Thursday, 2 April 2020 : 5th Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Francis of Paola, Hermit (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story of how God established His Covenant with Abram, a man whom He called from the land of Mesopotamia to follow Him into the land of Canaan, which He promised that the land would be the inheritance of Abram and his descendants forever. And even more significantly for Abram, who until then was still childless in his marriage with Sarai his wife, God promised that he would become the father of many nations.

God made a Covenant with Abram, whom was known afterwards as Abraham, and He kept the promises that He had made with him, that through Isaac, the son that Abraham and Sarah had, as well as through Ishmael, another son of Abraham, many nations were born from the descendants of Abraham, principally the Israelites who are Abraham’s direct descendants and chosen race, as well as many other nations related to Abraham through descent.

It is this blood ties and descent that the Jews in our Gospel passage alluded to when they stood by their ground against the rebukes made against them by the Lord, Who showed them the errors of their ways and called them to turn away from their sinful path and disobedience. They proudly asserted themselves to be the children of Abraham, and they took offence at Jesus just because He spoke the truth of God which may indeed be unsettling for some.

They in fact behaved contrary to what Abraham had done in the past. God chose Abraham among all other people of the nations in his time because he had great faith in God, and he followed when the Lord called him, not hesitating or minding even when he had to leave all the comforts of his old life behind as he journeyed far away from his ancestral homeland, to travel to the unknown land of Canaan led only by the faith which he had in the Lord, entrusting his whole life entirely in the hands of God.

Abraham was faithful, even when he was tested by God, at the time when he was asked to offer his own son Isaac as an offering and sacrifice to God. Abraham did not even hesitate, as sorrowful and affected as he might have been, and still devoted himself wholeheartedly in the Lord, and he was indeed richly and doubly blessed by God because of his steadfastness and faith. On the contrary, the people of Judah at the time of Jesus, the descendants of the same Abraham, had not been faithful.

In fact, they doubted when the Lord Himself performed miracles and deeds that had been prophesied by the many prophets sent to the land of Israel, and even after they saw how the Lord performed those miraculous deeds before their own eyes, hearing all the testimonies and words from all those who had been healed, many of them still refused to believe in Him and doubted Him. Some even accused Him of colluding with demonic forces, such as Beelzebul the prince of demons.

We can see here how the people lacked genuine faith in God, and they were stubborn in refusing to listen to reason and God’s wisdom, preferring instead to trust in their own often flawed human judgment and ideals. They had great pride in having such intellect, abilities and power that they have so that they refused to accept that they could be wrong or mistaken, and they refused to listen when they were criticised and provided with feedback on how they ought to improve themselves.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all these we are reminded to be more like Abraham, our father in faith, and not to follow the examples of those people who had little faith in God. This is also why we are urged to be more humble and be more willing to listen, not to be quick to judge and to temper our pride and desire. We should be careful of our ambitions and hubris, and we should not allow all these to tempt us and bring us to our downfall.

Today, we celebrate the feast of a saint whose life and examples can inspire us to be more faithful to God, namely St. Francis of Paola, a renowned holy man and hermit, a member and founder of the Franciscans inspired Order of Minims. St. Francis of Paola dedicated his life to God in a life of prayer and service to God, caring for the spiritual needs of many people through prayerful life away from the distractions of the world.

Since his youth, St. Francis of Paola had always been attracted to the solitary life in prayer, often seeking secluded places to contemplate and live a life of prayer. He inspired like-minded people to form the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, named after the saint who is St. Francis of Paola’s namesake, and inspired by the humble and obedient charism of the Franciscan order. They all lived in simplicity and practiced rigorous chastisement of the physical body through strict abstinence.

St. Francis of Paola showed us all that it is indeed possible for us to live entrusting ourselves completely to God’s providence and love. We do not need to live our lives in the manner that St. Francis of Paola had done in being a recluse and hermit, although some did follow in his footsteps inspired by that way of life in serving God. Rather, we need to take note how St. Francis of Paola entrusted his life to God in the same way that Abraham had entrusted his life in Him.

Are we able to dedicate ourselves to God in the same way? We are given this perfect opportunity during this season of Lent to turn towards God once again with all of our hearts and devote our whole lives once again to Him. May the Lord be our guide and be our constant source of strength at all times, that we may live ever more faithfully in God’s loving presence, now and always. Amen.

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