Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, July 16, 2017 — “But shall do my will achieving the end for which you were sent.”

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 103

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Art by Greg Olsen

Reading 1 IS 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm PS 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14

R. (Lk 8:8) The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.
R. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

Reading 2 ROM 8:18-23

Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.
All who come to him will have life forever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Gospel  MT 13:1-23

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. 
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Or MT 13:1-9

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

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From The Abbot in the Desert

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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Today we can ask ourselves:  how do I receive the Word of God?  Jesus gives us a parable and an explanation in today’s Gospel, which comes from Saint Matthew.  There are people who don’t understand the word of the kingdom and the evil comes and steals away what was sown in the heart.  We can hope we are not in that group, but we might be.  The second group are those who hear the word and receive it immediately with joy but when difficulties come, these people immediately fall away.  Hopefully we are not like that either.  There are people who hear the word but then anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.  We might be like that but we can hope not.  We want to be like the last person mentioned:  a person who hears the word and understands it and who bears fruit!

The reality is that probably we belong to each of those various groups at various times.  Jesus is not telling us a parable to condemn us but to invite us to change our ways of living so that we can be more consistently in that last group:  hearing and responding to the word and bearing fruit in our lives.

We heard in the first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, that God’s word will accomplish the end for which it was sent.  This sounds as if it is automatic.  Rather than automatic, this word of God will continue to work on us for our whole life, seeking to draw us to the Lord.  What lacks is our cooperation.  We should not be surprised by that.  Instead, we must do our part to cooperate with the word:  begin the spiritual combat which means to fight all within us that is against the word.  Our Christian life is a life of combat against ourselves and against all the cultural values which are not in accord with the word of God.

The second reading today is from the Letter to the Romans and tells us that actually all of creation is groaning with the desire to be transformed into the new creation.  We ourselves have the first fruits of the Spirit within us, yet often we do not respond.  So we also groan with all creation, hoping and praying for the complete adoption as children God and the redemption of our bodies.

This second reading is clear:  we are redeemed body and soul.  So often today we find those who think that only our soul might be saved.  No!  Our Creed and our longstanding believe is that we are saved body and soul.  Again we have the challenge of spiritual combat both with our “soul” as well as with our “body.”  Not all that we want or desire is in accord with the will of the Lord.  We have to struggle, as does all creation, in order to let God conform us to His will.

Let us give thanks to the Lord for His teachings to us this day.  Let us continue to prepare our lives so that we may receive God’s word and respond to it.  Amen.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

16 JULY, 2017, Sunday, 15th Week, Ordinary Time

THE GRACE OF GOD GUARANTEES THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY AND THE COSMOS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 55:10-11ROM 8:18-23MT 13:1-23   ]

When we look at this world and our own lives, we cannot but share the same sentiments with St Paul that “from the beginning till now the entire creation … has been groaning in one great act of giving birth … and we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.”  Indeed, when we look at this world, we cannot but experience the tension in this life.  On one hand, the outlook of the world appears to be so pessimistic.   On the other hand, again and again we are told that there is hope.

But then we are now faced with the scandal of the reality of the situation.  If the Word is truly effective, if Christ is truly our liberator and can restore us to the full “freedom and glory as the children of God”, then why is it that the world seems to be more or less the same?  Why is it that in spite of the fact that Christianity has been in the world for 2000 years, more than two thirds of the world do not believe in Him?  Why is it that in spite of our boasting of how the Good News has been at work in the world, there is still so much human atrocities committed in today’s supposedly civilized and graced world? 

These dilemmas which we are facing are not new.  Indeed, the gospel and the second reading reflect the same tensions the early Church experienced as well.  Today’s parable in the gospel expresses such a situation. The disciples must have experienced great difficulty and disappointment as to why their master, whom they regarded as the greatest teacher and prophet they had ever known, was not accepted by His own people.  On the contrary, He was accused of blasphemy and sorcery.  Very few had faith in Him and passed Him off as a mad teacher. During the time of the evangelist, the early Christians had to grapple with the rejection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets by their fellow Jews.  The early Church was persecuted because of the proclamation of the Word.  Many suffered persecution from the Jews and the Romans.  They too would have asked,  “Could Christ and his Church withstand the threats from the world?”  

So like them, we need to find not only hope and encouragement in our struggles with the apparent success and failure in our Christian living and evangelization, but we need to understand how the grace of God works in our world.  Precisely, to those of us who feel that the world seems to be getting worse, or feel hopeless that still many have not accepted Christ, or fall into despair that even for those many who did accept Christ, their lives have not changed and they are still living sinful lives, then the parable of the Seed and the Sower is addressed to us.  For in truth, this parable was originally told by Jesus to give encouragement to His faint-hearted disciples. It was necessary for Jesus to assure them that the power of evil and the enemies of the kingdom of God cannot overwhelm the power and grace of God at work in the world.  To perceive this truth, we must reflect on the operation of the mystery of grace in this world.

Firstly, we must concede that the power of evil is strong.  We cannot take the influence of evil in the world lightly.  Indeed, every farmer knows that in some parts of his farm, his hard work and efforts would be wasted.  He is realistic enough to realize that not every seed he plants would germinate and bear fruit.  He has to contend with the birds, the rocks, the thorns and all the natural climatic conditions like drought, floods, storms and even earthquakes and typhoons.  All these are his enemies.  If that is so for the farmer, so it is for us as Christians.

We must learn to accept the fact that there is sin and evil in the world.  We must accept with humility that much of our life and work would be wasted due to sin and ignorance and pride. Quite often, because of our sins, we hurt ourselves.  At times, others suffer as a consequence of our mistakes and stupidities.  So we must not be discouraged because people reject the gospel and the message of Christ.  Nor must we be surprised that good people are killed in the process of working for God and for the service of others because they are perceived as a nuisance to those in power.  Nor should we feel hopeless simply because our loved ones, especially our spouse or children, are living sinful and godless lives, rejecting all our attempts to bring them back to God.  When there is the presence of sin and scandals in the Church, like priests and bishops falling into temptation, then we know that evil is powerful and a potent force in the world.

Secondly, today’s scripture readings want to assure us that even though evil is powerful, it is not evil that reigns but God.  God is stronger than evil and He will not fail to rule over the whole of creation.  In the mystery of God’s plan, God allows evil to be present in the world.  But evil will not destroy His divine plan for humankind.  That creation would be set free is a foregone conclusion.  Yes, the success of God’s work is guaranteed and thus there is no reason to be downhearted or despondent in the face of evil.  What is our basis for this hope?

Again the parable of the Sower tells us that in spite of all the obstacles the farmer encounters, he reaped a rich harvest, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”  So the word of God as prophesied by Isaiah is effective.  Just as God assured the Babylonian exiles that His Word would be redemptive, so too we Christians are assured that God’s plan for the world will be realized no matter what the force of evil might be in the world.  So our liberation is near and certain.  So real is our liberation that St Paul urges us that our hope should be founded on the fact that “all of us who possess the first fruits of the Spirit” should “groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.”

In other words, when we look at our lives and our situation, we must admit that in the battle between evil and goodness, God will win.  We who have given ourselves to Jesus and His kingdom message totally will understand the power of His resurrection already working in our lives.  Those of us who have surrendered our lives to Jesus can testify the marvelous miracles He worked in us.  Indeed, although we have heard of so much evil in the world, we have heard even more testimonies of good news happening in the lives of people.  Again and again, we hear how God has worked miraculously in our lives; healing us physically, emotionally and spiritually; reconciling and uniting us in love and giving us hope and freedom.

Hence, it is clear that we must proclaim that His kingdom stands and grows forever.  Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead, our first-fruit, should give us the assurance that He now reigns forever over His Church and that the power of His Spirit will continue to guide the Church and us to His kingdom.  We can trust that God who has already done so much by raising Jesus from the dead will save us and finish the work of Christ in establishing the kingdom of God.  Thus, even if we feel that our work seems to be wasted; that our enemies would not listen to us; that others cannot grasp the truth which we share with them, that some continue to be beguiled by prosperity and overwhelmed by the cares of the world, discouraged by difficulties, our work will bear fruit.  Despite the ups and downs, all the hazards and losses, all the frustrations and failures, God’s rule advances and His harvest exceeds all expectations.  It is simply unimaginable.

The Good News of today’s liturgy is that when we accept these two truths of the temporal power of evil and the absolute power of grace, we are saved from despair.   For despair comes to us when we do not recognize the reality of the presence of evil and thus become surprised when it comes.  This happens quite often for those who are involved in the Church.  They become scandalized at the sins of church members.  They think that the Church is already a community of saints rather than that we are a community of sinners striving to become a community of saints.  We are a pilgrim Church and we are not yet canonized.  Sin permeates throughout humankind.  The truth is that such realities should not be surprising.  After all, even Jesus Himself had to suffer not only persecutions and misunderstandings, even from His own family members, but death as well.

Despair also results when we forget that God cannot be defeated.  But God has come to earth in Jesus and continues to rule over mankind in a new way in the Spirit since Pentecost.  He is in charge of the world and its destiny is within His control. In Jesus, especially in His victory over death, evil has not the last word, nor hatred, but love and grace.  For this reason we can say with St Paul, “what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us.”  So like the exiled Israelites in Babylonia, we can be confident that the Word of God will reap the harvest of life as He promised.  His power is even more certain than the natural cycles of life.

So as we look at ourselves, we have the same choice to make.  We can choose to fall into despair or surrender ourselves in faith to the awesome mysterious ways of God working in the world.  Yes, we can be pessimistic towards life by looking only at our sins and the sins of the world.  Surely we all have in our own ways wasted the opportunities of love, of life and of growth that God has given to us.   But a mature Christian is more realistic.  He is very much aware of his sinfulness and he acknowledges it.  Yet, he would not be tempted to despair.  He continues to hope in the grace of God and rely only on His love, trusting that God is merciful and His grace will triumph in the end.  Yes, a mature Christian has confidence that in spite of the presence of evil, God continues to be at work, slowly but surely, hidden at times but never absent in our lives and not just in creation.  So faith requires us to trust in His strength and in His love.

 

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

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