Tuesday, 13 August 2019 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture reminding us all of the love which God has constantly shown to us, despite all of our disobedience and refusal to love Him. He has always been faithful to the Covenant He made with each and every one of us, and He has blessed us all throughout these lives we have, and everything that we are today, all of these are because of Him and His endless love for us.

In our first reading passage today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses, who was at the last moments of his life, was speaking to the entire congregation of the people of Israel, those who have survived the whole forty years journey through the desert, having been led and guided by God throughout all those years of ordeal, suffering, trials and time of purification from their sins.

Those who have sinned and disobeyed God had perished in the desert as God Himself had told them, while their sons and daughters and those who remained faithful to God were the only ones who would then enter into the land promised to them and their ancestors, the land of Canaan. Moses reassured them all that God would be with all of them and they had nothing to fear. It was because of that fear which made Israel disobeyed and distrusted the Lord that caused the whole nation to wander in the desert for forty years in the first place.

God has always been faithful, and He continues to love His people generously as He has always been. And that is the clear message of today’s passage from the Book of Deuteronomy. God will care for us and take care of everything we need, but we need to trust in Him and put our whole lives, our whole existence in His care and devote ourselves to His providence and His compassionate mercy.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord through His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, reminds us yet again of this love which He has for all of us. By using the example and parable of the lost sheep, He shows that if even any one of us, represented by the sheep of the flock, wanders off and becomes lost, God, as our ever loving and dedicated Shepherd, will go all the way to look for us and to find us, and be reunited with us.

That is exactly what He has done, brothers and sisters in Christ, by willingly humbling Himself and assuming the form of our humanity, in becoming the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, to become the One through Whom we would be saved, by His works and by His ultimate sacrifice of love, the sacrifice of the Cross. God loves us so much that He willingly embraced all the sufferings and the pains of the punishments for our sins, and by His Cross, He unites us all back to Himself, reconciling us all by the atonement for our sins.

But His love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness will not be able to enter into us, if we remain obstinate and stubborn as those Israelites who have disobeyed and rebelled against God. They have closed their hearts and minds against the Lord and preferred to follow the temptations and false promises of Satan instead of listening to and obeying the Lord Who has loved and cared for them throughout all those years.

That is why, all of us need to reexamine our lives and reflect on the other words of the Lord today, Who has mentioned that unless we are like children in the manner of our faith, we will not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Why is this so? That is because we all surely know how children usually behave. Children below a certain age of understanding and knowledge are truly pure and innocent, and they will believe whatever they have heard, seen and experienced wholeheartedly.

And this is exactly the kind of faith that all of us must have as well, a pure love and commitment to God, a genuine dedication and longing for Him. We should not be swayed by the many temptations in life, the temptations of desire, the temptations of worldly glory and the many other things that often prevented us from finding our path towards the Lord. Today, therefore, we should look at the examples shown by two great saints of the early Church who have overcome the temptations of worldly glory and chose to be truly faithful to the Lord.

Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were two great leaders of the early Church during the years of terrible persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Maximinus in the early third century after the birth of Christ. At that time, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus were in fact on the opposing sides of the bitter divide between two factions in the Church, when Pope St. Pontian was elected to be the successor of St. Peter. Some of the Church elders has elected St. Hippolytus earlier on as an Antipope.

The bitter division and conflict between the two saints then and their followers threatened to cause great schism in the Church, but eventually, by the grace of God and because of the persecutions against the Church, they were reconciled to each other, and when the Pope was arrested and exiled, Pope St. Pontian chose to voluntarily resign his position, and it was likely that St. Hippolytus did so as well, allowing for the restoration of the full unity in the Church and the continuation of the line of St. Peter even after they were exiled and martyred for their faith.

The example of humility shown by those two saints and their devotion to God and to the people entrusted to them, despite the divisions that occurred temporarily at that time should show us that if we are able to cast off the temptations of pride, of worldly glory and power, of influence and fame, and accept humbly the cross of Christ as Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus had done, we too can share in their glory, through our own virtuous and exemplary lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray to the Lord, asking Him for strength and encouragement, that each and every one of us may draw ever closer to Him and find our way to the salvation He has promised to us all. May all of us be ever more committed and be able to serve Him from now on with all of our hearts and with all of our strength. Amen.

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