Tuesday, 19 September 2017 : 24th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Januarius, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened first of all to St. Paul, who wrote to his contemporary and student, St. Timothy, one of the first bishops appointed to lead the dioceses of the Church in its earliest days. In that passage excerpt taken from the Epistle, St. Paul told St. Timothy about the bishops and deacons of the Church, and the criteria under which they should be selected for the good sake of the Church and the faithful.

Bishops were also known as overseers, as those appointed to take care over a portion of the people of God gathered in a certain area, cities and provinces. To them it has been granted the authority to oversee and manage the faithful, both the priests and the laity, as shepherds appointed over the flock of the Lord. As such, their roles were very important, as they led the people of God, and they were entrusted with the safeguarding of the fullness of the truth and the teachings of our faith.

Therefore, bishops must have been good and dedicated servants of God, exemplary in their actions, words and deeds. That was why St. Paul emphasised to St. Timothy the criteria in how a bishop should be selected. The idea was that, a bishop should be, as much as possible, be free from serious impediments and impropriety, as his actions and words will be closely followed as examples by the flock entrusted to his care.

There had been many occasions when bishops had not been faithful to the teachings of the Church and to the traditions handed down from the Apostles and therefore from the Lord Himself. Those bishops had instead chosen to walk down the path of heresy, where they misled those entrusted to their care and ending up leading many people down the path to damnation because of their lack of faith. Not only that their sins were severe, but the impact on the Church and the faithful were also often enormous.

Meanwhile, deacons as mentioned by St. Paul were also required to be of men of proper standing and of good behaviour and faith. Why is this so? That is because deacons, just as priests and bishops played a very important role in the Church and among the faithful, for just as the bishops led the faithful, and the priests ministered to them spiritually, the deacons were the ones entrusted with many of the charitable works of the Church, caring for the needs of the people of God.

Deacons must also be upright in their actions, for if they were not, they could scandalise the faith and the Church, as they were often entrusted with many of the Church’s possessions and properties in conducting their missions. And they were also frequently needed at the frontline of action, take for example, St. Stephen and his fellow deacons, in which St. Stephen had to even lay down his life defending his faith, as the first martyr of the Church.

As we can see, it is not easy to be devoted servants of God, because of the many challenges that will inevitably come to be obstacles and hurdles in their path. And temptation will always be present, trying to lure away the faithful, even those who have faithfully serve the Lord, to abandon their holy mission, and to save themselves. They will need our support, prayers and help.

And that is not all, brothers and sisters in Christ, as there are many of us whom God had called and chosen to be the successors of the many good and holy bishops, priests and deacons that we have had, and yet, many of the people called had not responded to God’s call, and then, some others still failed in their calling, as they lapsed and some abandoned their vocation. These are truly very regrettable occurrences, which should not have happened. Yet, this is where all of us as Christians must truly help one another, and support God’s faithful servants.

Those of us who have received the calling from God may want to heed the examples of St. Januarius, or San Gennaro of Naples in Italy, a Roman saint and bishop of Naples, who lived during the difficult years of the Early Church, which was greatly suffering under persecution from the Roman state and its Emperor Diocletian, who carried out one of the most vicious and terrible persecution of the Church and Christians. He led the faithful people entrusted to his care, and he helped to hide the people that were chased by the Roman officials, that they would not be arrested.

He did all these while risking himself, and still faithfully discharging his duties in teaching and guiding the people to God. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to his flock, and when he was eventually arrested by the authorities, he remained strong and resolute despite torture and suffering, and he faced martyrdom with great courage, knowing that he had done all that the Lord had asked him to do and even more. And his examples have inspired many others to continue to persevere in their faith even unto this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore pray, and fervently ask God what is it that He wants from each one of us. If He has called us and chosen us to be His servants, then let us pray for discernment, that we will be able to make the right decisions, and commit ourselves to God’s cause, in the manner St. Januarius had done. May the Lord continue to guide us in our path, and may we draw ever closer to Him with each passing day. And let us also pray for all the good servants of God, our deacons, priests and bishops, and all others who dedicate themselves to the greater glory of God. Amen.

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