Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we heard of the promises of the Lord reassuring all of His disciples and therefore all of us His faithful ones that He will always be with us and will be faithful to the Covenant He has established with us and our ancestors. And this is indeed a very important and powerful reminder for each and every one of us as at the same time we are also reminded that being Christians will likely lead us down the path of many challenges to come, if we have not already experienced them.
In our first reading today, we heard how the Apostles St. Paul and St. Barnabas encountered trouble during their missionary journey, as they were harassed and attacked by the Jewish people from Antioch and Iconium who incited the pagans and Gentiles to attack the two Apostles as well which resulted in both of them almost being killed by the masses. Thankfully by God’s providence and protection, the two of them managed to survive and they went on to another place.
Yet, that did not dampen their spirit and they remained firm in their commitment to serve God. If we noticed carefully, as both St. Paul and St. Barnabas went back towards Antioch, one of the important early centres of Christianity, they passed through the same city of Lystra and Iconium, where they had encountered troubles with the Jews and others who had almost persecuted them to death just earlier on. And in Antioch itself there had been many other forms of difficulties the Christians had encountered, just as how it was in Judea and Jerusalem.
Many among the faithful had suffered greatly because of their faith in Christ, either because they encountered stiff opposition and anger from some among the Jewish communities as well as from the Jewish authorities, some of whom were very strongly and ardently opposed to the Lord Jesus, His Way, ministry and teachings. In addition, they also encountered challenges from the pagans especially the pagan priests and ardent worshippers who saw the Christian faith as dangerous threat to their own popularity, authority, way of life and their pagan deities.
And to the Romans, who were the rulers and overlords of much of the known world and the Mediterranean region then, the rapid growth of Christianity were also often viewed with much suspicion and distrust, as the Romans also tended to group the Christians, especially during its earliest days with the Jews, whose rebellious ways and growing tensions almost resulted in uprisings and open rebellions during the earliest days of the Church. It was amidst all of these challenges and trials that the early Christians lived and professed their faith in God.
The Apostles strengthened and encouraged the resolve and faith of the people of God as mentioned in our first reading today, by reminding all of them of God’s providence and love, His faithfulness and commitment to the Covenant and the promises He had made with all of them. The Apostles encouraged the people of God and reassured them with the same reassurance from the Lord than even though they might be suffering the effects of the rejection and persecutions of the world, but the Lord was always with them and He would guide them through all the way.
And this was how so many courageous saints and martyrs came to be throughout the long history of the Church especially during times and moments of great persecutions. And today alone we are celebrating the feast of three of these great servants of God, who have all suffered martyrdom for their faith. They are St. Nereus and St. Achilleus, as well as St. Pancras, all the martyrs of the Lord from the earlier years and time in the Church.
St. Nereus and St. Achilleus were servants of a niece of the Roman Emperor Domitian, one of the early Roman Emperors, during whose reign the Apostle St. John wrote the Book of Revelations during his exile at the island of Patmos. St. Nereus and St. Achilleus were secret Christians who were probably persecuted by the early Christian persecution especially during the reign of that Emperor Domitian, who after Nero was the second Emperor to carry out harsh persecution against Christians. Those two faithful followers of God suffered and were martyred.
Meanwhile, St. Pancras, also known as St. Pancras of Rome was a young Christian man who was martyred under the reign of another Roman Emperor who was notorious for his particularly harsh and terrible persecution of Christians, namely Emperor Diocletian. He was forced to offer sacrifices to the Roman pagan gods and to the Emperor, then treated as if equal to the pagan deities, but St. Pancras, who was still just a teenager then, refused to do so.
The Emperor was really impressed with the courage and dedication showed by St. Pancras that he promised the teenager a lot of wealth and power if he would only abandon his faith in God. But St. Pancras still remained firm in his faith and would not be swayed or tempted by the Emperor’s offers, and in the end, he was also martyred by beheading, a true Christian and a devout son of God to the very end.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, what all these three saints and martyrs had shown us is that suffering and persecution in some form will be inevitable in our journey and life. However, we must not lose faith or focus, and we must always remember that God is always by our side, protecting us, providing us with our needs among other things. That was how those faithful servants of God remained firm in their faith despite the challenges and sufferings that they had to face.
Let us all be inspired by their examples, their great courage and faith, and let us all be more committed and faithful in following the Lord from now on. May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen each and every one of us to be ever stronger in our piety and desire to love Him with all of our hearts, now and forevermore. Amen.