Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are reminded by the Scriptures of the path and the way which the Lord, our God has shown us, calling upon us to follow Him, and to walk in His footsteps. As St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus is our Eternal and True High Priest, the One Who has offered the perfect offering beyond any other offerings, that is His own Most Precious Body and Blood, for the sake of our salvation.
He has come upon this world, willingly in the form and in the full body of Man, that He could accomplish what He Himself has promised to us all through His many prophets, that He would save us all, His beloved ones, from the consequences of our sins and our unfaithfulness, that should have landed us into eternal damnation and eternal death in hell. God did not want this to happen to us, as He still loves us after all, and He wants us to have the chance to be saved.
But salvation cannot come just very easily, as the obstacles presented by none other than sin, are truly very, very great indeed. It is not just the obstacles presented by sin itself, but also the temptations that are ever present around us that keep pulling us into sinning even more and more, causing us to fall even deeper into the trap which the devil and his forces have prepared for us. Unless we make the conscious effort to resist those temptations, we will easily be dragged again and again into sin.
And this is where the Lord came into this world bearing His truth and the revelation about His saving grace. He explained to us in detail through His disciples, by means of parables which He later explained and by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, of what each and every one of us will need to do as a member of God’s Church. He presented the stark reality before us, that many of us may have to suffer persecution and difficulties just because we are siding with the Lord and walking in His path.
That is, in essence the meaning of what He had mentioned in the Gospel passage today, by the means of the parable of the new and old cloth, and the new and old wineskins with the new and old wine. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised the Lord and His disciples because they did not practice fasting as often done at that time according to the Jewish customs and traditions of the laws of Moses. But the Lord, using the two parables explained why His disciples did not do so.
The reason is because of the incompatibility of the old ways of the world and the new ways of the Lord, which was represented by the incompatible pairing between the old wineskin with the new wine, or vice versa between new wineskin and the old wine, or the old cloth that is incompatible with new cloth that is patched onto it when there is a tear on the old cloth. This incompatibility comes about because of the misunderstanding of the intentions and meanings of the Law of God.
God’s people had forgotten what it means to love God, and in many of their customs and practices, their faith had become empty, meaningless and nominal only, as they did not have God at the centre and as the focus of their lives. God had been sidelined for many worldly temptations, of the sins of pride, ambition, greed, gluttony and many others, where even many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law became hypocrites, professing to believe in God and yet not doing what they had to do, that is to love God with all of their hearts and strength.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord brought with Him a new way, one that is leading us directly towards the salvation in Him. This is the only way by which we can be saved, and that is through the true obedience and adherence to the Law of God. This is done by turning away completely from sin, by humbling oneself and focusing our whole lives on God, Who then becomes the centre of our lives and the focus of everything that we say and do in our respective lives.
But at the same time, we must also be aware that following this path that Christ has shown us will be filled with obstacles and challenges, not least from the same temptations that we have to face each and every days of our life, but also even opposition from the world and even from those who are close and dear to us. And this is what St. Agnes the holy virgin and martyr had shown us, whose feast is celebrated on this day every year.
St. Agnes was a young woman and virgin, who dedicated her life to God and also her virginity. She was born into a noble and wealthy family during the years of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She had many suitors who tried to get her to marry them, but she refused their advances, because she wanted to keep herself chaste and pure, especially as many of those who sought her were pagans. But her Christian faith got the attention of the authorities, who at that time under the Emperor’s orders, carried out a particularly brutal persecution of the faithful.
St. Agnes was tortured and had to endure great sufferings throughout her period in incarceration and prison, and yet she did not give up her faith and remained strong in her conviction to love and serve the Lord through her life. When those who opposed her tried to have people to defile her, it was told that God protected her and all who wanted to defile her virginity were immediately struck blind.
Eventually, St. Agnes was martyred by the sword when she was not even harmed by the flames as her opponents tried to burn her on the stake. But her courageous faith and commitment to the Lord remained as a great inspiration to the faithful for many ages afterwards. She showed us how although there will indeed be likely many challenges that we have to face as faithful followers of Christ, but it is possible for us to commit ourselves to Him and remain upright despite those challenges.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore imitate the examples of St. Agnes and the many other holy men and women of God, from now on in our own lives. May the Lord be with us always, and may He give us the strength to follow Him and to commit ourselves to Him, each and every days of our life, following Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. Amen.