Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Bishops)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are reminded that as Christians we ought to be righteous and virtuous in our way of life, obeying the commandments and Law of the Lord, and being good members of the Church and our respective Christian communities, and being upright and faithful in the lives we all carry out as Christians, as members of our Christian families and in each of our parts to play as the members of God’s same one Church. We are likely going to face hardships and persecutions, challenges and trials, difficulties and other obstacles in our journey and path one way or another, but this should not dampen our desire to follow and serve the Lord faithfully in each and every possible moments. We must be inspired and encouraged by the great examples set by our holy predecessors and strive to be good examples ourselves.
In our first reading today, we heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the author of this Epistle spoke of the responsibility for the people and faithful ones of the Lord to live their lives justly and righteously in the manner that the Lord has taught them to do. The Lord has shown His path and His righteousness to all of them, and therefore, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminded everyone to do what is good and worthy of the Lord, especially for members of families, husbands and wives to be good and faithful, committed and dedicated to each other. The author exhorted everyone to remain true to their Christian faith and to seek righteousness in all things, distancing themselves from the corruption and vices of sin, and removing from them and their lives the temptations of worldly desires, pleasures and glory.
Then, in our Gospel passage today, we heard of the account of the suffering and martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, who was the Herald of the Messiah, and who also stood up against King Herod Antipas of Galilee, mentioned in our Gospel today. In that account, we heard how the king arrested St. John the Baptist, because he rebuked him for having adulterous relationship with his own brother’s legal wife, Herodias when this brother was very much still alive. As such, the relationship between the king and Herodias was an irregular and immoral one, which is not right and sinful in the sight of the Lord, just as what we have also heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews earlier on. And as a king over the people of God, such attitude and behaviour was indeed unacceptable, as he was not showing good examples for others to follow.
St. John the Baptist did not fear reprisal or punishment as he chided the king for his improper and immoral behaviour, and this earned him the ire of Herodias, who was particularly hateful of the man of God for having spoken out publicly against her relationship with the king. Hence, St. John the Baptist was arrested, and that was the backstory to today’s Gospel passage. What happened was that Herodias managed to trick King Herod to execute St. John the Baptist, and he had no choice but to do so, and hence, resulting in the martyrdom of this holy man and servant of God in prison. Yet, through what we have heard today, we can see that first of all, the temptations of worldly pleasures and glory, of fornication, lust and other desires are real, and just as King Herod succumbed to those, we can also succumb as well.
That is why we must always strive to be faithful to the Lord and to be ever vigilant in resisting the many temptations all around us, all of which seek to mislead us down the wrong path in life. All of us must do our best to resist the allures of those temptations and pressures that may end up causing us to sin against God. We have to keep in mind what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews spoke about, in us Christians having to show mutual and true Christian love, the love for God and for our fellow brothers and sisters. Just as the Lord Himself has taught us, we all have to love God first and foremost before all else, and then show the same kind of love to our fellow brothers and sisters around us, be it our families, relatives, friends, or even strangers and all those whom we encounter daily in life, and even those who do not like us.
At the same time, we also have to live our lives worthily of the Lord, doing our best to glorify God by our lives. We should be good role models in all of our actions and works, so that all others who see us, hear us and our works, and witness all of our activities and interactions may indeed be inspired as well, and touched by the love which we have for God and for our fellow men, and by the truth and the wisdom with which we have carried out our lives and actions, that more and more people may also become believers in the same Lord, our Saviour. As Christians, it is our responsibilities and calling for us to proclaim the Word and the Good News of God, and the best way is for us to do whatever the Lord has taught and revealed to us, and commanded us to do, in our every day moments in life, even in the smallest of the things we do.
Today, besides being inspired by the courage and the dedication showed by St. John the Baptist as highlighted in our Gospel passage today, all of us should also be inspired by the examples of St. Blaise and St. Ansgar, two great saints whose feasts we celebrate this day. St. Blaise and St. Ansgar were both faithful and courageous servants of the Lord, who dedicated their lives to their respective ministries and also led holy and devout lives, as good role models and inspirations for many of us Christians across the ages. St. Blaise was a Roman bishop and martyr, who was also a renowned physician, while St. Ansgar was a Frankish and German bishop well-known for his evangelising missions and efforts to reach out to the pagans and unbelievers in the distant parts of northern Europe, and through whose works many became believers in Christ.
St. Blaise was renowned for his great compassion and kindness, as a physician who was able to heal many of their physical ailments, and also were sought by many for their spiritual and mental ailments. He cared for many of them, and healed all of them by the grace of God, some even miraculously. It was told by tradition that he even healed animals as well, and those same animals came to him just like the many other sick men and women, seeking for healing and recovery. He also cared for the spiritual needs of his flock as their bishop, and helped many to find their way to the Lord. Afterwards, Christians were persecuted intensely by the Roman Emperor Licinius, in one of the last persecutions of the Roman Empire period. Many Christians including that of St. Blaise himself were arrested, tortured and martyred. St. Blaise himself was arrested, scourged and beheaded for his faith.
Meanwhile, St. Ansgar was renowned as mentioned earlier, in his missionary efforts and works, traversing many areas beyond the traditional boundaries of Christendom back then, preaching about the Lord among many of those who have not yet known or heard of Him, and as the Archbishop of Hamburg and Bremen in what is now Northern Germany, St. Ansgar dedicated much of his time establishing the Church and its institutions, and expanding the Church’s reach among the people. Many more people came to believe in the Lord through him and through all those whom he has gathered to the same mission of the Church. His dedication, hard work and love for his flock, and for all the people of God, just as what St. Blaise has shown in his faith and life, should indeed be inspiration to all of us as Christians, in how we ought to live our lives faithfully.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all henceforth live our lives from now on as Christians in a more committed and wholehearted way, and do our best to serve Him in each and every moments of our lives, so that by our faithful and exemplary lives, we may indeed inspire many more people to come towards the Lord and His salvation. Let us also help one another so that we may be better able to persevere through the hardships and persecutions we may face in the midst of our obedience and faith in God, in the facing of the many temptations and pressures for us to give up our faith. May all of us remain strong in our faith and may God bless us in our every good efforts, endeavours and works, and may He guide us all through our lives, through our darkest moments, that we may always remain strong in Him, always. Amen.