Friday, 22 June 2018 : 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paulinus of Nola, Bishop and St. John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Thomas More, Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops) or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passage from the Book of Kings, in which the story of queen Athaliah of Judah was highlighted. Queen Athaliah was the wife of king Ahaziah of Judah, who was killed with the descendants of Ahab, as Elijah and Elisha had prophesied, by Jehu, the new king of Israel. And having heard that her husband was dead, Athaliah went on to seize power for herself, and eliminated all the immediate relatives of the king.

Yet what Athaliah had done was unjust and unlawful, as she was not supposed to gain the crown and rulership over Judah and Israel for herself, as she did not belong to the House of David. God had decreed that the house of David alone shall have the kingdom of Israel for theirs and their inheritance, forever and ever. But Athaliah did not hesitate to take action, and commanded a brutal massacre of all the possible threats to her rule.

It is likely that she was overcome with her ego, pride, and most importantly greed and desire for power. It does not explain otherwise why she would do such a vile action for the sake of gaining the rulership over the kingdom and worldly power. And indeed, it is such a dangerous desire, that ended up in her committing the killing of so many people, even young children.

This is related very well, then, to what we are hearing in our Gospel passage today. In that passage, the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples about the futility of the treasures of the world that can perish and be destroyed, and how we mankind often seek to try to gain them all for our own use. And He also told them indirectly how those things could end up corrupting us, ending up with us engulfed by sin and darkness.

Perhaps we should examine today’s readings more closely in conjunction with the lives of the three saints whose feast we celebrate today. St. Paulinus of Nola was born into a rich Roman senatorial family, with bright prospects in the future, and he was well educated and intellectual, promising a good career in life. He was appointed as governor and ruler of a province, but slowly, the attraction of the faith was growing in him. He was still a pagan in his early years.

Eventually he was baptised and grew more and more religious and devout day after day. After he and his wife lost his only child at a young age, both of them dedicated themselves to God, and eventually St. Paulinus of Nola was ordained to priesthood, and later on became the bishop of Nola. He devoted much of his energy, time and effort to serve his flock and to improve their faith. He is truly the example of what the Lord mentioned in today’s Gospel, that is to seek a greater treasure than the worldly treasures.

Now, if St. Paulinus of Nola showed us the model of Christian living faithfully to the Gospel and to the Lord’s way, then the other two saints showed yet again, how mankind’s greed and desire could have wrecked such havoc due to their relentless pursuit of worldly treasures, influence, power and all sorts of wickedness, and then, they showed us, that as Christians we should remain firmly rooted in our faith despite the temptations to do otherwise.

St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were the martyrs of the so-called ‘English reformation’, when king Henry VIII of England forcibly removed the Church in England from their obedience to Rome and from their part within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. For a background, king Henry VIII used to be a great defender of the faith, even defending vigorously the holy Catholic faith and the seven Sacraments from the heretics.

However, what led the king to commit such a heinous act? It was his obsession with the preservation of his dynasty and therefore legacy, and at that time, the measure of a man’s success is how much wealth and fame one could attain and amass, and most importantly, how lasting one’s family and dynasty is. King Henry VIII could not have a son from his first marriage, and he desperately wanted a son, as at that time, only a son could be seen as a successful heir, and not a daughter, although daughters were indeed allowed to inherit the kingdom.

He tried very hard to have his first marriage annulled so that he could remarry and produce a male heir to the throne of England. However, due to the complicated historical condition at the time, the Pope was unable to grant him the permission to do so. And in truth, such an action would have also scandalised the faith, as marriages could only be annulled for valid reasons, and not being able to produce a male heir was not one of those valid reasons.

But king Henry VIII persisted in his attempts, and eventually, he took the drastic and wicked action of sundering the entire Church in England from their part in the Universal Church. There were many who remained true to their faith and obedience to the Pope and the Universal Church, including St. Thomas More, who was actually king Henry’s Chancellor and St. John Fisher, the influential Bishop of Rochester and the former tutor of the king.

St. John Fisher defended the marital rights of the Queen and opposed the king, and while St. Thomas More was persuaded to give his support to the king’s cause in exchange of even greater wealth and power, he refused to do so. He would rather, with St. John Fisher and many other martyrs of the faith at that time, choose to suffer rather than to betray his faith in God and abandon the true Church.

Now, once again, we see how the actions of men who were overcome by greed and worldly temptations led to such great sufferings and tragedies for the faithful. And it also proved the Lord’s point about the futility of human and worldly material goods, as in the case of king Henry VIII, who would go on to marry a total of six times, had only one sickly son in the end, who eventually died at a young age after succeeding Henry, without any heir, ending the dynasty. But the harm had been done, and many were martyred defending their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have discussed and heard, let us all reflect on our own lives. Have our lives been filled with holiness and faith in God, or have we rather been filled with desire, greed, pride, ego, hatred and all sorts of things that often tempt us in this life? As Christians, all of us must make the conscious effort to reject those temptations, especially for false worldly treasures, and turn to the Lord with all of our hearts.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen our faith, that we will be able to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to Him, following the examples of His holy saints, St. Paulinus of Nola, and the holy martyrs, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. Amen.

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