Friday, 23 February 2018 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day from the book of the prophet Ezekiel we heard about the salvation of God’s people and how it all depends not on how a person’s current standing or status, but on what the person has done and committed in life. The prophet Ezekiel made it clear through the example of a holy and devout man who sinned, and by whose sins the man would be judged and condemned, as well as sinners who would be redeemed if they would turn away from their sins.

This is related to what we heard in the Gospel passage, regarding the Lord’s teaching to the people about being faithful to God in the right way. The Lord mentioned how the people must be faithful more than how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been faithful in their ways or else they would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God.

In order to appreciate and understand the fullness of the meaning of these Scripture passages, we have to understand the context in which the Lord made such a comment about the two groups of people He mentioned. Otherwise we may end up failing to understand just how important they are to our own salvation and life.

The Pharisees were influential group of people who were highly educated by the standard of the time, as were the teachers of the Law, where the Pharisees were a political grouping of those who favour strict interpretation and enforcement of the laws of Moses among the people. Meanwhile the teachers of the Law taught those laws among the people and interpreted them in accordance to their beliefs.

These two groups of people were often considered pious and authoritative in terms of religion. And they basked in the praise and adulation they received from the people, even expecting them to follow what they were doing. But many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law did not observe the Law for the right reasons. They did them to garner support and praise, and to advance their prestige and status rather than any genuine faith in God.

That was why the Lord often rebuked them for their hypocrisy in faith, saying to the people one thing and yet doing it in an entirely different manner and for different purpose. They expect the people to obey their strict interpretation of the laws of Moses, and yet, they did not perform their observances for the right reasons as mentioned. Is this what we have also done with our own lives? Remember what the prophet Ezekiel said, that even those who were considered pious will be judged should they fall into sin, exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to be true disciples of the Lord, following and obeying what the Lord had taught us to do. We should not become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who did not follow the laws and commandments for the right reasons. When we follow the laws and the teachings of the Church, we must first and foremost do them with God first and foremost in our hearts and minds.

Otherwise, it is easy for us to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had fallen into. God calls everyone to be faithful to Him, in their hearts, minds and whole beings. What He told the prophet Ezekiel is a reminder for us that no one is beyond God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Even sinners, as all of us are, will be made and considered righteous for whatever good deeds we do in our lives, done with the right purpose and intention, that is with the intention of the greater glory of God.

Let us all follow the examples of St. Polycarp, holy bishop and martyr of the Faith. He was a bishop of the early Church, who led the faithful and God’s flock in the region of Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was a faithful successor of the Apostles, who converted many to the faith by his teachings and exemplary faith. He helped the spiritual growth of many people, and was martyred in his old age after many years of service, having refused to offer incense to the Roman Emperor who was then worshipped like a god.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to do what the faithful St. Polycarp and our holy predecessors, the saints and martyrs had done. We have to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, without being distracted by our worldly concerns and desires. We must learn to let go of our pride, our human desires and greed, and learn to put God first and ourselves second. Otherwise, we will end up like those who put their own interests ahead of God’s interests, and thus likely to fall into sin.

Let us all renew our faith, that we may live ever more faithfully day after day, in accordance with the way that the Lord has shown us, following in the footsteps of the saints, particularly remembering the memory of the good and faithful St. Polycarp the bishop and martyr. May the Lord strengthen our faith, and give us the courage to live our lives ever more in accordance with His will. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

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