Saturday, 2 May 2020 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded that to believe in God is not really as easy as we may think it is. It is often that believing in God require us to go against the norms and the conventions of this world. Our faith in Christ will require us to go beyond logic and merely worldly forms of understanding and knowledge, for this indeed requires us to have genuine faith to be able to believe in God.

In our first reading today, we heard about the works of St. Peter the Apostle, who went to the city of Lydda during his ministry and travel around in order to spread the Good News of the Lord. In that city, St. Peter performed a great miracle, in which he healed the sick man Aeneas, who had been paralysed and bedridden for over eight years without any hope, until the moment when through St. Peter, the Lord healed this man and made him whole again.

And then, St. Peter went to the town of Joppa and performed yet another great miracle, raising the faithful woman Tabitha from her death, just after she had passed on. Tabitha was restored to life by the grace and power of the Lord through His Apostle St. Peter, and witnessed by many people, who like at the healing of Aeneas in Lydda, all became believers and chose to be baptised as Christians. They believed because they truly saw how God had worked wonders in their midst.

All of these showed us just how the Lord has done things in ways that many would not have been able to comprehend using any of standard and conventional logic or intelligence of this world. Aeneas had been bedridden and paralysed for many years, something that even to this very day are still suffered by some people despite the great advancements in technology and science. None of these could completely heal the sick person in the way that Aeneas had been healed.

Similarly, the even more amazing resurrection of Tabitha defy any known logic and knowledge, as no human knowledge or ability were ever capable of overcoming death or even prolonging one’s life beyond what had been naturally determined by God. This, together with the resurrection of Lazarus and the dead daughter of a synagogue official by the Lord Jesus earlier in His ministry would serve as concrete proofs of how the Lord was truly the One sent by God to be the Saviour of the whole world.

Therefore, if we link these to what we have heard in our Gospel today, which from the sixth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to St. John on the conclusion of the discourse of the Bread of Life by Jesus to the people, then we will see how difficult it was indeed to be a follower of Christ. In fact, as we have heard, many of the followers of Jesus left Him behind after He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, with many of them refusing to believe Him and saying how can anyone believe in such hard truth and words?

That is the reality, brothers and sisters in Christ, that this faith in Christ, our Christian faith which we have is not something we should take for granted, as we may often find it difficult to remain faithful especially when we are confronted with arguments and realities that are opposite and in contrast to our faith. Yet, at the same time, it is entirely possible for us to continue to be faithful and to dedicate ourselves with all of our hearts for the Lord.

As the Lord Himself had shown us that no one can come to the Father except through Him, there were still some of those who trusted in Him and clung to Him, and these were probably considered as foolish and peculiar by others. Yet, in the end, all those who remained true to their faith in God were not disappointed, for the Lord was with them, guided them throughout their journey, and gave them all the promise of eternal glory for their commitment and faith in Him.

Today, we celebrate the feast of one saint who has been remembered as a great defender of the Christian faith, a champion of the true and orthodox faith of the Apostles and the Church fathers, himself a renowned Church father and elder, namely St. Athanasius, also known as a champion of Christian orthodoxy against various heresies, particularly against the Arian heresy that was then widespread and enjoyed support even among many bishops and the secular leaders.

St. Athanasius was the Bishop and Patriarch of Alexandria, and therefore was one of the most senior and influential leaders of the Church of his time. In response to the widespread Arian heresy both within his See and throughout the Church at the time, St. Athanasius led the efforts to counter the falsehoods of the Arians and tried his best to get rid of the heretical teachings both in his See and beyond. He was the rallying point and centre of the efforts to return to the true and orthodox Christian faith.

St. Athanasius had to endure a lot of trials and challenges for all of his efforts and his dedication to the truth of God, against all those who had chosen to believe in their own misguided and perverse version of the faith, which was how those heresies came to be in the first place. Those heretical teachings altered the truth of God and combined them with falsehoods and lies, which were perhaps more acceptable and palatable than the truth itself, but were wrong in essence and truth.

St. Athanasius had to go against both secular authorities and all those bishops, priests and lay supporters of the Arian heresy among others, and he spent many years in exile from his See of Alexandria, being exiled a total of five times no less. That was how St. Athanasius endured so much for being faithful and committed to the truth of God. St. Athanasius remained courageous and strong even despite all the oppositions against him and despite all the humiliations, attacks and other persecutions he had received.

In the end, St. Athanasius, his tireless efforts, his great personal piety and dedication to the Lord was instrumental as part of the greater effort by many others who also defended the true and unchanging Christian faith as upheld by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and the subsequent Ecumenical Councils. Arian heresy was eventually subdued, and the true faith triumphed at last. It did take many, many years before this victory was achieved.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all follow in the footsteps of St. Athanasius and be inspired by his faith and courage. Let us all stay firm in our dedication and commitment to the Lord, knowing that we may have to face opposition and challenges in our journey of faith, when our faith may be challenged by the temptations and the falsehoods that lie in this world and all around us, much as St. Athanasius himself had once experienced. Let us not be disheartened, for be assured that God Himself will be with us, and He will guide us through all these.

May the Lord be our help and may He strengthen us all to live our lives ever more faithfully from now on. May God be with us all and may He empowers us all to be courageous in being true Christians from now on. May God bless us all and our many good endeavours from now on for the greater glory of God. St. Athanasius, holy defender of faith and blessed servant of God, pray for us all. Amen.

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