Tuesday, 25 July 2017 : Feast of St. James, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate together with the entire Church the great feast of the Holy Apostle St. James, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Lord. He was the brother of St. John, also Apostle and one of the four writers of the Holy Gospels, the sons of Zebedee. They were once fishermen working at the lake of Galilee, together with St. Peter and St. Andrew, whom the Lord called to follow Him and henceforth were counted among His principal disciples.

The Apostles of the Lord were the pillars of the Church, which foundation is St. Peter, the Rock, on which God had established His Church, and whose head is the Lord Himself, represented on earth by the Apostles and their successors. It was the Apostles who continued the good works of the Lord and established the strong structures and foundations for the early Church, which faced many persecutions and difficulties from those who wanted the Church destroyed and the faithful scattered.

The Lord Jesus Himself had reminded His Apostles in various occasions, including in what we heard today as part of our Gospel passage, telling His disciples James and John, that suffering would be the part of their lives for having followed the Lord and obeyed His commandments. He mentioned it as He said to them, that if they were to follow Him, they would have to drink from the same cup that Christ would drink from, the cup of persecution and suffering.

But the two Apostles did not understand this at first, and neither did the other Apostles. What we heard in the Gospel today, is how we mankind often respond in our own respective lives. When we are presented with the opportunity to gather for ourselves power, influence, fame, glory and honour, or even wealth and possessions, we will be tempted to do whatever we can in order to secure these for ourselves, and for our own benefits.

That was exactly what the Apostles St. James and St. John did, as they were brought by their mother to the presence of the Lord. The mother of the two Apostles asked if the Lord Jesus would be able to grant them special privileges above that of the other Apostles, by granting them positions of honour on His left and right. For that time, to be at the left and the right hand of a ruler such as a king, is an extremely honourable and great position to have.

If we look through the history of man, through many nations and peoples, we will then realise just how much mankind were willing to go in order to satisfy their own needs, wants and desires. It was the desire for more power and influence that had caused much sorrow and bickering among the peoples, even to the extent of going to wars and conflicts in order to accumulate more power for themselves, not minding the suffering those conflicts caused upon others.

And many of these were done by the leaders of the people, who themselves had had power and influence, wealth and possessions. One might be wondering that those people already had plenty of those, be it money, wealth, fame, and all other forms of worldly glory, but if we look deeply into ourselves and study our history more closely, we will quickly realise just how difficult it is to satisfy our desires and our greed.

We mankind are by our nature greedy and selfish, and we always want to seek what we do not have, and what we think will be good for us to possess. If we already have them, then we will be craving for even more, for whatever we have tasted and received, will soon be not sufficient for us to satisfy our ever growing greed and desire, especially for power, fame and material wealth.

That is what the Lord Jesus wanted to warn us against, that all of us Christians must not walk that path, but instead take an entirely different path. We are very familiar with the path I have mentioned earlier, that the greater the power we have, the more we desire power and glory, and the more we want our needs and desires to be served. Yet, the Lord showed us the meaning of our Christian virtues and what we Christians must do in order to follow Him faithfully.

The Apostles were called not to a position of honour and glory in the traditional sense of how honour and glory are seen by the world. They do not come to be served but to serve others with all of their might. The greater they become, the humbler they are called to be, and the more they are called to do for the sake of those who have been entrusted under their care.

And the Lord Jesus Himself showed by example, that even He, Who is the Lord, God and Master of all, were willing to serve His disciples, caring for them and humbling Himself before them, particularly at the Last Supper when He performed the washing of the feet on them, a job reserved only for the slaves, the lowest strata of the society at that time, those who have no power and dignity at all, and yet, God allowed Himself to do what He deemed was right.

Yes, and it was right according to the Lord, that all of us Christians should let go of our ego and pride, our desires and greed, and all those things that have in fact become great obstacles on our path to seek the Lord and His salvation. We must listen to the Lord and obey to Him, and follow Him in this path that He has shown to all of us, the path of the cross.

What does it mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that all of us must realise that as Christians, we are continuing what the Apostles have begun before us, the task which God had entrusted to them, which are not easy tasks, but very difficult assignments, considering just how much the Apostles had to suffer in order to carry out their missions. They had to endure rejection, ridicule, persecution, torture, imprisonment, and they even have to literally shed their blood and lay down their lives for the sake of the Lord.

That is the cup of suffering that they have to share with the Lord, and the cross that they had to bear. The Lord said that all those who are faithful to Him and who wants to follow Him must take up their crosses and follow Him, walking with Him along the path of suffering. This is what we all also need to share together, that we have to persevere despite the challenges and obstacles from the world. We cannot give up, for what is at stake is none other than the salvation of our souls and those who are around us.

There are still many things left undone, which the Church is continuing to do, shouldering the same burdens and works entrusted to it by the Lord. The Apostles had shown us all the way, that to go greater in the sight of God, we do not do as what the world has always taught us to do, but instead, we become greater through humility, through selflessness and love for our fellow brethren, for all those who are suffering, that we show mercy and love to them.

Let us all therefore, follow the footsteps of St. James the Apostle, and work hard in our own ways to contribute to the Church. It was told that St. James went to many places including to what is today Spain, where his principal shrine at Santiago de Compostela is located at. Let us have the same fervour to bring the Word of God to our fellow men, by practicing our faith actively through actions and deeds, that we may become the bearers of the light of Christ to our brothers and sisters. May the Lord bless us always and may St. James intercede for our sake before Him. Amen.

Monday, 24 July 2017 : 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the account of the liberation of Israel from the Book of Exodus, at the time when God brought His people to the Red Sea, pursued by the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, intent on reclaiming the Israelites who had once been their slaves. But God certainly did not want to see His people to be enslaved once again by the Pharaoh, and therefore, He showed forth His might, opening up the Red Sea before His people and destroyed the chariots and armies of Egypt in the middle of the sea.

That was the sign which God had shown His people, who trembled and complained at the seashore as they saw the chariots and armies of the Egyptians coming upon them. They still did not have faith in God, even though they had seen many times, how God sent ten great plagues against the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, while the people of Israel were safe from all those plagues and troubles.

God had showed His signs and wonders many, many times, and yet they still refused to completely place their trust in Him. They still trusted in their own human intellect, wisdom and power instead of trusting in the power of God's love and providence. The very same attitude was shown by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as we heard it ourselves in the Gospel passage today.

They demanded signs from Jesus, to show them and to make them believe that He was indeed the One, the Messiah promised by God. But those same people had been observing what Jesus had done, and they had even followed Him and encountered Him in many places, witnessing what He had done among the people, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and casting out demons from those who were possessed.

And despite having seen and witnessed all of these occurrences, which mankind, all their intellect and knowledge were incapable of explaining the rationale for those miracles performed by the Lord, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law refused to believe in Jesus, continuing to doubt Him and in harassing Him and His disciples, asking for more signs and miracles. In fact, they even accused the Lord of having cast out the demons and performing those miracles by the power of the princes of demons.

In all these, we can see how if mankind hardened his heart against God, no matter what they have witnessed and seen before them, all those miraculous experiences and wonders will not sway them to believe or stir them to have faith in God. The Pharaoh himself had seen how mighty God's power was and how great the terrors and sufferings which had been imposed on him and the Egyptian people, and yet, because he hardened his heart before God, he ultimately refused to back down and chased the Israelites right to the Red Sea.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were blinded by their pride, their trust in themselves and in their ways, believing that only their ways and methods were correct. That was why they were not able to bring themselves to believe in what Jesus had taught and preached. Despite all that they have seen, they still thought that it was impossible for them to be mistaken in their ways.

Now, brethren, let us now look into ourselves and find out how our lives have been thus far. Have we been truly faithful to God and place our trust in Him? Or have we been stubborn in our lives, refusing to listen to God? He has showed us all His love and kindness, through all of His works, and culminating in nothing less than His own crucifixion, the time when He died on the cross. That is the sign which He mentioned to the Pharisees, the sign of Jonah, and as He gave to us the ultimate gift of His love, He is calling us into a new life, blessed with faith.

Through His death on the cross, He became and example to all of us, showing us just how much God had done for our sake, for our liberation from our sins and wickedness. Instead of being stubborn and refusing to appreciate God's love, as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done, we should embrace God's love, and allow Him to come into our hearts, in order to transform us completely, from beings of hatred and darkness, into beings of light and love.

Let us be humble before God and seek to serve Him through all the things we say, act and do. This is what all of us as Christians must do in our respective lives. And therefore, it is perhaps good that we should heed also the examples of St. Charbel Makhlouf or St. Sharbel Makhluf, a holy saint and servant of God whose feast day we celebrate on this very day.

St. Sharbel Makhluf was a Maronite Christian, who lived in a place now known as Syria in the present day. St. Sharbel Makhluf was inspired by the examples of some among his family who devoted themselves to the Lord as priests and religious, and he followed suit in his own devotion to the Lord. He entered the monastery and led a truly righteous and devout life.

He was renowned for his holiness and dedication to the Lord. He inspired many other people to follow in his footsteps and to persevere in their faith, even in the face of persecution and temptation to abandon their faith in God. And therefore, God made him an example to many people, not just during his lifetime, but even also after his death. Many miraculous deeds and amazing, unexplainable things happened at his tomb, and many miracles were attributed to St. Sharbel Makhluf, a holy servant of God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all from now on have no more reservations or doubts in our hearts, but give ourselves wholeheartedly to God, as St. Sharbel Makhluf had done. Just like him, if we give ourselves completely and trust the Lord fully with sincere devotion, then the Light of God Himself will shine through us, and we will rejoice because we have found our true joy, none other than God, Who provides us with everything we need.

May the Lord empower us all to live faithfully in accordance with His will. And may He help us to remain humble and to remain open to His love, and not to be filled with greed and pride, that we will not end up being stubborn and resisting God's love because of all the ego and the temptations which the devil is actively trying to place in our path towards the Lord. May God be with us all, and may St. Sharbel Makhluf intercede for our sake before Him. Amen.

Sunday, 23 July 2017 : Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, all of us heard the message of the Scriptures, telling us all to be righteous in all of our ways, heeding all that the Lord had taught us to do, by obeying the laws and rules of the Church, and by living a genuine life of faith, filled with love for God and with love for our fellow men. This is what all of us as Christians have been called to do, to be true disciples of our Lord in all of our words and deeds alike.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard how Jesus our Lord spoke to His disciples in parables, and then revealed to them the meaning of those parables. Through those parables, God through His Son, Jesus, wanted to reveal to us, the truth about Himself and how we all ought to strive to achieve our salvation through Him, that is by obeying Him and by walking righteously in His path. This is where we should indeed take heed of what we have heard from the Word of God in the Scriptures today, that we may know how we ought to go forward from now on.

First of all, we heard about the parable of the weeds, in which a sower sowed good seeds in a field, and hoped to see good plants and crops growing in due time, only to see weeds growing amongst the good crops because an enemy had come in the dark and sowed the seeds of the weeds amongst the crops. The enemy surely wanted the crops to fail, and the weeds were scattered among the crops in order to compete against the crops for nutrients, and for the whole crop to be less desirable as a whole.

This parable showed us the works of God amongst us mankind, for God Himself is the sower, who sowed good seeds, that is the seeds of faith in our hearts. The field itself is the world, encompassing all of us mankind, in whom God planted His goodness, His Spirit and presence in all. However, the enemy, that is the devil, is out there, actively trying to undermine the good works of God, by spreading the weeds among us, that is sin and the temptations to sin.

But did God in the parable of the sower immediately ordered all of the wheat crops to be thrown away with the weeds? No, He did not do so. He allowed the wheat to grow first, and mature into mature wheat crops with bountiful fruits, and the weeds also grew alongside them. That is because all of us mankind, who have been tainted by sin ever since our forefathers disobeyed God and His commandments, are still ultimately beloved by God, our Lord and Creator.

He wanted to give us all a second chance, the opportunity for us to redeem ourselves, and that was why, He allowed us to continue to grow and develop in this world, with all of our imperfections in us, all the good and evil within us. What we all need to take note of, is then, what the Lord Jesus then continued to tell His disciples, comparing His heavenly kingdom with the parable of the mustard seed and the rising bread.

The Lord mentioned that the kingdom of Heaven is like that of a mustard seed, very small compared to the other seeds and fruits of more noticeable trees and crops. However, that very small seed, when planted in a good soil, will grow into a large tree, larger than many other trees and scrubs, certainly much larger than what people would normally think such a small seed would grow into.

There are many symbolisms in this particular parable, as the mustard seed represents the faith in all of us. The faith might have begun as a small seed, which we ourselves often do not realise that we have with us. However, given the right conditions, when planted in a good soil, meaning that when we realise that gift of faith present in each one of us, and then doing what we can to cultivate that faith, through our actions in life, through the love which we show to God and to our fellow men, and through our justice and righteousness, we will allow the faith to grow in us.

And indeed, as in the other parable not mentioned in today's readings, the parable of the sower, the seed that fell onto the rich and good soil bear its fruits a thirtyfold, a sixtyfold and even a hundredfold and more! That means, if we are truly faithful to the Lord, and truly practice what we believe in our lives, we are allowing ourselves to grow in the sight of the Lord, like a growing stalk of wheat that is healthy and bountiful.

Otherwise, if we do not do what the Lord had told us to do, but instead preferring to follow the temptations of the devil, we are like those wheat crops that were outcompeted by the weeds and whose life is choked out of it by the wheat. That is the reality of sin, brothers and sisters in Christ. The devil is always trying to tempt us with sin, and indeed sin can often feel very pleasurable and enjoyable. It is easier to do what is considered as sin before God, rather than to obey the will of the Lord.

But if we do not make an active effort to resist the encroaching allures of sin, we will often end up falling into those temptations and commit sin before God, and in the end, as the sower and master of the field ordered his servants to collect all the weeds and burn them in the fire, He will also collect all the unworthy wheat, all those corrupted and destroyed by the weeds, and throw them into the fire, for they are useless and meaningless as a harvest.

We need to ask ourselves, and look deep into our lives, brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we doing what the Lord wants us to do? Or are we instead too busy with our wants and desires, with our busy daily schedules and preoccupations in life to take note of what it is that God really wants us to do with our lives? If we are not providing the best condition for God's good works to be realised in us, then how will our faith in God grow and develop?

Just like in the parable of the flour rising as a dough when yeast is added to the flour and mixed in it. All those who have baked before will know that yeast cannot cause the rising of the dough into a fluffy and soft, spongy bread without the proper condition. It requires a seal from outside air, since yeast will only cause fermentation of the flour and creating the fluffy texture of the bread in the absence of oxygen.

Similarly, if our lives are not devoid of all of its wickedness and all of the sins which we have committed, and if we do not make the conscious and active effort in order to turn ourselves away from those sins, how will we then grow closer and more devoted to God? We will only draw further and further away from Him, and when the time of judgment comes upon us, we shall end up on the wrong side of the judgment. Do we want to end up in the eternal torment prepared for the devil and all of his fellow fallen angels? Do we want to be counted among those rejected by God?

Now, indeed, it is the right time for us to do something with our lives. Many of us often like and prefer to delay and to put off doing what we can in fact do now, at this very moment, beginning from this minute. But, do we realise that our lives are at the mercy of God? Do we all realise that we may just meet the end of our lives at any moment that God wishes it? Should we wait until it is too late for us and then regret about it?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all begin from this moment on, in every little things we do in our respective lives, to be faithful to God in all of our ways. In this manner, slowly we are providing for ourselves a rich and fertile soil for the seeds of faith inside each one of us to germinate and to grow, providing rich fruits of the Spirit inside us. And the Lord, Who knows all that we are thinking and doing, will reward us in the end.

Let us all make it a habit to do what is good according to God's will, by loving our brethren, by showing mercy and forgiveness to those who have caused us hurt and suffering. Let us all show our faith by example, and not just by mere words alone. Let us all be ever more devoted and committed disciples of the Lord, so that in the end, all of us will share the eternal joy and glory of our Lord in His kingdom in Heaven. May God bless us all forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, 22 July 2017 : Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, a woman who was prominently featured and mentioned in the Holy Gospels, as one of the women who accompanied Jesus our Lord in His earthly ministry. It was told through the accounts of the Scriptures and by tradition, that St. Mary Magdalene was the woman from whom our Lord Jesus cast out seven demons, and who was also often associated with a former life as a prostitute and sinner.

In the story of St. Mary Magdalene, we saw the great story of conversion, from her former life filled with sin, wickedness and evil, into a new life filled with faith, devotion and commitment to God. As we can see and witness for ourselves, St. Mary Magdalene was henceforth after her conversion, a true disciple of the Lord, often accompanying Him on His journeys, and even walking alongside Mary, the Mother of our God, to the foot of the cross at Calvary.

She was also the one who witnessed the Lord's Resurrection firsthand, being the first one to whom Jesus our Lord revealed Himself after He had risen from the dead. St. Mary Magdalene therefore occupied a great position of honour among the saints and the disciples of the Lord, for her dedication to the Lord and for her faith. She is for us, an example and inspiration, of how all of us mankind, the people of God, can become, if we are truly changed by our interactions with the Lord.

All of us often forget this simple fact, as we reflect on the life and works of St. Mary Magdalene, that God wants from us conversion and change, a sincere repentance and turning back, away completely from our sins and from all of our past failures. We often thought that God is loving and merciful, and that He would forgive us all our sins. But is that the truth? No, God is indeed loving and merciful towards us, because He loves us, but He despises our sins, wickedness and disobedience.

He wants us to be wholly and thoroughly changed, by our conversion and change in attitude, as exemplified by St. Mary Magdalene in how God transformed her life. Jesus our Lord has also often mentioned to the sinners He had healed and encountered, to 'sin no more' and also to obey the Lord from then on. This is what many of us often overlooked, that in order for us to be thoroughly healed from our sins and to be reconciled with God perfectly, we must embark on the painful and difficult path of conversion, where effort is needed for us to remain true to the Lord in faith.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us spend some time to reflect on ourselves, on our lives and on how we have lived our lives thus far. Are we walking in the same path that St. Mary Magdalene had walked through? Or are we instead distancing ourselves further from God because of our sins and our refusal to turn away from those sins? It is time for us to realise that unless we do something with our lives, we are always at risk of falling into eternal damnation and the suffering prepared for the devil and all those who have been deemed unworthy by God.

God has given us many opportunities in order to redeem ourselves and find our way back to Him. He has shown Himself to St. Mary Magdalene first before all other of His disciples, in a very deeply symbolic meaning of the resurrection, which He shares with all of us who have decided to leave behind our life of sin and darkness behind, and embrace the new light of Christ, His love and mercy.

Through our baptism, we have been made to share in the death of Christ, as our old and past selves are forever cast away through water that destroyed our old lives filled with sin, and then the same water of baptism bring with it a new life, as life-giving water which God gives to us, sharing in the resurrection of our Lord as we receive this new life granted to us. St. Mary Magdalene had accepted her part, and we should also do the same as well.

We should find in ourselves the courage and the strength to do as St. Mary Magdalene had done, in her desire to love and to follow the Lord with all of her heart. We should be sincere and genuine in our faith, not just through mere words alone, but indeed through actions and deeds. We must seek out the Lord with all of our hearts and with all of our efforts.

Let us all draw therefore, closer to God and to His love. Let us embrace the loving sacrifice with which God had endeavoured to save us, through the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. And let us not forget, that there are many more people around us, who are also like Mary Magdalene before she was rescued by the Lord. Let us, through our faithful actions, bring the light of God and His salvation to them. May God bless us and remain with us always. Amen.

Friday, 21 July 2017 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard from the first reading we had, from the Book of Exodus, the account of how the Israelites in Egypt celebrated their very first Passover or Pascha, the moment when the Lord liberated them from the tyranny of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, by sending His Angels to scour the land of Egypt killing all the firstborn ones of the Egyptians while 'passing over' the houses of the Israelites, marked with the blood of the unblemished Passover Lamb.

They have been shown mercy by God, Who looked kindly on them and remembered their suffering and pain in the land of Egypt. He remembered the Covenant which He had established with their forefathers, from the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom He had promised that their descendants would enjoy the inheritance of the Promised Land, a land of flowing milk and honey, and they would be His people and He would be their God.

He has passed over them from death, as He saw the blood of the lamb which He told them to slaughter on the Passover day on their doorposts. And thus while death reigned throughout Egypt, sorrow and wailing could be heard from the houses of the Egyptians, there was peace and serenity, hope and joy coming from the houses of the Israelites.

God gave His people His laws and commandments, in order to guide them to Him and keep them in good faith towards Him. Yet, in the Gospel we heard today, another account of how Jesus our Lord was confronted by the Pharisees, who accused Him and His disciples of breaking the Law of the Sabbath, which according to them was that no one was supposed to do anything on the day of the Sabbath.

But the Pharisees totally missed the point of the Law and the purpose of the Sabbath. They were so focused on the applications of the Sabbath law that they ended up forgetting what was the intent of that law in the first place. They imposed the Law without understanding that ultimately it was because of God's love for His people, which He had shown to them since those ages ago, as we remembered how He saved His people at the first Passover.

Yes, it was by none other than Jesus Christ, His own Beloved Son, Whom He sent into the world, that God endeavoured to bring His salvation to the whole world. Christ is the new Paschal or Passover Lamb, by which God made His salvation available for everyone, and not just the Israelites. If the people of Israel was brought free from the land of Egypt, having been passed over from death and freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, then God sent Jesus His Son, to free all of mankind, His people, from their enslavement to sin.

For it was by His ultimate loving sacrifice on the cross that Jesus had endeavoured to liberate us from sin, by bearing those sins and faults we have committed unto Himself, and offering Himself to the Lord as a perfect sacrifice worthy to absolve us all from the multitudes our sins. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb marked the houses of the people of Israel, we all have been bathed and washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the love which God had shown each and every one of us, which we ought to appreciate and then apply in our own lives. We must not be shortsighted and conceited as the Pharisees had been, in how they tried to oppose the Lord Jesus and His good works just because He and His disciples were not operating in the manner that they wanted and expected. And in this, perhaps we should also heed the examples of the holy saint, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, whose feast we celebrate today.

St. Lawrence of Brindisi was a Capuchin friar and priest, who was renowned for his devotion to the Lord, and for his works in evangelising the Gospel and spreading the teachings of the Church among the people of God, particularly to those who have fallen to the false teachings and heresies of the Protestant reformation. Through his works, many people have returned to the faith, and were converted to a new life in God.

All of us should also follow the examples of St. Lawrence of Brindisi and the other holy saints, whose lives are holy and committed to God, no longer that they served themselves and their own wants and desires, but they embraced the love that God had showed them, and sharing this love with one another, they bring many souls to the salvation in God.

May the Lord through the intercession of St. Lawrence of Brindisi and all of His holy saints and people, bring us all closer to Him and to His eternal life and glory promised to all the faithful servants of God. Amen.

Thursday, 20 July 2017 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us heard about the calling of Moses by God, Who called him at the mountain of Horeb in Sinai, calling him to be His servant before Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, in order to free His people Israel from slavery and bondage. God told Moses what to say and do before Pharaoh, and before the people of Israel, that He would deliver them from the slavery in Egypt and bringing them into the land of their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.

In the Gospel today, then we heard about the Lord Jesus speaking the well-known words, ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.’ And then He continued with, ‘Take My yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ These words of encouragement are reminders of the time when the people of Israel were enslaved under heavy burdens, the yoke of their slavery.

A yoke is the object placed on top of bulls and buffaloes, or horses and other beasts of burden in order to be the piece that holds up the burdens which are to be carried by those animals. The yoke is placed such that the animals would not be able to easily get rid of it, and it is indeed a heavy burden placed on the back of the animal. It is therefore a symbol of enslavement and burden, which had been placed on God’s people.

God wants to remove the heavy burden from His people, just as He had removed the burden of their slavery in Egypt, where the people of Israel was crushed and persecuted under the Pharaohs who forced them into slave labour, building up his cities and monuments under the worst of conditions. They were tortured and treated badly, their rights were ignored and the Pharaohs even wanted to exterminate Israel as a people, ordering the male Hebrew newborns to be thrown into the Nile River.

God rescued His people, by sending Moses to deliver the people from the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and through Moses God sent ten great plagues that heavily crushed the Egyptians and forced the Pharaoh to relent and let the Israelites go free from slavery. And when the Pharaoh reneged on his words and chased after the Israelites, God destroyed the chariots and the armies of Egypt in the middle of the Red Sea while His people walked through the sea unharmed.

But what most people would have missed out is the fact that when God brought His people to freedom, He was not bringing them to an unbridled freedom or a life where they could just do whatever it was they wanted. No, in fact, this is what Jesus our Lord mentioned in the Gospel, when He said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. This means that the people of God were given a new burden, and this burden was for them to be obedient to God and follow all of His ways.

This happened as God established a new Covenant with His people, renewing the one which He had made with Abraham their forefathers. And through that Covenant, God gave His people a set of ten commandments and laws, which He relayed to them through Moses. The people were obliged to obey those laws and commandments, and when they refused to do so, and as they disobeyed the Lord, they perished in the desert.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a reminder to all of us that in order for us to walk faithfully upon God’s path, it will not be a painless or easy process for us. There will be challenges and difficulties, all the things that will be obstacles in our way to the Lord. There will be times when we have the temptations to give up and to turn away from God. There will be times when we will falter and prefer the comforts of the world, just as the Israelites had done before.

But let us remember, brethren, that if we turn away from the Lord and are not faithful to Him, even though we may gain a brief respite in this world, and enjoy acceptance from the world, the Lord will reject us and the consequences for us will be catastrophic. That is why the burden of this world, while it may seem to be lighter and easier, but in reality, it is far worse than the burden of becoming a faithful disciple of the Lord.

Let us not give up, brothers and sisters in Christ, but instead commit ourselves to a new life blessed with faith, following in the example of what St. Apollinaris, a holy bishop and martyr of the Church had done in his life. As we celebrate his feast day today, let us take heed of what he had committed, as he led his flock, the faithful people of God as the bishop of Ravenna in the earliest days of the Church.

St. Apollinaris propagated the faith with zeal among the people, helping to establish the Church foundations in the city of Ravenna and beyond. When the faithful were persecuted by the Roman Emperor and its administration, St. Apollinaris did not give up but continued to labour hard for the sake of the faithful people of God. It was told that he was arrested, exiled from Ravenna with many of his faithful, and as he was faithful to the end, he gladly received martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Apollinaris and the many other holy saints and martyrs of God have lived their lives filled with sincere devotion and commitment, knowing that God will free them all from their slavery to sin and from their fated destruction. Yes, brethren, God has freed us all and He has promised us all eternal life and glory with Him, if only that we are also faithful to Him and to the Covenant He has made with us all through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us all therefore renew our faith in the Lord, and let us all seek to be closer to the Lord, by doing what is right and just, and what is according to God’s will in our lives. May the Lord also help us in our journey towards Him, and may He help us to persevere through the challenges and obstacles we may face on our way. May God bless us all. Amen.

Thursday, 20 July 2017 : 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Matthew 11 : 28-30

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For My yoke is easy; and My burden is light.”