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.