: The application of the parable or of the allegory. With the information given by Jesus, you will understand better its application: Just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of failing and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the upright will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father”.
The destiny of the darnel is the furnace; the destiny of the grain is to shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father. Behind these two images there is the experience of the persons. After they have listened to Jesus and have accepted him in their life, everything has changed for them. This means that in Jesus what they expected has taken place: the fulfillment of the promises. Now life is divided into before and after having accepted Jesus in their life. The new life has begun with the splendour of the sun.
If they would have continued to live as before, they would be like the darnel in the furnace, life without meaning, which is good for nothing.
Parable and Allegory. There is the parable. There is the allegory. There is the mixture of both which is the more common form. Generally, everything in the parable is a call. In the Gospel of today, we have the example of an allegory. An allegory is a story which a person tells, but when she is telling it, she does not think about the elements of the story, but about the theme which has to be clarified. In reading an allegory it is not necessary first to look at the story as a whole, because in an allegory the story is not constructed around a central point which later serves as a comparison, but rather each element has its own independent function, starting from the sense which it receives. It is a question of discovering what each element of the two stories tries to tell us about the Kingdom, as the explanation which Jesus gave of the parable: field, good seed, darnel, enemy, harvest, reapers. Generally the parables are also allegories, a mixture of both.
Personal questions
In the field everything is mixed up: darnel and grain. In the field of my life, what thing prevails: darnel or grain?
Have you tried to speak with other persons to discover the sense of some parable?
Concluding Prayer
How blessed is he who has Jacob’s God to help him, his hope is in Yahweh his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. (Ps 146,5-6)
From Last Year:
Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
26 JULY 2016, Tuesday, 17th Week of Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  JER 14:17-22; MT 13:36-43 ]In the first reading, we read of the grief of Jeremiah over the destruction of his homeland by the Babylonian army.  In spite of his forewarnings, his compatriots did not believe in him. They continued to rebel against God and aligned themselves with foreigners.  Most of all, they were not faithful to the Covenant.  This national tragedy caused the inhabitants, including Jeremiah, to try to understand the significance of their sufferings. As the true prophet, it behooved Jeremiah to interpret for the people how their sufferings were God’s judgment on His people and also part of a larger plan that God had for Judah.

When we face crises in life, we, too, like Jeremiah, always begin by lamenting about our predicament. Such a time of mourning is always necessary.   However, it is more important that such events force us to look deeply into ourselves and search for God’s plan for us.  Through failures, mistakes and sufferings, we are driven to self-realization and wisdom.   Through the trials and challenges of life, we experience the growing pains of Christ’s kingdom inside us.  Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that God’s kingdom always comes in spectacular ways. More often than not, it works quietly like the seed and yeast.  Our frustrations, doubts and questions, sinning and repenting are all the growing pains of Christ coming to life in us. This is the message of today’s scripture readings.

There is a purpose for God permitting sin and evil to exist in this world.  The parable of the weeds and wheat is a clear reminder that goodness and evil co-exist in this world.  At any time, there is a hostile power that is at work seeking to destroy goodness. In this world, there will always be a tension between doing the right thing and the wrong thing.  The kingdom of God does not come without a struggle.  This battle takes place ordinarily in our daily struggles in our relationships and in the choices we make.  Often we feel rather frustrated because we are always torn between doing good and succumbing to evil. The temptation is for us to fall into legalism and see all things as neatly demarcated into evil and good.  The truth is that we do not want to live in tension.  This is what fundamentalists seek to do when it comes to difficult areas of doctrines, be they concerned with morals or faith.

The truth is that life is rather complex and decision-making is never easy.  The discernment process is even trickier.  This is what the parable of the weeds and wheat is meant to illustrate.  We must not seek the easy way out by bundling everything into good or evil.   Like the tares and the wheat, they look so alike.  In the early stages, the tares closely resemble the wheat that it is impossible to tell one from the other.  Only much later, when both have headed out, can they be distinguished.  Unfortunately, by then the roots of both would have been so inter-twined that it is impossible to remove the tares without also pulling up the wheat.

In our lives too, we must be careful of judging people too quickly when we do not have all the facts about the person.  Often we hear one or two remarks about the person, and we are ready to sum up the person.  Knowing just a part of the person does not give us the right to judge the whole person.   How often have we come across people who appear to be good and holy, only to find out later that they are living double and hypocritical lives?  And the reality is, how many of us can truly say that we always live lives of integrity?  The world is so quick to judge and is very unforgiving of people who make mistakes.   The world will pass judgement on those who have sinned or failed in their responsibilities, as if we ourselves are faultless.  All the good that the person has done are immediately forgotten.  We choose to pick that one fault and the person is condemned.  Indeed, we must be careful that we do not label or classify people too quickly without first examining all the facts. This explains why all judgment must be left to the Lord.  Only He can read the hearts of men when we can only see their external actions.  Only He can see our whole life from the day we were conceived in our mother’s womb till the day we die, whereas we can see only certain actions of our fellowmen.

Secondly, we too can ill afford to remove difficult people from our lives just because we find them irritable.  We also have to learn to live with the imperfections and sins that we have inherited or cultivated.  We are what we are today partly because of our upbringing, the culture we have inherited and our own personal choices.   As it is said, we are spiritual benefactors to each other.  The good can influence us to be like them.  The bad can purify our love and our motives.  The difficult people who are always finding fault with us could very well be agents of God’s purifying work to help us grow in love.  Consequently, we must accept the mystery of God’s grace at work in our lives.  Good or evil, we can be influenced either way.  It is how we want to respond to grace. So we must let both the strong and the weak, good and evil, healthy and sick co-exist. Through their interaction, the strong becomes stronger and the weak becomes strong.  The weak purifies the strong; and the strong strengthens the weak.

Consequently, it behooves us to recognize that we are in solidarity with others in sin.  Before we pass judgment on others, let us be conscious that none of us can say that he is without sin, for all of us have sinned, albeit differently.  So like Jeremiah, although he lamented at the ruins of Israel, he did not condemn his own countrymen for causing the downfall of all, especially the innocent.  On the contrary, he identified himself as a fellow sinner with the rest, imploring God for His forgiveness, mercy and compassion.  He prayed, “Lord, we do confess our wickedness and our father’s guilt: we have sinned against you.”

Of course, we must always be on guard lest we drag each other down the slippery path. Because as the gospel says, there will be a final judgment.  “Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time.  The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.  Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Listen, anyone who has ears!”

In the meantime, we must place all our hopes in Christ.  He will be victorious in the end.  He intends that the stones He puts in our way be stepping stones to heaven.  It is said that if God sends us stony paths, He also provides strong shoes.  So if God allows us to suffer disasters in life, it is to help us to appreciate who we are and what we have forgotten.  One of the greatest artists in history is Rembrandt, a 17th century Dutch painter. His wife died in the midst of his career and that caused him to fall into deep depression and sadness.  Upon coming out of his bereavement, he assumed his work with greater passion.  It seems that the mourning period for his wife was the turning point of his career.  As in all things, and as in the case of the Israelites, God allows tragedy in life to mould us according to His designs for us.  God wants to transform us into His image.  Leo Tolstoy once remarked, “It is by those who suffer that the world has been advanced.”

This faith in the triumph of goodness is possible because God is faithful to His name and His covenant.  That was how Jeremiah and the psalmist prayed.  “For your name’s sake do not reject us, do not dishonour the throne of your glory. Remember us; do not break your covenant with us.”  Jeremiah appealed to God’s power as the basis for this surety of God’s promise, “Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain? Can the heavens produce showers? No, it is you Lord our God, you are our hope, since it is you who do all this.”  So too we pray with the psalmist, “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.”


‘Declaration of WAR’ Qatar and Saudi Arabia in furious row over Hajj pilgrimage

July 31, 2017
SAUDI Arabia has labelled Qatar’s criticism of access restrictions during the Hajj pilgrimage as a “declaration of war” as the diplomatic row in the Middle East threatens to boil over.

PUBLISHED: 13:44, Mon, Jul 31, 2017 | UPDATED: 16:45, Mon, Jul 31, 2017

Qatar and Saudi Arabia tensions boil overGETTY

Qatar and Saudi Arabia tensions threaten to boil over

Qatar claims Saudi Arabia has politicised the Hajj following restrictions on Qatari nationals planning to travel to Mecca for the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

The claims come after Qatari citizens were told they could only enter Saudi Arabia through two airports, insisting that they must travel via Doha to be allowed in.

Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission has filed a complaint with the UN special rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over the restrictions, which it claims are in “stark violation of international laws and agreements that guarantee the right to worship”.

The NHRC said in a statement that it was “extremely concerned over [Saudi Arabia] politicising religious rituals and using [Hajj] to achieve political gains”.

“The Saudi authorities have allowed the Qatari pilgrims to enter Saudi Arabia through two airports via Qatar only, thus any Qatari citizen located outside Qatar must first return to Qatar then travel to Saudi Arabia.”

The restrictions come as part of a boycott launched on June 5 by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, with the group severing diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposing a blockade.

The four Arab nations collectively accuse Qatar of “funding terrorism” – allegations Qatar has strongly denied.

All four states have also cut air and sea links with Qatar, with Saudi Arabia closing the peninsula’s only land border.


Millions will descend on Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has also banned all Qatar Airways flights during the Hajj period, even for Hajj pilgrims.

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told Al-Arabiya on Sunday: “Qatar’s demands to internationalise the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom.

“We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalisation of the holy sites.”


Foreign Ministers from the four Arab nations – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE

The four Arab states have previously issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, which included curtailing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting down the Doha-based Al Jazeera channel, closing a Turkish military base and downgrading its relations with Gulf enemy Iran.

On Sunday, foreign ministers of the four countries said they were ready for dialogue with Qatar if it showed willingness to tackle their demands and “fight terrorism”.

Qatar foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told reporters: “The entire campaign represents a series of violations of international law.

“The state of Qatar is not going to spare any effort in order to overcome those violations and try to solve it through the right channels. The United Nations is the right platform to start from.”

However, UAE ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh insisted the measures taken by the neighbouring Arab nations were “entirely legal, justified and proportionate”.

As the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia takes responsibility for organising the annual Hajj, which is attended by almost three million pilgrims each year.

The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, which every able-bodied Muslim who is able to afford the journey is obliged to undertake at least once in their lifetime.

The Hajj is due to begin in early September.

Qatar Launches Wide-Ranging WTO Complaint Against Trade Boycott

July 31, 2017

GENEVA — Qatar filed a wide-ranging legal complaint at the World Trade Organization on Monday to challenge a trade boycott by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s WTO representative Ali Alwaleed al-Thani told Reuters.

By formally “requesting consultations” with the three countries, the first step in a trade dispute, Qatar triggered a 60 day deadline for them to settle the complaint or face litigation at the WTO and potential retaliatory trade sanctions.

Qatar is also raising the boycott at a meeting of the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization on Monday, al-Thani said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alison Williams)

Poland to keep logging in ancient forest despite EU order

July 31, 2017


© AFP/File | The ancient forest of Bialowieza straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus
BRUSSELS (AFP) – Poland will keep logging in the ancient forest of Bialowieza despite an order from the EU’s top court to halt the practice, the country’s environment minister said Monday.The Court of Justice of the European Union last week ordered Poland to suspend logging operations there pending a final judgment on its dispute with the European Union.

But Environment Minister Jan Szyszko told journalists that operations would continue and that they were preparing a response to the Court, to be sent by Friday.

Polish television station TVN24 showed footage of machines felling trees in the forest, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

And Greenpeace’s Polish spokesman told AFP: “The felling is continuing, even if it is at a lower intensity.”

On Saturday, a cameraman trying to establish if the felling operations were continuing was assaulted by employees of one of the logging companies, an incident that was condemned Monday by the authorities.

The European Union took Poland to the Court on July 13, arguing that the operations were destroying a forest that boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

The Polish government said it had authorised the logging, which began in May last year, to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires.

But scientists, ecologists and the European Union have protested and activists allege the logging is a cover for commercial cutting of protected old-growth forests.

The forest, which straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago.

The UNESCO committee overseeing the world heritage sites project has joined the EU in calling on Poland to halt the logging operations.

White House Signals a Military Draw-Down in Afghanistan

July 31, 2017

Unable to agree on a plan to help turn back Taliban advances, the White House is exploring its options

U.S. Marines prepare themselves before training with Afghan National Army soldiers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province earlier this month.
U.S. Marines prepare themselves before training with Afghan National Army soldiers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province earlier this month. PHOTO: OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s reservations about sending more troops to Afghanistan have triggered a new exploration of an option long considered unlikely: withdrawal.

Unable to agree on a plan to send up to 3,900 more American forces to help turn back Taliban advances in Afghanistan, the White House is taking a new look at what would happen if the U.S. decided to scale back its military presence instead, according to current and former Trump administration officials.

“It’s a macro question as to whether the U.S., this administration, and this president are committed to staying,” one senior administration official said. “It doesn’t work unless we are there for a long time, and if we don’t have the appetite to be there a long time, we should just leave. It’s an unanswered question.”

The exploration is an outgrowth of a deep divide at the White House, where the president and his top advisers are reluctant to send more American troops to Afghanistan without a clear strategy.

There appears to be support in the administration for a modest plan to send a few thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, to put more pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant sanctuaries, and to seek help from China, India and Pakistan in reaching regional peace deals. But there is no consensus, said people involved in the debate, making it unlikely that the U.S. would send more forces to help the Afghan government repel Taliban advances this summer.

Administration officials face a conundrum: They want to avoid setting deadlines for pulling out troops, but they are wary of embracing an open-ended commitment that could pull more U.S. forces back into a deadly, 16-year-old conflict.

With discussions bogged down, administration officials are taking a new look at pulling out most U.S. forces and focusing on a more limited counterterrorism strategy that might allow the U.S. to reduce its military presence by relying more on drone strikes and special forces to target extremists.

“It is becoming clearer and clearer to people that those are the options: go forward with something like the strategy we have developed, or withdraw,” said the senior administration official, referring to the modest plan.

But the idea is anathema to American military leaders who have argued that the U.S. needs to send more troops to halt Taliban gains on the battlefield.

“At best, that is a very low minority view,” one senior U.S. military official said of withdrawing U.S. troops. “It’s flawed because it doesn’t address the primary concerns of getting to a point where Afghanistan is able to secure itself.”

In many ways, the Trump administration finds itself wrestling with the same issues that dogged the previous president. Early in his first term, President Barack Obama approved a troop surge that raised the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to 100,000. At the time, Vice President Joe Biden argued for a limited U.S. military presence that would rely more on drone strikes and small numbers of special forces meant to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a planning hub for attacks against the U.S., as it was when al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden found sanctuary there to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Biden idea was rejected as the U.S. opted to keep advising and training Afghan forces. There now are more than 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where Afghan security forces are struggling to keep the Taliban from expanding their control.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has acknowledged that the U.S. is “not winning” and had predicted that the administration would have a new policy in place by mid-July. But a string of high-level meetings this month has yet to produce a consensus. Now, it isn’t clear when the administration will agree on a way forward.

The indecision has given more time for skeptics of a modest increase, like White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, to explore unconventional alternatives. One such proposal offered by former Blackwater founder Erik Prince would rely on contractors instead of U.S. troops to work with Afghan security forces.

Mr. Prince has briefed key administration officials at the White House, Mr. Mattis, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and various lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), according to people familiar with the meetings.

“I’m all for continuing to try to come to a conclusion that is something that will change the trajectory there,” said Mr. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, and the Taliban has gained significant territory in the interim.”

White House interest in Mr. Prince’s plan was piqued by his Wall Street Journal op-ed in May that called for creation of an American viceroy—an empowered leader like Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan after World War II—who would have expansive power to push reforms in Afghanistan.

Mr. Prince refined his ideas and created a more detailed proposal presented to Trump administration officials looking for alternatives to a troop increase.

Mr. Prince is pitching his idea as Mr. Trump’s new “Wollman Rink” moment, a reference to the president’s successful 1986 rehabilitation of a landmark Central Park ice-skating rink that was over-budget and years behind schedule.

The proposal, seen by The Wall Street Journal, outlines ways for the U.S. to quickly replace most U.S. troops with contractors who would help carry out airstrikes and work side by side with Afghan forces across the country.

“The goal is to provide a clear exit lane and provide a clear end to the longest war in U.S. history,” Mr. Prince said in an interview.

So far, Mr. Prince has yet to generate enough interest among key officials, who view his plan with skepticism. The ideas have been dismissed by military officials as impractical, according to administration officials. And Mr. Prince is a divisive figure. Four of his former Blackwater guards were convicted in U.S. federal court on murder or manslaughter charges over the 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians during a chaotic shooting in Baghdad. The incident triggered intense scrutiny of Mr. Prince and Blackwater, which lost its license to operate in Iraq after the incident. Mr. Prince sold the company in 2010.

Meanwhile, frustration with the slow process is building among U.S. officials who are awaiting word from the White House about a new strategy.

“I think there’s frustration on the ground in Afghanistan,” one U.S. official said.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at

Appeared in the July 31, 2017, print edition as ‘U.S. Weighs Afghan Drawdown.’

Pakistan Leadership Change Seen Boosting Military

July 31, 2017

Pakistan’s Armed forces could gain even more autonomy with Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister

Updated July 30, 2017 4:24 p.m. ET

ISLAMABAD—The removal of Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan’s prime minister by the courts and the takeover of the position by his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif could hand more power to the country’s military establishment, political experts said Sunday.

Shehbaz Sharif has a history of being less confrontational with the armed forces, experts say, and he is expected to focus his attention on delivering major electricity projects to help…


Iran’s Supreme Leader Calls For Hajj Pilgrims to Support Palestine

July 31, 2017
 JULY 31, 2017 01:13
The Iranian leader described Hajj rituals as the best opportunity for Muslims to speak up about the Aksa and Palestine issue, Iranian media reported.

IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The West needs to be careful not to let Iran gain from

IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The West needs to be careful not to let Iran gain from the crisis with Qatar. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on Muslims to take the opportunity of the Hajj rituals to take a united stance against “Israeli efforts to control the Aksa Mosque.”

The Iranian leader described Hajj rituals as the best opportunity for Muslims to speak up about the Aksa and Palestine issue, Iranian media reported.

“Where can the Islamic Ummah find a better venue than Hajj to comment on the Aksa Mosque?” he said addressing a group of Iranian organizers of Hajj on Sunday.

He further accused the US of meddling in the issues of Muslim countries and creating terrorist groups in the region.

A recent standoff between Israeli authorities and Palestinian worshipers occurred after Muslim gunmen killed two Israeli police officers near the compound on July 14.


Food access in Syria’s Raqa at ‘critical turning point’: NGOs

July 31, 2017


© AFP/File | Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces move through destroyed buildings in Raqa on July 28, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – Food access in Syria’s battle-torn Raqa is now at “a critical turning point,” aid organisations said Monday, with markets shuttered and residents depending fully on their dwindling stockpiles.

Raqa has been gripped by fierce fighting for nearly two months and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have ousted the Islamic State group from half of the northern city.

An assessment released Monday by REACH, a network of humanitarian organisations operating around Raqa, painted an increasingly dire picture.

“While in previous weeks residents were able to purchase some food at markets, the majority of key informants reported that residents are now relying entirely on food stored from previous weeks,” it said.

“Food markets, which were functioning sporadically three weeks ago, are generally no longer in operation.”

Bread was consistently found in 15 of Raqa’s 24 neighbourhoods several weeks ago. Now it is no longer regularly available anywhere in the city.

Food prices have also skyrocketed, forcing residents to eat smaller meals or skip them entirely, the report said.

Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), an activist collective publishing news from inside the city, has also warned of food problems.

“The bakeries are closed because there’s no fuel or flour, and the shopowners have fled. Whatever flour is here is spoiled and full of worms,” RBSS activist Husaam Eesa told AFP earlier this month.

“People can’t store things in the refrigerators because there’s no electricity. They can’t cook because there’s no water.”

The United Nations estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 people are still in Raqa, but REACH said the number could be as low as 10,000.

It estimated that the most densely populated district was Al-Hurriya in the north, with at most 5,000 residents, and that 14 out of the 24 neighbourhoods were abandoned or almost abandoned.

According to REACH, only one wing of Raqa’s state hospital is still functioning but offers just basic first aid.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) echoed those concerns on Monday, saying wounded civilians were often trapped in the city for days or weeks without medical care.

“In Raqa city, if you don’t die from airstrikes, you die by mortar fire; if not by mortars then by sniper shots; if not by snipers, then by an explosive device,” a 41-year-old with shrapnel wounds to his chest told MSF after he fled Raqa.

“And if you get to live, you are besieged by hunger and thirst, as there is no food, no water, no electricity.”

UK Broadcaster Defends Plan to Air Princess Diana Recordings

July 31, 2017

LONDON — A British broadcaster is defending its decision to broadcast recordings of Princess Diana candidly discussing her personal life, after some royal watchers called it a betrayal of the late princess’ privacy.

Channel 4 says the video tapes, made in the early 1990s, are an “important historical source.”

The channel said Monday that the recordings “provide a unique insight into the preparations Diana undertook to gain a public voice and tell her own personal story.”

The recordings of Diana talking to voice coach Peter Settelen include discussion of her failing marriage to Prince Charles and Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.

Rosa Monckton, a friend of Diana, said broadcasting the tapes was “a betrayal of her privacy and of the family’s privacy.”

Channel 4’s documentary is due to air Sunday.


BBC News

Princess Diana’s friends urge Channel 4 not to show ‘private’ tapes

Princess Diana in 1996
Channel 4 is due to broadcast the tapes almost 20 years after Princess Diana’s death. PA

Friends of Princess Diana have urged Channel 4 not to broadcast controversial video tapes of her talking about her troubled marriage.

The documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words, is due to be aired ahead of the 20th anniversary of her death.

The tapes, recorded by her speech coach, have never been seen in the UK.

Channel 4 said they “provide a unique insight” – but Diana’s close friend Rosa Monckton said they were a betrayal of the late princess’s privacy.

Mrs Monckton is writing to the broadcaster to ask them not to air the tapes. She told The Guardian: “This doesn’t belong in the public domain.

“It is a betrayal of her privacy and of the family’s privacy.”

Lawyer defends brokering the sale of private Princess Diana footage

The footage was recorded by Peter Settelen, who was hired by the Princess of Wales between 1992 and 1993 to help with her public speaking voice.

She was filmed at Kensington Palace and is seen talking about her marriage to the Prince of Wales, their sex life and how she confronted him about his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.

Obscene and immoral’

Former royal spokesman Dickie Arbiter told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that Channel 4 was “laughing all the way to the bank”.

He said: “These tapes were recorded in private as part of a training session. Anything done behind closed doors remains private.”

Royal biographer Penny Junor added: “I think it is quite obscene that they are showing this – and immoral, frankly.

“Diana, when she made them… the marriage had just come to an end, they had broken up – she was in a very bad way.”

The princess “never intended these tapes to be heard by any living soul”, she added, describing the broadcast as “exploitation”.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles
Diana’s troubled marriage to Prince Charles is discussed in the tapes. PA

The tapes were returned to Mr Settelen in 2004 after a dispute with Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, who said they belonged to him. They had initially been held by Scotland Yard after being seized in 2001 in a raid on the home of former royal butler Paul Burrell.

Excerpts were broadcast in the US later in 2004 after being sold to American broadcaster NBC.

The BBC was reportedly planning to show the tapes as part of a documentary in 2007, the year of the 10th anniversary of Diana’s death, but scrapped the project.

‘Unique portrait’

Marcus Rutherford, Mr Settelen’s lawyer, defended their broadcast.

He told BBC 5 live: “The claim to privacy actually fails because the police looked at them, the Spencer family looked at them, Paul Burrell look at them presumably and so what was private to Peter as much as to Diana was actually lost in the process.

“So I don’t think it’s right to say that now, 20 years later after her death, they remain private any more.”

He added that Diana was separating from her husband at the time and “wanted the world to know what she was going through”.

‘Amazing historical document’

Channel 4’s deputy chief creative officer Ralph Lee described the tapes as an “amazing historical document” that “allows us to create a new portrait of Diana”.

He told the BBC that “20 years is a significant amount of time for something like this to now come to light and be aired”.

A Channel 4 spokesman said the subjects covered in the tapes were “a matter of public record and provide a unique insight into the preparations Diana undertook to gain a public voice and tell her own personal story”.

Diana died in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997.