Thursday, 27 June 2019 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Bishops)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings we heard two stories, one from the Book of Genesis, and the other from the Gospel of St. Matthew, both which remind us of the need for us to trust in God and to be faithful to Him, so that our lives may truly be blessed and be firm in His hands, and not being swayed by the uncertainties of this world we are living in today.

In the first reading today, we heard about the story of Abraham and Sarah, then known as Abram and Sarai respectively, who have not yet had a child on their own, even though they have been married for a long time and by then they were already quite old and Sarai was already past the child-bearing age. Without an heir of his own, Abram had planned that his wealth and possessions would be inherited by one of his own trusted servants, but God made it clear that it was not how things would be.

Instead, God revealed that Abraham would have an heir and son as He has promised to him in the Covenant He made with him, that the descendants of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars and would be blessed by God forevermore. Abraham trusted in God’s will and plan, but his wife, Sarai, had a different idea in mind. Instead of waiting patiently for God’s plan to come to fruition, Sarai instead chose to take a shortcut.

According to the ancient customs of the time, Sarai took his own slave, Hagar, to bear a child with Abram, as a child of a slave at that time was recognised as the child of the legal wife of the person, the one who owned the slave. As such, when Ishmael, the son of Abram and Hagar was born, technically he was recognised as the son of Abram and Sarai. But this was not what God had meant for his servant Abram.

Nonetheless, God still blessed Ishmael as one of the descendants of Abraham and reassured him that Ishmael and his descendants would still be blessed by Him. Yet, at the same time, God reiterated that His will was for Abram to have a child with Sarai, and fulfil the promise of the Covenant which He had made with Abram. And indeed, God is ever faithful and eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a child, named Isaac, the one whom God had promised.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples using a parable which many of us are surely familiar with, speaking of two houses built upon different foundations, one on a foundation of sand, while the other one was built on a firm foundation of rock. When the winds and the waves battered the house built on the foundation of sand, the house is destroyed and toppled, while the one built on the firm, rocky foundation remained strong.

In this parable we see the comparison with the case of Abraham and his wife and slave as we heard in our Gospel passage today. What do I mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? The actions of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, in taking a shortcut with her own slave to provide a child for herself and Abraham was an example of the lack of faith and trust in God, akin to building a house on the foundation of sand.

And true enough, when Ishmael grew older, conflict grew between Ishmael and Isaac, and also between Hagar and Sarah, as rivalry grew between them and pride got in between them all. It ended with Hagar and Ishmael being exiled and cast out so that Isaac could have his full inheritance. We see how Sarah’s plan did not go well in the end, causing just sorrow and sadness to all who were involved.

That will likely the same outcome for us, if we choose to trust in ourselves alone and in our own human judgments in how we choose to live our lives, and not putting our trust and faith in God. Putting our trust and faith in God is like building a house on a firm foundation of rock, as no matter what happens, and no matter what challenges we may encounter, God is always ever faithful, and while man may fail us and be unfaithful, God cannot deny His own love and faithfulness.

This does not mean that our lives will be free of difficulties and challenges if we choose to trust in God. Rather, if we remain faithful, in the end, if we look back through what we have gone through, we will indeed realise just how much God had blessed us with, and how much He has strengthened and provided for us. He is our firm foundation upon which our faith strengthens us and keeps us steady amidst the dangers and challenges of the world.

Today, all of us celebrate the feast day of one of the holy and devoted servants of God, whose life was anchored to the Lord so deeply, that he can be a great inspiration to all of us in how we should be living our own lives with faith. He is St. Cyril of Alexandria, the very influential Patriarch of Alexandria and therefore one of the great leaders of the Church during his time, leading his flock for thirty-two years.

St. Cyril of Alexandria was remembered for his great piety and dedication to God, his courageous faith and orthodoxy, defending the true faith against the false teachings and heresies that were espoused and held by priests, bishops and leaders of the Church at the time, chief of all being the heretic Nestorius, who espoused the Nestorian heresy, which at that time had the support of the Emperor and many among the influential members of the Church and the society.

The Nestorian heresy claimed that Jesus the Man and the Son of God or the Logos, the Divine Word of God were separate and distinct from each other, an argument that the orthodox and true Apostolic faith firmly rejected, defended by St. Cyril of Alexandria and others who stood by the truth that in the person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, His nature as the Son of Man, and His nature as the Son of God, His humanity and divinity, were united and inseparable from each other, two natures in one person, equally and fully God and Man.

St. Cyril of Alexandria had to defend the faith against all these false teachings and this brought him into quite a few conflict both within the Church and also with the secular authorities. St. Cyril stood his ground strongly and devoted himself to the Lord fully, that he persevered through all the challenges and oppositions, all the struggles he had to go through throughout his ministry of the people of God.

Through the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria and several other prominent leaders of the Church, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convoked in the year 431, to resolve the dispute between the orthodox party and the Nestorian supporters. In the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, the heresy of Nestorianism was officially condemned, but St. Cyril of Alexandria had to suffer, as the Emperor supported the Nestorians who convened a rival Council of their own.

St. Cyril had to endure arrest and imprisonment for a while, and yet he continued to struggle for the true faith, and eventually, with the backing of the people and the support of many others who defended the true faith, the heretic Nestorius was deposed and sent into exile, and St. Cyril was freed and continued to shepherd his flock to the end of his life. Truly, we have seen in the life of this holy saint, a great inspiration for us all to follow in how we live our virtuous Christian lives.

Let us all be inspired by the virtuous examples of St. Cyril of Alexandria as well as the faith of Abraham, our father in faith, in trusting the Lord completely and putting our faith in Him, He Who is the firm foundation of our lives, that despite the challenges and difficulties we may encounter, we do not take shortcuts and means that put our faith more in our own human and worldly power as Sarah had once done.

Let us all build our Christian lives upon the firm foundation in God, and devote ourselves with ever greater zeal and fervour from now on. May the Lord continue to guide us throughout our lives, and may He bless us all in our journey through life, now and always. Amen.

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