Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are first confronted with the great wickedness of the people of Israel who refused to believe in God and committed all sorts of sin, despite everything that God had done for their sake. He has protected them many times, brought them out of their troubles, as the Exodus from Egypt was mentioned, the time when God liberated the Israelites and freed them from their slavery and gave them their own land to live in.
In all those years God had patiently cared for His people, sending them help and protection, provision and guidance when they encountered troubles. When the Israelites faced troubles and persecution from their neighbours and when their enemies rose up against them and subjugated them, God raised up Judges one after another to lead the people and free them from their oppressors. And still yet, they did not remain faithful and instead, worshipped idols, disobeyed His Law and commandments.
He has sent prophets after prophets, messengers after messengers to lead His people down the right path, and even after all these, they still refused to believe, and many among them openly disregarded His messages and reminders, persecuting and even killing His prophets. It was with these background and history that we then heard the words of the Lord through His prophet Hosea, sent to the Israelites in the northern kingdom during its final days.
For the past more than one week during the weekdays we have been listening to the words of the prophet Hosea, as we heard the words of God’s anger and dissatisfaction with the constant disobedience showed by the people, and the upcoming judgment, reckoning and consequences they had to suffer for their sins. And all those things were about to happen, as not long after the prophet Hosea spoke of those words, the northern kingdom was destroyed in the conquest by the Assyrian Empire, and many of its people brought into exile in far-off lands.
But we have also then heard, strangely, in between the anger and the premonitions of destruction that were to come, the words of soothing love, compassion and mercy. And all these underlie the true intention of the Lord, and why He has always been so patient with His people despite their constant rebellion and disobedience. That is because He was always filled with love for all of us, His own beloved children. He has created us all for a good reason, and that is His ever-present love for us.
In God, we truly have a loving Father and Master, as One Who has always been concerned about us, and that was why, despite our constant waywardness and disobedience, we are still indeed beloved by God, and God patiently sent His messengers and servants to help guide us out of the wrong path, as He ultimately did through sending us the finest gift of all, His own begotten Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Through Christ, all of us receive the assurance and guarantee of God’s most wonderful love and providence, and all these He has freely given and revealed to us, sending out His Apostles and disciples two by two to go and proclaim the words of God’s truth, His wonderful love to many more people among us. But for all these, many among us His people refused to follow and stubbornly opposed Him, as their ancestors had done in the past.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is just how unfortunate the state of world truly is, with people refusing to believe in God even though He has always ever been so patient and loving, caring and forgiving. And for all these, many of the Lord’s servants, His Apostles and disciples, His prophets and messengers had suffered from the rejection and persecution that they had to endure for many occasions and through their many years of good service.
Today, all of us commend to our memory the great faith and dedication showed by the holy saints and martyrs who suffered in the great land of China, all the missionaries and the laypeople who have believed in God and received the faith, and were persecuted for that same faith and for their dedication to serve the people. St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions are truly great inspirations and examples for us, as to how we should live our lives as faithful Christians.
St. Augustine Zhao Rong was among one of the first Chinese to be ordained as priests, and he was sent out to serve the communities of the faithful, a truly difficult task not only for him but also for many other missionaries, as the Christian faith at that time was just barely tolerated at the very most, and in most circumstances, to be a Christian was frowned upon by the society as well as by the government. Many people had to practice their faith in secret, and many of the missionaries also had to spread the Word of God carefully.
At that time, the conflict between the Chinese court and the Christian faith had been a culmination of centuries of exchanges, in which misunderstandings and conflicting interests among various religious orders and missionaries sent to the mission in China led to the official persecution of the Church and Christians in China, as the instructions from the Church, misled by these misunderstandings led to great conflict with the authorities for many years.
St. Augustine Zhao Rong and many other Church missionaries and priests were persecuted, arrested and tortured, and eventually put to death for their constant dedication to the Lord, refusal to betray the Lord and abandon their faith. All of these persecutions were made worse in particular because they were complicated by the arrival of the foreign powers that quickly led to diplomatic and political conflicts. And as the Western powers continued to gain prestige, territories and privileges at the expense of the Chinese, the Christian missionaries, priests and the faithful were often caught in the crossfire and conflicts.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, all those faithful people of God, both missionaries, priests and laypeople alike, all were faithful and committed to God despite the challenges that they had to endure. Many of them had to endure prison, unimaginable torture and painful sufferings, and yet, they remained firm in their conviction. This is something that each and every one of us should also be inspired with, even as we carry on living our own lives as Christians, as those whom God had called to be His followers.
As we can see, there is still much darkness in this world, and there is likely to be even more darkness, as mankind continue to walk down the path of sin and disobedience against God. Therefore, now as Christians all of us are challenged to be true and genuine witnesses of the Lord’s truth, His love for each and every one of us, and His willingness to forgive us our trespasses and sins as long as we are willing to repent from those many sins and mistakes we have committed.
Let us all follow in the footsteps of our holy predecessors, the Holy Martyrs of China, St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his many companions. Let us all be shining beacons of light and hope in the darkness, especially amidst all the trials, challenges and difficulties we are all enduring throughout this year. May the Lord be our help and guide, and may He strengthen our resolve to be ever good and righteous in all our actions and to be able to devote ourselves more with each and every passing moments of our lives. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.