Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, we heard of the ‘farewells’ made by two different people, both following the will of God, in fulfilling their part in their calling and ministry, as both were going on to encounter great sufferings and persecutions, which eventually would lead to their respective deaths. Today we heard of the story of St. Paul who was in Ephesus just before he was to depart for Jerusalem to confront his final ministry, and we also heard about the prayer of the Lord Jesus for His disciples which He made during His last moments before He embarked on His Passion.
In our first reading today, St. Paul met with the elders and leaders of the community of the faithful in Ephesus, as he was on his way back from his extensive missionary journey towards Jerusalem, the early centre of Christendom and the capital of the Jewish people at the time. At that time, St. Paul already had received revelation from God that his journey to Jerusalem this time would be his very last one before he was to be tried for his alleged crimes and sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor, and he would not have the chance to see the elders and the community in Ephesus again.
For someone so dedicated to the cause of the faith, filled with so much enthusiasm in preaching the Good News like that, it must have been difficult for St. Paul to say farewell to all the people, some of whom must have been known to St. Paul for many years during his almost three decades of missionary works, in which he passed through Ephesus quite a number of times. We must not forget that St. Paul also wrote Epistles or letters to the Church in Ephesus, showing that the Church there must have been close to his heart.
But St. Paul was greatly encouraged knowing and believing that God would be with all of them and ensure the continued growth of the Church there even long after he had gone and departed from this world. St. Paul therefore also prayed over the elders and the community of the faithful, praying that God would continue to guide them and remain with them through their good and bad times. And St. Paul also uttered the words to the elders in Ephesus as what he also uttered in another occasion to St. Timothy, for which he is now famous, that, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.’
Our first reading today, as well as even our Gospel today can basically be summarised by that phrase. Both St. Paul and the Lord Jesus had done wonderful works among the people, making countless people to believe in God through them, performed miracles and wonders, and brought God’s truth and salvation closer to many. And that they were both coming to the end of their earthly journey and ministry, both of them thanked God for having been with them throughout, as St. Paul thanked and praised God for His constant guidance, and the Lord Jesus also thanked His heavenly Father for the same.
And most importantly, is that both of them accepted their roles in the works of salvation and what would happen to them as God has revealed to them. St. Paul accepted his eventual martyrdom for the sake of his faith, and willingly went on to Jerusalem to accept the punishment from the Jewish authorities, for which accusations he decided to claim the right for appeal to the Emperor which led him to go to Rome, to be martyred but also with the opportunity to preach and work among the community in Rome. In the same way, the Lord Jesus also accepted the role that He had to suffer and die on the Cross for the salvation of all.
Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, what do all these then show us? It is that as Christ’s followers and disciples, all of us must be ready to detach ourselves from worldly desires and concerns, from the attachments to worldly matters and all the things that prevent us from being able to fully give ourselves to the service and the greater glory of God. Too often we have allowed ourselves be swayed and tempted by all these worldly matters and concerns that we have ended up down the wrong path.
St. Paul could have evaded issues, troubles and sufferings by staying in Ephesus or at other places he was welcomed or having friends in, but he chose to face his challenges, departing for Jerusalem where he knew all his enemies were gathered to give witness to his faith and to proclaim the Lord to more people especially in Rome, to where God had sent him to evangelise. In the same way, the Lord Jesus could also easily have evaded His arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion, but He chose to obey the will of His Father, and devoted Himself to His Passion.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we also have to take note of, that we have to be ready to follow the Lord, to listen to Him and to trust in Him rather than to be distracted, tempted, and pulled down by various worldly desires and concerns. We have to keep our focus clear, to trust in the Lord and the path He has set before, and do our best through whatever He has given us to contribute to the greater good of the Church and for God’s greater glory.
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Philip Neri, one of the very famous saints of the Church, famously known as the Second Apostle of Rome who was remembered for his extensive works in establishing important congregations and religious orders, especially the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity and Congregation of the Oratory. St. Philip Neri himself was born into a noble and wealthy family, but he chose to abandon everything after God had called him into a life dedicated to His service.
St. Philip Neri was remembered for his great labours among the poor and the sick in the city of Rome, ministering to even prostitutes and others normally shunned by the rest of the community. All of his hard work and efforts are what made him to be called the ‘Second Apostle of Rome’ as mentioned earlier, following in the footsteps of both St. Peter and St. Paul, who went to Rome, ministered there and were eventually martyred for their faith. St. Philip Neri dedicated himself to the congregations he founded, and was remembered for his intense personal piety.
All of these inspired many others to follow his good examples, and many joined his congregations which grew rapidly and played important roles in the rejuvenation of the faith among the faithful, especially those who have lapsed from their faith. The examples of St. Philip Neri should inspire us all to follow his examples, and to live our lives from now on, following what God has called us to do, and follow Him with zeal and commitment, and with the desire to love Him more and to serve Him faithfully.
Are we willing and able to entrust ourselves to the Lord, and be ever more devoted to Him as our holy predecessors had done? We do not have to abandon the world as what St. Philip Neri had done, or to follow St. Paul into his sufferings and persecutions. Rather, what we are called to do is for us to live our lives as good and devout Christians that in everything we do in our respective areas, in whatever calling and vocations we have been called to, in our families and in our communities, we will always focus our attention on God, and that we do everything for the sake of God and following whatever He has shown and taught us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all live an ever more genuine Christian living from now on, and let us dedicate more of our time, effort and attention to walk in the path of Christ, following the inspiring examples of our Lord Himself, of St. Paul the Apostle, St. Philip Neri and many other holy saints and martyrs of God. May God be with us always throughout this journey of faith in life, and may He strengthen us all that we may follow Him wholeheartedly. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.