Wednesday, 30 June 2021 : 13th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings remind us that all of us are beloved and precious to God, and we should not be afraid to seek Him for help, and trust in Him. For God alone can be trusted and depended on, and when other worldly and human ways and methods fail, we often will have only the Lord and nothing else left. This is a reminder for us to turn towards God and to be ever faithful to the Covenant which He has made with each and every one of us.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael from the Book of Genesis. While Ishmael was born of a slave woman named Hagar, the slave of Abraham’s wife Sarah, Isaac was the lawful and legal son and heir of Abraham, as the long awaited son of his wife Sarah. God has promised Abraham that he would have countless descendants and that they would be blessed just as God had blessed Abraham.

However, Abraham slipped in his trust in the Lord and he listened to the suggestion of his wife Sarah to take the slave Hagar as the one to bear a child for him. In the custom of the time, the child born to a slave owned by a man’s wife was considered to be the child between the man and his wife, and not of the slave, as the slave belonged to the wife. And that was how Ishmael was therefore conceived and born, before Isaac, the promised child and son was born later as God fulfilled His wondrous promise to Abraham.

And this created friction between Ishmael and Isaac, as while Ishmael was older and the supposed heir before Isaac was born, he had been superseded by Isaac, the true heir. Hence, in our reading today we heard how Abraham sent both Hagar and her son Ishmael away after providing them with some food and water. They both wandered in the desert and in places without food and sustenance, and Hagar cried out to the Lord for mercy and compassion, which the Lord heard and He sent His Angels to help Hagar and Ishmael.

We can see therefore God’s love for His people here, for Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, as He has promised them, and even for Hagar and Ishmael, although the latter’s conception and birth had been against the will of God. He was still the child of Abraham nonetheless, and God took care of Ishmael and blessed him too, and he would go on to become the father of many nations just as his half-brother Isaac would. God fulfilled His promises and showed His love and compassion to His beloved ones.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord and His action in Gadara as He met two men tormented and possessed by the evil spirits, from whom many others had fled in fear, and those men had been ostracised and sent off to live in the wilderness away from the rest of the society. But the Lord showed His love and compassionate mercy, and just how precious and beloved they were, by commanding the evil spirits that dwelled in them to get out and by His power and authority, He sent those evil spirits instead to the flock of pigs nearby.

Again, through this example and story, all of us are reminded how God had cared for each and every one of us, and how He has loved us so wonderfully since the very beginning without cease. The Lord has always had us in His mind, and He will always seek us and wait on us to return to Him. Such is the love and the patience with which God has lovingly cared for us, that He gave everything for our sake, even to suffer and to die in His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross.

Today, we recall the memory of those who have devoted themselves to the Lord and placed their trust in Him, the very first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, celebrated this day on the day following the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Holy Apostles. These were our fellow brothers and sisters in faith, who had endured bitter and intense persecution from the Roman authorities as part of the great persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero, who falsely accused the Christians in Rome for the Great Fire of Rome.

The Emperor Nero was likely to be the one who started the fire himself, in order to clear the lands for his grandiose projects. This is a fact which had been corroborated by historical and archaeological evidences by experts. Yet, the Emperor conveniently assigned the blame on the Christian population in Rome in order to shift the blame and to dissuade the people from focusing on his increasingly unpopular reign and actions. Many Christians were put to death and numerous others suffered during this first great wave of persecutions.

Yet, they remained firm and resolute in faith, staying committed and dedicated as Christians, no matter what threats and sufferings that they had to go through. They entrusted themselves in the Lord and did not let fear to rule over them. And this is why we should make them our sources of inspiration, in how we ourselves should live our lives, seeking the Lord and always entrusting ourselves to Him, no matter what happens. Let us all seek the Lord from now on, and let us devote ourselves to the greater glory of the Lord from now on.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen each and every one of us with faith, that we may always live ever more faithfully in His path. May God bless each and every one of us, in every one of our good works, efforts and endeavours, now and always. Amen.