Sunday, 19 October 2014 : 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Mission Sunday and Memorial of St. John de Brebeuf and St. Isaac Jogues, Priests and Martyrs; and St. Paul of the Cross, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate together the love of God for us in the Eucharist through which He gave us all His own Body and Blood, so that we who share in them, we may receive salvation in our God, and be freed from the bondage of sin and death. And we are reminded of this fact in the readings from the Holy Scriptures which we read today.

In the first reading, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord revealed to Isaiah His servant, of the coming of salvation for the people of Israel, in the person of Cyrus, the King and Emperor of the Persian Empire, who would deliver the people of God the salvation which they would come to await for. For a background understanding, I will share with you the significance of this passage from the Book of Isaiah by telling you the historical background behind it.

At the time the revelation was made to the prophet Isaiah, it was at the time just as the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the conquering power of the Assyrian Empire. The people of the northern kingdom was unfaithful and were engrossed in wickedness and in the worship of the pagan gods. As such, they were handed over to the hands of their enemies and brought away as slaves and exiles from the lands promised and given to their ancestors.

Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Judah, the southern kingdom, the people of God there were also not always faithful. They also from time to time rebelled against the will of God, preferring to follow their own ways and disobeyed the Lord’s instructions. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judea, the consequences for these were not so apparent yet, but then soon they too would suffer the same fate as their northern brethren, the kingdom of Israel.

They too would be defeated, conquered and exiled, as well as into slavery by the rising power of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, under the famous king Nebuchadnezzar, who brought siege to Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, and brought it to ruin. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed and the Ark of the Covenant was lost in the chaos. This represented the end of the southern kingdom of Judah and the rule of the kings as a whole, and also marked the beginning of what would be called the Babylonian exile.

During this period of exile, the people of Judah were also uprooted and cast away from the land promised and given to their ancestors, and brought in chains to the foreign lands. There they suffered indignation and much humiliation, and they were made to work hard and experienced the bitter pills of difficulties of the world for a period of time, when, according to the word of God through the prophets, that they were humbled among the nations.

Yet, God did not leave them alone with that fate for long. He promised them deliverance, precisely through the prophet Isaiah, that the King of Persia, Cyrus the Great, who conquered many kingdoms in the known world at that time, would conquer Babylon and then liberated all the people of God from their bondage and slavery, allowing them to return home to their ancestral lands of Israel, freed at last from their bonds and exile.

God called Cyrus from among the nations, and gave him His blessings and grace, even though he did not know Him. Such was the Lord’s will and plan, and how He put all of His desires and will into effect. He never retracted His promises, nor is He ever being unfaithful. He fulfilled His promises through Cyrus, who just like Moses, brought the people of God out of suffering, bondage and slavery into freedom and God’s renewed promise and covenant.

But at the time of Jesus, the nation of the Jews have endured many cycles of persecutions, oppressions and enslavement by other, more powerful nations, and the latest to be added to the list at the time was the Roman Empire, which ruled over most of the known world, and was known for the first regular and organised ruling imperium in the world, with a meticulous system of taxation, both to maintain control and to obtain revenue for the Roman state.

However, the imposition of taxes also represented the symbol of Roman dominance and mastery over the world, and over the peoples of the Mediterranean at the time, including the Jews, who lived in the Roman province of Judea, which constituted roughly the old Promised Land which they had been given, together with the provinces of Galilee and Decapolis.

The imposition of the taxes were hated and disliked by the people, who viewed them as first the symbol of their submission to the Romans and their Emperor, the Caesar in Rome, as well as the symbol of their renewed enslavement and the end of their freedom which they had often fought hard for and gained for. It also burdened them economically, and thus they were resented by the people as a whole. This was also why the tax collectors were so hated by the people, and they were considered outcasts and traitors, as they were seen as serving the hated Romans in imposing their hated taxes.

The Roman taxes were paid with the Roman currency, that is the Roman coins, most commonly the silver variant, the denarius. On the denarius, just as all the other Roman coins, the face portrait of the Emperor were printed, such that to the extent of the Romans and the peoples of the Empire recognised their Emperor by the coins they released.

This represented a problem, and a rather serious one, in the view of the Jews, as the Roman Emperors at the time, beginning with the Emperor Augustus, and even his pre-Imperial predecessor, Julius Caesar, were deified and worshipped in the Empire as gods or descendants of the gods. Thus, for the Jews, particularly to the Pharisees, the act of paying the taxes with the Roman coins represent a potentially dangerous and serious sin.

Yes, that is the offering to the idols, as equated by the ‘offering’ of the Roman coins with the Emperor’s portrait to the Empire, and thus to the Emperor himself, the deified entity, the pagan god patron of the Empire. Thus, the Pharisees and the elders of Israel wanted to trap Jesus with the question, and had He answered that they should pay the taxes, then they could whip up the masses’ opinion against Jesus and accuse Him of collaboration with the Romans, essentially a traitor to the nation.

On the other hand, if He had answered that they should not pay the taxes, then the Pharisees and the elders, with their links to the Roman establishment could claim that Jesus wanted to lead the people in rebellion against the Roman rule, by refusing to pay the taxes due for them. But Jesus knew all that they had plotted against Him with, and He gave them the answer which none of them had predicted.

Give to God what belongs to God, and give to the Caesar, the Emperor of Rome, what belongs to him, namely the coins and the wealth of the world. Jesus wanted to remind us, just as He wanted to rebuke His opponents, that the wealth and the materials of this world belong to the world and ought to be returned back to them. Thus, money and possessions that we have and gained in this life, is no more than the means for us to live a good and sufficient life, enough for us to sustain ourselves, but they should not be the focus of our life.

Yes, for God is the Creator of all of us, the most beloved ones of all His creations. We were made by God with love, given life by His Spirit and intended for greatness and goodness, and despite our waywardness and disobedience, in the end, we still belong to God, and nothing and noone can deny this very fact. Hence, whatever we are and whoever we are, we ought to give it to the Lord, as we truly belong to God and not to this world.

And hence, we should avoid all the evils of this world and keep ourselves pure, and the Lord had already warned against these sinful ways, namely the sins of the Pharisees, who preached what they believed in, but they did not practice what they had preached. That is why they were called hypocrites, and rightly so, for their faith in the Lord was superficial, and all that they cared about was their own vanity and pride.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what God wants from us is our love, that is what we ought to give to Him, after He Himself had loved us all first. We should also keep ourselves away from the vices and evils of the Pharisees. Think not about bringing harm and plotting against others, but think rather of love, and how we can better love one another, as well as forgiving those who had sinned against us, as Jesus Himself had taught us.

And today in our world, as it had been in the past, there are still many people who live in the darkness of the world, following the ways of the Pharisees and have yet to see the love of the Lord and have yet to understand His ways. And thus, today, in which we also celebrate the occasion of the Mission Sunday, we have to remind ourselves of the responsibilities and the obligations which we have been given by the Lord when we became the member of His Church.

God desires not the destruction of mankind, just as He did not desire the condemnation of His people, Israel. This was why He sent them deliverers, beginning from Moses and then Cyrus, and finally Jesus Himself, His own Son, the One who would deliver not just the Jews but all mankind from the greatest of their bondage and slavery.

Yes, all of us who have sinned and under the whim of sin are enslaved and bonded to sin. And the chains of sin that bind us will eventually and inevitably lead to death, the punishment and ultimate consequence for sin. And not just any death, but eternal death, which will separate us from the love of God, the suffering of hell for eternity, where we are completely and entirely devoid of that love which God lavishes on us.

We can just begin to imagine the kind of suffering when we lack and are denied the wonderful love which God has for us. The pain and suffering far dwarfs the kind of physical and mental suffering which the people in exile and slavery had suffered. And this is exactly what God does not want to happen to us, and thus He also sent His people more deliverers, and who are they? They are none other than each one of us, who have been received into His Church, and have been endowed with the faith.

Let me share with you the inspiring lives of the saints who we also commemorate today, that is St. Jacques Chastan and St. Isaac Jogues, as well as St. Paul of the Cross. For the case of St. Jacques Chastan and St. Isaac Jogues, they were French martyrs, who were part of the French missionaries, the Mission Estrangeres de Paris, the M.E.P. priests who were specialised in the missions to the far ends of the world, spreading the word of God to those who have yet to hear the Good News of the Lord.

St. Jacques Chastan was sent to the missions in Asia, to Thailand, then called Siam, and to Macao, and finally to Korea, where he met his death with faith, in a holy martyrdom. Through his works there and with the collaboration of many other missionaries, many souls were called to the Lord, and heeding the call of conversion, they gave themselves to be baptised and to be part of the Church of God.

The Korean authorities were strongly opposed to the efforts of the missionaries, and they did everything they could to prevent the spread of the faith. Many people, including St. Jacques Chastan were martyred in the defense of their true faith, refusing to renounce the faith and salvation which they had received. After all, when one had been liberated and delivered from slavery, who would want to be enslaved again? To do so would condemn oneself to an eternity of suffering.

Meanwhile, St. Isaac Jogues was a French missionary who was sent to the wild and undiscovered regions of North America, then known as the New World. He worked for the Lord among the many tribes of the North American indigenous populations. Life was indeed difficult for him, and the wars and conflicts between the tribes made it even more difficult. Nevertheless, St. Isaac Jogues persevered and continued to minister to them, spreading the Good News and converting many of them, urging them to abandon their old ways and learn the ways of the Lord.

St. Isaac Jogues was also martyred for his faith, while he was on his mission. He never gave up until the end, and as a result, together with him, many people who were enslaved by sin and darkness, were made free and gain salvation together in God. Such was the role model which actions we can and that we indeed should follow in life.

Lastly, St. Paul of the Cross, the Italian priest of the early modern era who was particularly devoted to the memory of the Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the remembrance of that singular act of ultimate love of God, through which mankind were delivered from the chains and the tyranny of sin into true freedom. Through his works and devotion to the Holy Passion of our Lord, St. Paul of the Cross bring many of the faithful into greater and deeper understanding of their faith, and how all of us too have our own roles to play in helping one another to reach out to God’s salvation.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, heeding the call of the Lord which He had made through the Scriptures and the Gospels which we had heard today, let us all be renewed in our faith and zeal for the Lord. Let us all realise the great love which God has for all of us, that He does not want to see us remain chained to sin and darkness, and for that He had sent us Jesus, to be the One true Saviour of all, in the mould of Moses and Cyrus, but He did even greater things than these two had done.

Why so, brethren? That is because sin is a greater slavery than anything else that may affect our body. Sin enslaves both our body and soul, our heart and mind, and all that comprise us. And thus, through Christ, by believing in Him and in His love, and in His death on the cross, through which He showed us the act of ultimate love, offering Himself in exchange for us as a ransom for death, the consequence of our sins, we have been made free.

Hence, on this occasion of Mission Sunday, inspired by the examples of the saints whom we remember today, let us all also imitate the love which Christ had shown us, and let us imitate this love and show the same love in our own actions and deeds in life, that we may come to realise the great potential within us, and also in the many others who still live in darkness and sin.

May Almighty God bless us and our efforts, the missionary works which we ought to take on, in order to spread the Word of God and the Good News of the Gospels to all the nations, especially those still under the thrall of sin, so that we may truly be what Jesus had asked of us, to give to the Lord what belongs to Him, that is all of us, our hearts and our minds, our entire being. May God bring more and more souls to Him and rescue them, and free them from the shackles of sin and into the everlasting life in true joy which He had promised us all. God be with us, forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel : https://petercanisiusmichaeldavidkang.com/2014/10/17/sunday-19-october-2014-29th-sunday-of-ordinary-time-mission-sunday-and-memorial-of-st-john-de-brebeuf-and-st-isaac-jogues-priests-and-martyrs-and-st-paul-of-the-cross-priest-gospel-reading/

Second Reading : https://petercanisiusmichaeldavidkang.com/2014/10/17/sunday-19-october-2014-29th-sunday-of-ordinary-time-mission-sunday-and-memorial-of-st-john-de-brebeuf-and-st-isaac-jogues-priests-and-martyrs-and-st-paul-of-the-cross-priest-second-reading/

First Reading : https://petercanisiusmichaeldavidkang.com/2014/10/17/sunday-19-october-2014-29th-sunday-of-ordinary-time-mission-sunday-and-memorial-of-st-john-de-brebeuf-and-st-isaac-jogues-priests-and-martyrs-and-st-paul-of-the-cross-priest-first-reading/

2 thoughts on “Sunday, 19 October 2014 : 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Mission Sunday and Memorial of St. John de Brebeuf and St. Isaac Jogues, Priests and Martyrs; and St. Paul of the Cross, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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