Wednesday, 27 May 2020 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop (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 heard the continuation of this week’s discourse on the prayers of St. Paul and the Lord Jesus, as we heard more of what the Apostle prayed and said in the presence the elders and the community of the faithful in Ephesus just before he was about to embark on his last journey to Jerusalem, which eventually would lead to his journey to Rome and martyrdom there. Similarly, in our Gospel we heard the prayer made by the Lord Jesus just before His suffering and Passion.

In our first reading today we heard St. Paul exhorting the elders and the leaders of the Church in Ephesus to be faithful in their calling and ministry, especially as leaders and shepherds of the flock of the faithful people of God. He reminded all of them to be vigilant and to be strong in their faith that they will not end up in the wrong path, or swayed by false teachings, as he predicted very accurately how false teachers and shepherd would come from among them to mislead the faithful.

What St. Paul said at that time was indeed prophetic, as very soon before long, divisions and disagreements would come to divide the Church and caused many to fall into the falsehoods of heresies and wrong teachings. Ephesus, along with many other centres of the early Christian Church in the Eastern Mediterranean would become places from which various heresies and erroneous teachers and teachings propagate, and many people fell into the temptations of these falsehoods.

Take for example, Arianism, one of the most dangerous of the early Christian heresies, as well as Gnosticism in the early centuries, the threat of Monophysitism, among with other much less well-known heresies and aberrant teachings, many of which came from priests and even bishops and elders of the Church who had a different idea and way of thinking from the truth of the Church, and propagated it among their followers, many of whom followed into heresy and caused bitter divisions in the Church.

Many of these heretics and false leaders misled the people because of their pride, their arrogance and personal ambition, their inner desires to gain more of worldly glory and acceptance, which unfortunately led to them having craved even more glory and fame, and hardened their hearts and refusing to listen to reason or truth, and therefore, persisted in their heresy and rebellion against the true faith and against God.

And this is linked to what we then heard in our Gospel passage today, as the Lord Jesus in His prayer to the Father asked Him to keep those whom He had given to Him, and called to salvation. The Lord asked the Father to make them one and keep them one just as they are one and indivisible. This is the famous prayer for unity of the Christian Church, in the words, ‘That they may be One, just as We are One.’ Through this, we can see how the Lord had actually foreseen and knew of the divisions that would come to His Church and flock, and He wanted us all to be reconciled to one another and be united.

Then, how should we then act so as to avoid these divisions, disagreements and conflicts among us? Throughout the ages, we have had many courageous missionaries and people who went out of their way to reach out to the separated brothers and sisters, explaining the truth of the faith and trying to convince them to return to the Holy Mother Church. There were of course also many unsuccessful attempts, and there were even martyrs caused by these unfortunate divisions and conflicts within the Church.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, realising that even in our time and age, there are still many out there who have followed false teachings and heretical Christian thinking, false and wicked ideas, we should embrace our calling to be good bearers of the Lord’s truth to all of them. By our baptism, that is what each and every one of us had been called to. Yet, at the same time, we must also realise that the best way to do this is not through force or coercion, but rather through genuine communication and dialogue, through love, care and compassion.

Essentially, we should do our best that our lives may truly be exemplary and good, filled with obedience to God and the desire to serve Him, to live our lives to the fullest with the guidance from God. And that is how we become examples for one another, to help and guide our path as we walk together in this journey of faith towards the Lord. And perhaps, we should gain inspiration from St. Augustine of Canterbury, a holy saint of God and a devoted missionary whose piety and humility can help us in our path to seek greater relationship with God.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was the renowned saint credited with the restoration of the Christian faith and hierarchy in the lands now known as England, such that the See of Canterbury until today remain as the pre-eminent See of all England. Although Christianity had arrived and been established in the British isles prior to the coming of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but the chaos of the fall of the Roman Empire, invasion by the pagan Anglo-Saxons disrupted much of the Christian communities there.

Therefore, Pope St. Gregory the Great at that time sent St. Augustine, then a prior and monk of a monastery in Rome, to evangelise to the Anglo-Saxons and reestablish Christian hierarchy and communities in England. St. Augustine gradually was able to Christianise the land of England, and more and more people came to be baptised. Of course St. Augustine of Canterbury did not have it easy, as there were many of those who refused to accept the Christian faith and even persecuted missionaries. Yet, he did not let all these dampen his enthusiasm and commitment to serve the Lord and His Church.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was remembered for the great piety he had shown, his courage and fearlessness in the face of opposition and challenges. He dedicated himself to the mission in re-Christianising England, and at the end of his life and ministry, this aim had largely been fulfilled although it did take many more years before the Church was firmly established in the whole community. His courage and dedication should be source of inspiration for us all on how we ought to live up to our Christian faith and calling.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all discern how we are to continue living our lives after we have heard all of these today. God has called us all to follow Him and to put our trust in Him. Let us all follow the good examples set by St. Paul the Apostle, the other Apostles and disciples of the Lord, St. Augustine of Canterbury, all the saints and everyone who have shown us the way to follow God. Let us all get rid from ourselves all the taints of pride and arrogance, all hubris and greed, desire and all the obstacles that had prevented us from being able to commit ourselves fully to the Lord. May the Lord help us and be our guide, in our renewed journey of faith from now on. Amen.

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