Monday, 18 November 2019 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of a Basilica)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the memory of the anniversary of the Dedication of two of the great Papal Major Basilicas of Rome, namely the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican, the largest of all the churches in the entire world and the primary place for the Papal ceremonies and liturgical celebrations while not being the Cathedral of Rome, and also the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

On this day we therefore remember the memory of the Dedication of two of the four greatest churches in all Christendom, dedicated to none other than the two patron saints of Rome and the Universal Church, namely St. Peter the Apostle, the Prince of the Apostles and the Vicar of Christ and first Pope, to whom all of our Popes are successors of, and also St. Paul the Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles whose works among the pagans and the Gentiles were crucial to the establishment and growth of the Church in its earliest days.

And today’s Scripture readings cannot have been more apt, including even the first reading from the regular weekday readings if the special readings for the Dedication of the two Basilicas are not used. That passage was taken from the first Book of the Maccabees relating to us the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt when the Greek Seleucid Empire under King Antiochus IV began to persecute the Jews in his kingdom because he wanted to enforce all the peoples in his Empire to embrace the Greek customs and practices.

At that time, many among the Jewish populations refused to follow the king’s commands just as there were sizeable numbers of the community who acceded to the king’s demands. The king used force to occupy the city of Jerusalem and built a great fortress there, and also desecrated the Temple of God in the city, the Second Temple of Jerusalem which became a pagan temple, its altar desecrated with idols and pagan worship and offerings.

It is significant that this passage is a reminder of the great sorrow which the people of Israel then suffered because their House of God had been defiled and they were made to bow low and humiliated as a people. And yet, that was the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt, in which by God’s grace and guidance, strength and power, eventually the Seleucids were driven out, the city of Jerusalem retaken and the Temple of God purified and cleansed from all of the defilements and corruptions.

And then through the special readings dedicated to the Dedication of the two Basilicas today, we heard of both the labours of St. Paul the Apostle, as he embarked on his last journey and ministry in Rome, preaching and witnessing for Christ among the Christian and Jewish populations, as well as the Gentiles in Rome alike, establishing firm foundation of the Church in Rome together with St. Peter, who is the first Bishop of Rome.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus walking miraculously on the water in a terrible and great storm, that famous miracle which most of us should have been familiar with. The disciples were all scared and fearful, thinking that they had seen a ghost because they could not truly believe that it was the Lord Jesus Whom they had seen. St. Peter tried to walk towards Him, but overcame by fear, he began to sink in the waves.

The Lord helped St. Peter up and rebuked him for his little faith. He then calmed the whole storm and made everything calm again. And through all these, we can see how the Lord reminded His disciples and all of us that truly, He is the Head and the true Foundation of the Church, the sole focus and reason of our existence, the power and the strength behind His Church today, as it had always been since when He founded it.

But at the same time, He built that Church based on the strong foundation of His Apostles, who are the pillars and the support of the Church, under the leadership of none other than St. Peter, whom He appointed as His Vicar, the Vicar of the true Head of the Church. Yet, we saw how weak and feeble the faith the disciples of the Lord had, and this is an important reminder for us that even once, those Apostles were just like us, weak in faith and sinful men. But God strengthened them and gave them the authority, wisdom and power.

That was how St. Peter and St. Paul eventually performed many wonderful works, as were the other Apostles and the many disciples, holy saints and martyrs of the Church. St. Peter and St. Paul both had to suffer in many occasions, and were martyred for the sake of the Lord and their faith in Him in Rome. St. Peter was crucified upside down at the place where the great Basilica of St. Peter on Vatican hills is now at, while St. Paul was beheaded and buried at the place where the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was built.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the significance of our celebration of the Dedication of these two great Basilicas cannot therefore be underrated, for we celebrate and remember nothing less than the memory of our great predecessors in faith and the struggles that the Church had to go through in standing up for the truth of God. And even more importantly, all of us must then realise that we are all part of the Church of God.

Going back to the reading from the first Book of the Maccabees, we are reminded of what had happened as the Temple of God was defiled. We are all also Temples of God’s Holy Presence, for in us, the Lord Himself is truly present, we who have partaken His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and who have received the Holy Spirit of God, poured to us by the grace of our Baptism and reaffirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Therefore, on this day, it is important for us all to discern on our lives and our actions carefully. Have we treated our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our whole beings in the way and manner that is worthy of God’s House and Temple, we the faithful and the living Church of God? Or have we instead defiled ourselves and God’s Temples by our sins and by our disobedience against Him? Let us all think carefully of how we can move forward from now on.

If we have sinned by our disobedience against Him, then let us all remember that God is ever merciful and willing to forgive us our sins, if we are truly repentant and willing to return to Him with faith. Let us all be righteous and follow the Lord with a renewed faith and love for Him from now on then, following in the footsteps of the great Saints, St. Peter and St. Paul, holy Apostles of the Lord. May the Lord be our guide and be our strength in life, always, now and forevermore. Amen.

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