Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 10 : 7-15

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Go, and proclaim this message : The kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. Freely have you received, freely give. Do not carry any gold or silver or money in your purses. Do not take a travelling bag, or an extra shirt, or sandals, or a walking stick : workers deserve to be compensated.”

“When you come to a town or a village, look for a worthy person, and stay there until you leave. When you enter the house, wish it peace. If the people are worthy people, your peace will rest on them; if they are not worthy people, your blessing will come back to you.”

“And if you are not welcomed, and your words are not listened to, leave that house or that town, and shake the dust off your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment, than it will for the people of that town.”

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 79 : 2ac and 3bc, 15-16

Listen, o Shepherd of Israel, You, Who sit enthroned between the Cherubim. Stir up Your might and come to save us.

Turn again, o YHVH of hosts, look down from heaven and see; care for this vine, and protect the stock Your hand has planted.

Thursday, 9 July 2020 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs, Holy Chinese Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Hosea 11 : 1-4, 8c-9

I loved Israel when he was a child; out of Egypt I called My Son. But the more I have called, the further have they gone from Me – sacrificing to the Baals, burning incense to the idols. Yet, it was I Who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; yet, little did they realise that it was I Who cared for them.

I led them with cords of human kindness, with leading strings of love, and I became for them as One Who eases the yoke upon their neck and stoops down to feed them. My heart is troubled within Me and I am moved with compassion. I will not give vent to My great anger; I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God and not human. I am the Holy One in your midst; and I do not want to come to you in anger.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the calling and transformation which God has made upon us, as He calls upon us His people to follow Him and to do His marvellous works. In the first reading we heard of the story of what happened between Jacob and God, when he unknowingly wrestled against Him, and then in the Gospel we heard of the Lord’s call for more workers to harvest the harvests of the Lord.

In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, we heard of the encounter between Jacob and God disguised in the form of a Man. Jacob had just returned from the land of his forefathers where he spent many years in exile fleeing from his brother Esau, and over there, he managed to thrive and raised up a large family of his own. He was then on his way back to the land of Canaan, and when God came upon him, it was at the moment just before Jacob was about to meet his brother after many years.

Jacob was afraid that his brother was still very angry at him even after all those years and thus, sent his family and belongings ahead of him. It was then that God, disguised as a Man, struggled with him and wrestled with him all night long until the morning. And it was then and there that God renamed Jacob as Israel, as the one who struggled against God and survived. It was from that moment on that Jacob was known by his new name, a name that would become the name of an entire nation, of Israel.

In the Scriptures, name changes are always very symbolic and very important moments in a person’s life, as a name change indicates a profound change in a person’s direction in life, such as when God made a Covenant with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah when she has received the fulfilment of the promise of God of bearing a son, and of the Apostles themselves, Simon who received the new name of Cephas or Peter, and Saul who changed his name to Paul after his conversion.

Therefore, in the first reading today, God called on Jacob to be courageous and to put his trust in Him even as he was struck with great fear of expecting the vengeance of his brother. He called on Jacob to a new existence and a new life, and renewed the promise of the Covenant which He had made with his forefathers, a significant milestone in the life of Jacob, who from then on was known as Israel.

This is linked to what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, as we heard of the works of the Lord Who went about healing the people, casting out demons and proclaiming the Good News. The Lord went around seeking His people to heal them and to make them whole once again, and He had pity on them when He saw them like sheep without a shepherd, and therefore, poured forth His love upon them.

The Lord is calling on each and every one of us as He sent out His disciples to the people He loved, to follow in their footsteps and to do what they have done, in reaching out to the people and to show forth God’s love in their midst. Just as God has reassured Jacob of His faithfulness and love, and just as the Lord Jesus showed His love to the people He held dear, therefore, all of us should be the bearers and witnesses of this same love to our fellow men.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, all of us celebrate the feast of many holy martyrs and saints who have given their very best in witnessing to the love of God among men, in standing up for their Christian faith and their commitment to the message of God’s truth, despite the tough persecution and challenges that they had to face. We commemorate today the memory of St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his fellow saints, the Holy Martyrs of China.

Many of them were missionaries who came to China spreading the truth of God among the people, showing them the Good News and salvation of God, spreading the message of God’s love and mercy. And some among them were those who have accepted the truth and chose to become Christians, and paid dearly for their faith. The authorities and many of the people at the time viewed the missionaries and Christians with suspicion or even hatred.

And when in the various occasions, the local Christians and the missionaries were oppressed and persecuted, they endured great challenges and pain, suffering and torture just because they believed in the Lord Who has loved them and called them to salvation through Him. St. Augustine Zhao Rong, one of the first Chinese then to be ordained a priest, and many other of his companions in martyrdom, stood by their faith in God to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the devotion and commitment of these holy martyrs should inspire us in our own lives to love the Lord in the same way that He has loved us. For these martyrs were willing to suffer and even die for their faith because they knew of the Lord’s generous love and mercy towards them. And indeed, we should reflect on the fact that, if God Himself has willingly suffered, took up His Cross and die for our sake, then why should we not love Him all the more?

Let us all be inspired by the examples of our holy predecessors. Let us all turn towards God with all of our hearts and minds, and let us all commit ourselves ever anew to Him from now on. May the Lord be our Guide, and may He give us the strength and courage to live our lives ever more faithfully from now on. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 9 : 32-38

At that time, as the two blind men were going away, some people brought to Jesus a man who was dumb, because he was possessed by a demon. When the demon was driven out, the dumb man began to speak. The crowds were astonished and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “He drives away demons with the help of the prince of demons.”

Jesus went around all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom; and He cured every sickness and disease. When He saw the crowds, He was moved with pity; for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are only few. Ask the Master of the harvest to send workers to gather His harvest.”

Tuesday, 9 July 2019 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 16 : 1, 2-3, 6-7, 8 and 15

Hear a just cause, o YHVH, listen to my complaint. Give heed to my prayer, for there is no deceit on my lips.

Let my defence come forth from You; Your eyes see what is right. You have probed my heart, searched me at night, tested me by fire, and You have seen no wickedness in me.

I call on You, You will answer me, o God; incline Your ear and hear my word. For You do wonders for Your faithful, You save those fleeing from the enemy as they seek refuge at Your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of Your eye; under the shadow of Your wings hide me. As for me, righteous in Your sight, I shall see Your face and, awakening, gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Genesis 32 : 23-33

Jacob took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons, and sent them across the stream and likewise everything he had. And Jacob was left alone. Then a Man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the Man saw that He could not get the better of Jacob, He struck him in the socket of his hip and dislocated it as He wrestled with him.

The Man said, “Let Me go, for day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go until you have given me Your blessing.” The Man then said, “What is your name?” “Jacob” was the reply. He answered, “You will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have been strong-with-God as you have been with men and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked Him, “What is Your Name?” He answered, “Why do you ask My Name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Penuel, saying, “I have seen God face to face and survived.” The sun rose as he passed through Penuel, limping because of his hip. That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the sciatic nerve which is in the hip socket because the sciatic nerve in Jacob’s hip had been touched.

Monday, 9 July 2018 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and 119 Companions, Chinese Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the messages of hope mentioned in the Scriptures, both from the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament, as well as from the Gospel passage showing us the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage or bleeding issue and the returning of the dead daughter of the synagogue official to life by the Lord Jesus.

In the first reading, the prophet Hosea was speaking in the context of the time, when the northern kingdom of Israel to whom he had been sent to by God, was beset by its enemies and was on the verge of destruction and annihilation. And the people living there had nothing else to depend on, for their pagan idols and gods did nothing to help them, for those were merely handicrafts of man’s hands, and no earthly power could help them.

But the Lord promised His people through His prophet Hosea, that if only that they would turn away from their sinful ways and repent sincerely from those wickedness and disobedience, then they would once again become His people and receive the fullness of His protection, love and grace as they once had before. Ultimately, the Lord loves us all, and by no means that He wants to see us destroyed.

That is why, in the Gospel passage today, He showed compassion to the old woman suffering from the bleeding problem. He had pity on her, and seeing her great faith, and the perseverance and the courage she mustered, despite the dangers she might have to face in order to reach out to the Lord, and the doubts and fears on her heart. She had faith and trusted in the Lord while many of her fellow countrymen did not have the same faith.

Similarly, while many people laughed at the Lord Jesus and mocked Him when He said that the little girl, the synagogue official’s daughter was only sleeping, Jairus, the official, remained faithful and trusted in the Lord’s ability to raise up his daughter, even back from the death. Indeed, as we have heard from the Gospel, the Lord Jesus did indeed restore his daughter to life, and the Lord’s promise to His people was upheld.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in all of these, we can easily witness how we mankind have both the capacity to doubt as well as to be faithful. We have been given free will and wisdom by God, to discern carefully and to make choices and decisions, whether we want to follow Him and love Him, or whether we prefer to walk on our own path and distance ourselves from Him.

Are we therefore taking the concrete steps necessary for us to seek the Lord and find His healing, mercy and forgiveness? Remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, that each and every one of us have to make a decision in our lives, and before it is too late, let us all wholeheartedly and sincerely turn ourselves towards the Lord, following the examples of the woman with bleeding and the synagogue official.

And today, we also celebrate the feast of the Holy Chinese Martyrs, those who have been persecuted because of their Christian faith in China, particularly those who were martyred during the late era of the Qing Dynasty China and the vicious Boxer Rebellion just over a century ago. It was indeed very difficult for one to be a Christian at that time, since the government was not in favour of Christianity, and looked at the Christian missionaries with great suspicion.

Many of the Christians, both the local converts and the missionaries, both local and foreign ones, had to endure difficult trials, go into hiding and practicing their faith amidst persecution, enduring prison and even summary execution at the hands of their enemies. They lived in a particularly troubled and difficult time, and yet, many of them persevered in their faith, regardless of the challenges they faced.

Many of them were martyred, but they died with courage and conviction, knowing that they were sinners who were trying to seek the Lord with all of their hearts, like the woman with haemorrhage and like Jairus, the synagogue official. They had faith in God, and they remained true and anchored on that faith which they had, to the very end. And although they suffered, but as the Lord promised all of His faithful ones in our first reading today, their rewards will be great.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we follow in their footsteps and walk from now on, faithfully in Christ’s ways? May the Lord be with us, and may He continue to guide us towards Him, that we may embrace Him fully and continue to grow closer in our relationship with Him. Let us always remember God’s love and His everlasting providence, every moment of our lives. May God bless us all. Amen.

Monday, 9 July 2018 : 14th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and 119 Companions, Chinese Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Matthew 9 : 18-26

At that time, while Jesus was speaking to the disciples of John and the Pharisees, an official of the synagogue came up to Him, bowed before Him and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and place Your hands on her, and she will live.”

Jesus stood up and followed him with His disciples. Then a woman, who had suffered from a severe bleeding for twelve years, came up from behind and touched the edge of His cloak; for she thought, “If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.”

Jesus turned, saw her and said, “Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.” And from that moment, the woman was cured. When Jesus arrived at the official’s house and saw the flute players and the excited crowd, He said, “Get out of here! The girl is not dead. She is only sleeping!” And they laughed at Him.

But once the crowd had been turned out, Jesus went in and took the girl by the hand, and she stood up. The news of this spread through the whole area.