Thursday, 20 July 2017 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us heard about the calling of Moses by God, Who called him at the mountain of Horeb in Sinai, calling him to be His servant before Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, in order to free His people Israel from slavery and bondage. God told Moses what to say and do before Pharaoh, and before the people of Israel, that He would deliver them from the slavery in Egypt and bringing them into the land of their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.

In the Gospel today, then we heard about the Lord Jesus speaking the well-known words, ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.’ And then He continued with, ‘Take My yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ These words of encouragement are reminders of the time when the people of Israel were enslaved under heavy burdens, the yoke of their slavery.

A yoke is the object placed on top of bulls and buffaloes, or horses and other beasts of burden in order to be the piece that holds up the burdens which are to be carried by those animals. The yoke is placed such that the animals would not be able to easily get rid of it, and it is indeed a heavy burden placed on the back of the animal. It is therefore a symbol of enslavement and burden, which had been placed on God’s people.

God wants to remove the heavy burden from His people, just as He had removed the burden of their slavery in Egypt, where the people of Israel was crushed and persecuted under the Pharaohs who forced them into slave labour, building up his cities and monuments under the worst of conditions. They were tortured and treated badly, their rights were ignored and the Pharaohs even wanted to exterminate Israel as a people, ordering the male Hebrew newborns to be thrown into the Nile River.

God rescued His people, by sending Moses to deliver the people from the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and through Moses God sent ten great plagues that heavily crushed the Egyptians and forced the Pharaoh to relent and let the Israelites go free from slavery. And when the Pharaoh reneged on his words and chased after the Israelites, God destroyed the chariots and the armies of Egypt in the middle of the Red Sea while His people walked through the sea unharmed.

But what most people would have missed out is the fact that when God brought His people to freedom, He was not bringing them to an unbridled freedom or a life where they could just do whatever it was they wanted. No, in fact, this is what Jesus our Lord mentioned in the Gospel, when He said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. This means that the people of God were given a new burden, and this burden was for them to be obedient to God and follow all of His ways.

This happened as God established a new Covenant with His people, renewing the one which He had made with Abraham their forefathers. And through that Covenant, God gave His people a set of ten commandments and laws, which He relayed to them through Moses. The people were obliged to obey those laws and commandments, and when they refused to do so, and as they disobeyed the Lord, they perished in the desert.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a reminder to all of us that in order for us to walk faithfully upon God’s path, it will not be a painless or easy process for us. There will be challenges and difficulties, all the things that will be obstacles in our way to the Lord. There will be times when we have the temptations to give up and to turn away from God. There will be times when we will falter and prefer the comforts of the world, just as the Israelites had done before.

But let us remember, brethren, that if we turn away from the Lord and are not faithful to Him, even though we may gain a brief respite in this world, and enjoy acceptance from the world, the Lord will reject us and the consequences for us will be catastrophic. That is why the burden of this world, while it may seem to be lighter and easier, but in reality, it is far worse than the burden of becoming a faithful disciple of the Lord.

Let us not give up, brothers and sisters in Christ, but instead commit ourselves to a new life blessed with faith, following in the example of what St. Apollinaris, a holy bishop and martyr of the Church had done in his life. As we celebrate his feast day today, let us take heed of what he had committed, as he led his flock, the faithful people of God as the bishop of Ravenna in the earliest days of the Church.

St. Apollinaris propagated the faith with zeal among the people, helping to establish the Church foundations in the city of Ravenna and beyond. When the faithful were persecuted by the Roman Emperor and its administration, St. Apollinaris did not give up but continued to labour hard for the sake of the faithful people of God. It was told that he was arrested, exiled from Ravenna with many of his faithful, and as he was faithful to the end, he gladly received martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Apollinaris and the many other holy saints and martyrs of God have lived their lives filled with sincere devotion and commitment, knowing that God will free them all from their slavery to sin and from their fated destruction. Yes, brethren, God has freed us all and He has promised us all eternal life and glory with Him, if only that we are also faithful to Him and to the Covenant He has made with us all through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us all therefore renew our faith in the Lord, and let us all seek to be closer to the Lord, by doing what is right and just, and what is according to God’s will in our lives. May the Lord also help us in our journey towards Him, and may He help us to persevere through the challenges and obstacles we may face on our way. May God bless us all. Amen.

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