Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Saturday Mass of our Lady and Popes)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are presented with the message of the Lord, through the Holy Scriptures and the Gospels, on the nature of our faith and salvation, and how we can attain that salvation through what we are doing in this life, not just based on any race or other passive benefits or factors, but through the commitment of actions that make our faith truly alive in God.
In the first reading today, St. Paul in his letter to the faithful and the Church in Galatia showed how while in the past, God revealed His Law to His people to guide them and prevent them from going astray from the path towards salvation, but the coming of Christ, the Messiah and Saviour of all, gave mankind a new focus of their faith and devotion. For God Himself had come down upon us, in our humble form, to save us from our fate that was death and oblivion.
There was also to be no more division and prejudice, or any difference in treatment between those in the society, based on either race or birth, based no longer on either status or wealth or possessions. What matters is truly whether one believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if one believes, and lives according to that faith which they have, then they are guaranteed salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
That was because, the Jews, who were descendants of Abraham, the faithful servant of God, with whom He had made His covenant with, were proud and prejudiced against their neighbours, thinking that as the heirs and sons of Abraham, they alone deserved salvation, and the others, the Gentiles, namely the Greeks, the Samaritans, Romans, Arabs, Canaanites, and others whom they considered as pagans and barbarians deserved eternal damnation.
Yet, Jesus made it clear in the Gospel, that blessing is upon those who follow the will of God, who walk in His ways, and who practice their faith in the real life, showing that their faith is truly real, concrete and dynamic. Yes, not the dead and stagnant faith shown by lack of action, by mere lip service of faith, and not by prejudicing against others or condemning others or glorifying oneself thinking that one is worthy of salvation, while others do not.
Therefore, today we are all called to reflect on our own lives, whether in all things we do, we have been truly faithful to the Lord, not just by mere faith or words, but also through actions founded in faith, filled with hope, and blessed and graced by love. This is what is necessary for us to attain our salvation, and blessed we are indeed if we listen to Jesus and what He had said, instead of following our own desires and wants.
Today, we celebrate together with the whole Universal Church, the feast of Pope St. John XXIII, the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, and one of the great and holy Popes of the twentieth century after the birth of Christ. Pope St. John XXIII, who was also called the ‘Good Pope’, was chiefly remembered for his role in convoking and gathering the latest Ecumenical Council of the Holy Roman Church, that is the Second Vatican Council, which lasted from 1962 to 1965, but in fact, his holiness stemmed not just from that act, but also from the actions which he had taken for the entire course of his life.
The life and examples of Pope St. John XXIII, the Good Pope, il Papa Buono, can be an inspiration for us all, as ever since he was born of a poor peasant family in the village and commune of Sotto il Monte, in the province of Bergamo in northern Italy as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, he had led a very faithful and devoted life to God. He was poor, just as his family was poor, but together they as a family lovingly devoted themselves to God.
At a certain moment in his youth, the young Angelo encountered experience in faith, by those whom he met, including his uncle, which encouraged him to consider giving himself to the service of God. As his family was poor, and peasant youths were considered important assets to help out in work, his parents were reluctant to let him to go and join the seminary.
Nevertheless, in the end, God had His way, and Angelo managed to join the seminary, studying intently and eventually was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Bergamo. He eventually became the secretary of the local ordinary, Bishop Radini-Tedeschi, who was a relatively obscure individual compared to his later famous protege, but the one who had great influence on Angelo and his later great works.
Bishop Radini-Tedeschi encountered a great workers and union strike in accordance to the poor living conditions and treatment of workers by the government of that era, in the early twentieth century, and Bishop Radini-Tedeschi faithfully and tenderly exercised his works as the shepherd of his flock, calling for restraint and restoration of order while calling for reforms and great improvement in the treatment of workers. He even donated his own personal wealth to help the poor workers made their ends meet.
All these inspired the young Angelo Roncalli, the later Pope St. John XXIII, as he later was made Archbishop and appointed as the Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria, and later to Greece and Turkey. During his diplomatic missions in the service of the Church, Archbishop Roncalli did many great works, establishing links and friendship with the separated brethren of faith in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and during his mission in Greece and Turkey, even saved many Jews from the actions of the German NAZI who was bent on annihilating them as a race in the holocaust.
In his later mission as the Apostolic Nuncio to France, Archbishop Roncalli continued to do many good works, establishing links and relationship with the French government, including dealing with the difficult leader of France, Charles de Gaulle, who wanted to reduce the influence of the Church of Rome in the affairs of the Church in France.
And eventually, as the Patriarch of Venice and a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli continued to exercise the good works which he had done earlier in his earlier posts and ministries, and which eventually he continued when he was elected Pope in 1958 to succeed the great Pope Pius XII, the Pastor Angelicus, or the Angelic Pope.
Pope St. John XXIII continued to lead the Church faithfully, and he was particularly concerned with the restoration of relations with the Eastern Church, as he had experienced earlier during his time in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, in the relationships he had made with the prelates and faithful of the Eastern Church at the time. And then he was also concerned about the state of the Church, and the need for a continuation of the unfinished works of the First Vatican Council, which was prematurely ended due to the events at that time.
Thus, Pope St. John XXIII convoked the gathering of the Second Vatican Council, which commenced in 1962, and which sessions was started and opened by the Pope himself, which meeting was to continue until 1965, and concluded by Pope Paul VI, his successor as Pope St. John XXIII passed away in 1963, before the conclusion of the Ecumenical Council which he had initiated.
Pope St. John XXIII also was renowned for his role in helping to reduce tension between the superpowers, namely the United States of America and the Soviet Union, which almost ended up in a major war, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. One of the last major acts of Pope St. John XXIII was the peace which he helped broker between the two sides, and which was the major reason behind the Papal encyclical he released in 1963, the famous Pacem in Terris, or ‘Peace on earth’.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as I have mentioned, that the actions of Pope St. John XXIII are examples to all of us, and through them, we should also be inspired to follow in his footsteps, that our faith may grow stronger and that in our devotion, we may be found justified in our faith by the Lord our God. Remember, brethren, that we have to have a living faith in us, so that our faith will not be just empty, but be real and concrete.
May Almighty God, who sees the faith and commitment which Pope St. John XXIII, also see the faith that is in us, and therefore may grant us the inheritance and reward which He promised us through Jesus Christ His Son. May we all come ever closer to His loving embrace, seeking His mercy and be made righteous once again. God bless us all. Amen.