Saturday, 21 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all called to continue to persevere in faith and to follow the Lord despite the challenges and trials that we may face in life. We must not be swayed easily by the temptations and pressures to do otherwise, and we should never let our trust and faith in God to go away. For the Lord Himself is our only Hope, the Light of our salvation, and the one and true Eternal High Priest Who has given Himself so wholly and completely for the sake of each and every one of us, without exception. We must also be inspired by the examples of the saints and martyrs who have dedicated themselves to the Lord and resisting all sorts of pressures and coercions to betray and abandon their Lord and God.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the author of this Epistle highlighted as he had done in our past few days’ worth of readings, about the role that Jesus Christ had taken in being our High Priest, offering on our behalf a most worthy offering before the Lord, for the atonement of our innumerable sins. The author highlighted how the priests and high priests in the past would come to the presence of God, also touching on the layout of the Temple of Jerusalem, the House of God, where the Holy Presence of God resides, behind the Holy Place and separated by a veil, which was also known as the Holy of Holies. That place indicated the holiest place in the world, where God Himself dwelled in, in the midst of His people, being present among them and being with them.

The place was so holy and sacred that no one except the High Priest could enter, and even for his case, he could only enter it at a particular very solemn occasion each year, representing the people of God, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness for their many sins. The High Priest was therefore the link between God and His people, and Christ is the One and true Eternal High Priest that far surpasses all the mortal High Priests appointed to lead the people of God in the past. For Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, and Our High Priest has offered not the limited and imperfect offering of the blood of lambs and bulls, animals and other worldly sacrifices as the High Priests and other priests of the past had done. He has offered nothing less than His own life, His own Most Precious Body and Blood.

Yes, brothers and sisters, Christ our Lord has offered Himself to be the perfect and most worthy sacrifice, baring Himself on the Altar of the Cross, at Calvary, that as He was lifted up for everyone to see and witness, between the Heaven and the Earth, He was raised up on the Altar like a lamb being slaughtered and placed above the Altar of sacrifice, an offering for the sins of mankind. He broke His Body and poured out His Blood on the Altar of His Cross, much like the blood of the sacrificial lamb being poured down the Altar and sprinkled on the people of God as a sign of their atonement and reconciliation with God. However, what is truly different is that, unlike the offering of animals and their blood, which could only provide a temporary respite from our sins, the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross is a complete, permanent and eternal in nature, giving us absolution from our sins forever.

It means that once and for all, by His most loving sacrifice on His Cross, Jesus Christ our Lord has saved us all through that supreme act of selflessness and love. He has given us all the sure path out of the darkness that had surrounded and reigned over us because of our sins. Hence, by all of these and most importantly because God loved us all, we have received grace and salvation, and as His people, we have to realise this love and understand, appreciate and be thankful for everything that God had done from us. As we heard in our Gospel passage today, for doing everything that He had done for us out of love, He had to face a lot of challenges, trials and difficulties, rejections and even, His own family and relatives were fed up with Him, and thought that He was out of His mind. He made Himself like an outcast, despised and hated for our sake.

All of us as Christians should devote our time and effort to serve the Lord wholeheartedly, and commit ourselves thoroughly to His cause. We should dedicate ourselves to work for the glory of God and for the proclamation of His truth in our world, just as what the saints and martyrs had done. And today we can refer to the good examples set by St. Agnes, a great and renowned martyr of the Church, whose dedication to God and commitment to purity and righteousness can inspire us that we may live a better and more Christian lives in our existence in this world. St. Agnes, also known as St. Agnes of Rome was a young Roman noblewoman who lived and suffered, died during the terrible years of the Diocletianic Persecution, also known as the Great Persecution for its particularly intense episode of persecutions against Christians.

St. Agnes was a faithful young woman who had dedicated herself thoroughly to God, committing herself to a holy virginity and dedication to God. However, her great beauty attracted many suitors, who were enraged by her refusal to engage them. Hence, St. Agnes was arrested upon the reports from those men who sought after her, accusing her because of her Christian faith. The Roman prefect, named Sempronius, attempted to get her to be defiled in a brothel, but miraculously St. Agnes was protected by God, and everyone who attempted to defile and rape her were struck blind or were prevented from doing so. And when she was put on the stake to be burnt to death, again even the fires and the heat refused to harm her, and they parted from her. In the end, she was martyred by being stabbed and beheaded. Yet, her inspiration and faith in God lived on, and many were touched by her faith, courage and examples.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore follow in the footsteps of St. Agnes, in her dedication to God and in her love for Him, which we should apply in our own lives. Let us all be thankful and appreciative of all that the Lord had done for us, in offering Himself as the perfect and worthy sacrifice for our salvation. May the Lord continue to guide and strengthen each one of us so that we may draw ever closer to Him and His Presence, and may we all be found worthy to receive the fullness of His grace and love, in time to come. Amen.

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