Friday, 18 November 2016 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter the Apostle and the Papal Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of a Basilica)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we commemorate together the memorial of the dedication of two of the great Papal Basilicas located in the holy city of Rome, dedicated to the two greatest of the saints of Christendom, the pillars of the Church, none other than St. Peter the Apostle, Prince and leader of all the Apostles of our Lord, and also St. Paul the Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles and writer of the many Epistles in the New Testament.

Both of them were martyred in Rome, and therefore were seen as the patron saints of the city of Rome, where their tombs were located at, and at that time, Rome was the heart of the Roman Empire, the heart and centre of the secular superpower that was the Roman Empire, and where the Caesars, that is the Emperors ruled with absolute authority, and demanded from all others obedience and also worship.

For the Emperors were worshipped as gods and as incarnation of the gods, and by elevating themselves to the divinity, they deemed themselves as above others, and thus the Imperial Cult of the Roman Empire was created. And against this, came the two Apostles of our Lord, who in their separate ways ended up in the city of Rome, continuing the missions entrusted to them by the Lord.

And they were not chosen by the Lord for their might, their greatness or their talents, unlike the Roman Emperors who boasted of their wealth, or their human and military prowess. Instead, God chose a diverse range of people, and many of them are just like us, common people with our own stories and unique origins. He called His disciples and chose His Apostles from among fishermen, bandits, even tax collectors and others.

And it was not that their faith was great, or that they were as intelligent as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who at that time were those who were educated in the society, knowing the entirety of the laws of Moses. Most of the Apostles were uneducated and even illiterate, and yet, they went on to perform great deeds, some of which were told to us in the Acts of the Apostles. And why is that so? It was none other than because of the Lord and His works on them.

If we remember the passage from the Scriptures we heard today, and what we know of the Apostles, particularly that of St. Peter and St. Paul, certainly, they did not have an outstanding and great faith from the start. Both of them struggled and were troubled in their faith, and were also shaken at certain times, when doubt overpowered them and made them to tremble, and in the case of St. Peter, to sink in the waves, when he tried to walk towards Jesus, because he doubted.

The Apostles were afraid and doubtful when the elders and the chief priests sent guards to arrest Jesus, after He had been betrayed by one of His own Apostles, Judas Iscariot the traitor. The Apostles fled the scene and went into hiding when their Lord and Master was arrested, and we know how St. Peter himself, after having sworn to give his life for the sake of the Lord that very night, denied his Lord and Master three times in order to protect himself from harm.

I am sure that we also know how St. Paul grew up as a zealous and fanatical Pharisee, determined to hunt down as many followers of Christ as he could, arresting them and torturing them as he was misguided by his blind obedience to the false understanding of the Law of God. In fact, St. Peter and St. Paul were just like us, sinners and filled with doubt, indeed as what some of us would say, that we are unworthy of our Lord and His love.

But what made them different? In fact, what made our holy saints and martyrs to be different from us? It is because all of them went through a thorough and wholesome change in their lives, in how they lived their lives and in how they carried out their actions henceforth, and they turned from sinners and into God’s holy and devoted people, His saints.

St. Peter dedicated his whole life thereafter in the service of God, leading His fellow Apostles and the other disciples of Christ, coordinating the immense task of guiding and leading the early Church through moments of difficulties and through good moments when many became believers and therefore had to require new shepherds and guides, new bishops to be appointed to lead these.

St. Paul was converted when God called him on that fateful day when he was on his way to Damascus. God revealed His truth to him, and after having heard the truth and realising how wrong he was, St. Paul made that dramatic turnaround and from one of the greatest enemies of the Lord and His faithful people, he then became one of the Church and the Faith’s greatest champion and defender.

There is something that all of us can learn from this, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we did not choose to become servants of the Lord, but rather, He chose us and made us worthy. The Apostles, saints and many martyrs were ordinary men and women just like us, but they changed their ways of life and followed the Lord with conviction and commitment.

God transformed the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, from their humble and even sinful origins, to become His greatest tools, as His greatest servants in bringing the souls of many of His beloved ones closer to Him and allowing many through them to listen to the truth about His salvation. The same call is now therefore made upon us as well. Each and every one of us as Christians have been called to serve the Lord, and to evangelise and preach the Good News of God to all.

And this is related to our celebration today, remembering the moment when the two great Basilicas dedicated to these two Apostles were consecrated and dedicated, made holy and had incense and the holy oils applied to it and the Altar within the Basilicas, and through the blessing of the Almighty God, these two great edifices became more than just a space, but rather they become a place worthy to house the Holy Presence of God.

Before a church, be it a small parish church, a large church, an important one such as Cathedrals and Basilicas, none of these can be used for the purpose of the celebration of the Holy Mass if they have not been consecrated and dedicated yet. And as I have mentioned in my homily for the Dedication of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran just two weeks earlier, this has implication and relevance for us that we all should know and understand.

Undedicated and unconsecrated, the great Basilicas and cathedrals are just mere buildings, spaces with architecture without meaning. Through the consecration, it has been made into a worthy and holy Residence and House of God. In the same manner, through our own baptism, through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit by our confirmation, and through the reception of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist, each and every one of us, our bodies, minds, hearts and souls have been consecrated and dedicated to the Lord to be His holy Temples, where He shall dwell in us.

We are the Temple and the House of God, for God Himself has dwelled inside us, inside our mortal bodies and existence. And as a result, we should make sure that we live in accordance to the way of the Lord, obeying His laws and precepts, or else we would defile the sanctity of this Temple and House of God. God has transformed our humble and simple bodies and beings into His glorious residence, as much as those magnificent buildings and edifices has been transformed into the great places of worship.

Let us all therefore spend some time to reflect on this, thinking carefully of what each and every one of us should be doing in our respective lives. We should imitate the examples of the saints in their dedication and commitment, and follow the examples set by the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. Do not be discouraged if we think that our faith is easily shaken and weak, for the Apostles themselves were once filled with doubt as well.

Let us all open ourselves, heart, mind, body and soul, that God may come into each and every one of us, transforming us completely from being creatures of the flesh and darkness, into creatures of the light, into sons and daughters of our Lord, worthy of the eternal life He has promised to all of His faithful ones. St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us sinners, that we may be like you and follow in your footsteps. Amen.

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