Wednesday, 5 July 2017 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony Zaccaria, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the story of how Abraham sent away his son Ishmael, who was born from his slave Hagar. He was not allowed to share in the inheritance which God had promised for Isaac alone, the son of Abraham born of his wife, Sarah. Thus, he was sent away from the household of Abraham to wander on his own with Hagar his mother in the desert.

Yet, God did not abandon him and leave him behind without care. Indeed, God promised Hagar and Ishmael that from Ishmael would also come many peoples and many nations, for he was still a son of Abraham. God took care of him and his mother, and provided for them all that they needed. After all, he is also a son of man, one of those whom God had created, as all mankind were created through God’s love. He provided water and food for them that they might live.

Then in the Gospel passage today, we heard about how Jesus our Lord cast out the evil spirits and demons from the two men in Gadara. The two men who were possessed were so terrifying to others, that people feared to approach them and kept themselves away from them. That was why they were cast out in the desert, barred from coming close to the cities, shunned by the rest of the society for the evils that resided within them.

If we all think about this, is it not somewhat like what we heard in the first reading? Is it not like when Abraham cast out his son Ishmael? When the men possessed by the evil spirits came into that condition, they were thrown out of their society, and were forced to wander in the wilderness. They were rejected and their condition was hopeless, that is, until the Lord came to them and saved them from their distress.

Just as He had come to the help of Ishmael, the Lord came to help the two possessed men, by the mercy of His heart. He ordered the evil spirits to depart from the two men, and by such act, redeemed the two men and allowed them to reintegrate back into the society. In this manner, it is just the same as what He has done for the sake of all of us, all sinners and rebels before Him.

Why is that so? That is because, all of us have sinned before the Lord by our disobedience and inability to resist the temptations to sin, ever since the time our first ancestors first sinned against God. And those who have sinned before the Lord had become unworthy of the Lord and were cast out from His presence. Remember, brethren, that our ancestors, Adam and Eve, were banished out of the Gardens of Eden and were forced to endure the sufferings of this world.

However, God did not forget about us or abandoned us. He continued to love us regardless, even though He despised our sins and disobedience. Therefore, He promised us all the salvation which He had made evident and perfect through Jesus Christ our Lord, by His coming into this world, and by His act of the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. He gave us all a new hope, by bearing upon Himself our faults and shortcomings.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take this opportunity to reflect, whether we have purposefully ostracised our brethren in life, just because we think that we are better than them, more righteous than them, or more pious or faithful than them. Then we ended up consigning them to damnation and ridicule, just because that we thought that they had no hope.

Remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law also thought the same about the tax collectors and the prostitutes. Many of these sought the Lord to be forgiven from their sins, and Jesus Himself commented that they were going towards the kingdom of God far faster than the Pharisees themselves, for they were genuine in their repentance and desire to be forgiven and to be loved again by God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all remember that we are all sinners before God, no matter whether our sins are small or big, serious or trivial. And let us remember just how much God loves each and every one of us, and how much He desires to help us out of our predicament, just as He helped Ishmael and as He saved the two men by casting out the evil spirits that tormented them.

That is why all of us need to turn sincerely and wholeheartedly towards God. All of us ought to heed the words of the Lord Jesus, as He spoke to the woman caught in the act of adultery, whom the Pharisees and elders wanted to stone to death, but saved by the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus, Who spared her from death. He told her, “Sin no more.” This is what we all need to do, brethren, to sin no longer and henceforth be righteous in our ways.

Perhaps, all of us should be inspired by St. Anthony Zaccaria, the holy saint whose feast day we celebrate today. St. Anthony Zaccaria was remembered for his strong devotion to the Lord, through what we now know as the forty-hours devotion before the Blessed Sacrament, spending the time in fervent prayer before the Lord present in the Eucharist.

He was also credited with the practice of ringing the bell at the hour of the Lord’s death on the cross, at the third hour after noon time. Through all these, he helped to remind many people of the love which God had shown us, of which there is no greater love, according to the Lord Jesus Himself, than for one to die for another person’s sake. And that was precisely what the Lord had done for us, that by bearing all of our sins and iniquities, He suffered instead of us and bore our burdens, that all of us may live.

Shall we love the Lord just as He has loved us first? Shall we be thankful for all the kindness and graces we have received from Him? Let us show our gratitude to Him by sincerely devoting our whole lives to Him, that in all that we do, in all that we say, and in all of our interactions we will always bring glory to God and walk ever faithful and righteous in His ways. May the Lord, our loving God, be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

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