Monday, 18 May 2020 : 6th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. John I, Pope and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we heard the Good News the Scripture and Gospel passages, we are called to trust in God and to follow Him wherever He leads us to. We are called to be true Christians in our lives and our every words and deeds, so that by all of them, people may truly realise, know and understand that we are God’s beloved ones, and that His love will also be extended to them should they choose to follow us and walk down the same path that we have walked.

In our first reading today taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard how the Apostle St. Paul and his companion travelled to the land of Macedonia in the northern region of Greece following the vision he has received from God, when he heard the call of some people calling them to the Macedonian lands to preach the Good News and proclaim the salvation of God there. St. Paul preached the word of God, and went to find some of the faithful where they usually gathered, and as we heard, managed to gain the trust of a God-fearing woman, Lydia of Thyatira, and also some others.

They heard the words of the Lord and believed, and gave themselves to be baptised by the hands of the Apostles. It was likely that the Apostles preached with such wisdom and great courage, testifying on whatever they had experienced and encountered during their journey that the people were convinced and turned to believe in God. Most importantly, they must have believed because they were convinced by the genuine words and actions of the missionaries of the faith.

The Apostles, the disciples and the early Christian communities lived according to the way that the Lord had shown them, as beacons of light, hope and truth in the midst of the darkness and wickedness rampant all over the world. Especially in the communities at that time which did not know God or follow His ways, steeped in plenty of hedonism and worldly excesses, immoral and selfish behaviours, the truth of God, His Law and love are bright revelation that in the end, were sought by many seeking truth and meaning to their lives.

This is what the Apostles had been called to do, to bring the love of God into the world, to reveal to them the path of truth and the way towards salvation, and as revealed in our Gospel passage today, to proclaim Christ, the True Vine to all the people of all the nations, calling them to be part of the Vine of the Lord, the Church by which all will be saved. And as shown in the Acts of the Apostles, while there were many who rejected the truth of God, there were also those like Lydia and those who were open to the Lord’s truth who chose to accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, to be part of the Vine, that is to follow the Lord, our True Vine means that each and every one of us must draw life and strength from God, as indeed, separated from the True Vine, we shall wither and perish. Many may be wondering how our Christian faith and the Church was able to survive over the past two millennia with all the challenges, trials and troubles we encountered along all those years, but in truth, the answer is really clear, that as long as we are connected and attuned to the True Vine, our Lord, we shall endure and triumph in the end.

Today, all of us are called to reflect on what the Apostles had done, all the efforts of the missionaries in reaching out to the many communities and people who had not yet known God at that time, and did their best to bring God’s truth and salvation to them. They have all sacrificed time and effort to fulfil what they had been called to do, and we will do well to remember their great faith and dedication to God, their commitment to evangelisation and the salvation of many souls.

Now, we are all the successors and inheritors of their many good works, and we are called to dedicate ourselves much as the Apostles and the many faithful servants of God, the saints and martyrs, who had devotion and spent much time and effort to reach out to the ones who have not yet heard of God, His salvation, love and many good works. There are still many things left undone and incomplete in the works of Church, and we are the ones who ought to carry on these missions and shoulder the responsibilities of our Christian calling.

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of these holy predecessors, namely Pope St. John I, a great and courageous leader of the Universal Church and a holy martyr of the Church and the faith. Pope St. John I was the Pope during the turbulent years following the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, and in which time the Arian heresy still had strong influences over some of the barbarian states that took over the rule over parts of the Christendom at that time. Pope St. John I presided over the Church especially in the West, under the reign of the Ostrogoths under King Theodoric the Great, who was a firm Arian in his belief.

King Theodoric charged Pope St. John I with a very difficult task of trying to get concessions for the Arian position and faith with the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, and this was particularly difficult since first of all, Arianism had been condemned as a dangerous heresy, and the relationship between the Ostrogothic Kingdom and the Roman Empire had not been good for the years of Pope St. John I’s Pontificate, and it was getting worse as the religious issues became entangled in the socio-political matters.

Nonetheless, Pope St. John I did his best to accommodate and bridge between both parties, in his role as the Pontifex Maximus or the Supreme Pontiff, in ‘building bridges’ between the communities of the faithful with one another and with God. It is likely that Pope St. John I hoped that by gaining concessions for the Ostrogothic King, eventually the King might be brought to reason and may be more open to accept the true and orthodox Christian faith free from heretical ways and thoughts.

Pope St. John I carried out his mission dutifully and conscientiously despite the challenges he had to endure. He was highly respected by the Emperor and received a grand welcome when he visited the Emperor’s court in Constantinople, the Imperial capital, but he did not manage to get the concessions desired by the Ostrogothic King. As a result, upon his return to Rome, the King arrested the Pope and put him in prison, and it was told that the Pope died a martyr for defending his faith and his Church, remaining true to his mission to the very end.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples set by Pope St. John I showed us that even a Pope and leader of the Church also had to endure great sufferings and challenges as part of his ministry and works, in the efforts of evangelisation and the salvation of souls. How can we then ignore our own part and not embrace our own calling to do what the Lord has commanded us to do, that is to proclaim His truth and salvation to all the peoples? Let us reflect on this and discern what we can do with our lives to fulfil our Christian calling and mission.

Let us all turn towards God, our True Vine, the source of all of our lives and our strength, the font of all wisdom and hope that we may remain hopeful even amidst these difficult times we are living through now. All the Apostles and the holy saints and martyrs had put their trust in God and dedicated themselves to Him. They were able to persevere through the challenges and trials because of this trust and faith, which we also now need to have with us. Are we able then to commit ourselves to the Lord with a renewed faith and with zeal?

May the Lord help us and guide us in our journey, and may He strengthen each and every one of us that we may remain steadfast and firm in our conviction to love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in every opportunities in our respective lives. May God bless us all and may He bless our good works and endeavours, now and forevermore, and may Pope St. John I and the holy Apostles, God’s saints and martyrs pray for us sinners. Amen.

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