Friday, 7 August 2020 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Sixtus II, Pope and Companions, Martyrs and St. Cajetan, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today all of us are reminded that we have all been called to follow the Lord and to focus our attention on Him, as those whom He had called and chosen to be His people. And at the same time we are also reminded that to follow God and to be faithful to Him will often require from us dedication and commitment that may lead us down the path filled with obstacles and challenges.

That is why the Lord said to His disciples as described in our Gospel passage today, that for all those who want to follow Him must take up their crosses and follow Him. This means that we ought to share in the Cross and the sufferings that He had borne for our sake, and strive to seek the Lord and His righteousness above all other things, and to look beyond the false glory, pleasures and satisfactions of the world, resist the temptations and remaining faithful to God.

Indeed, this will not be an easy task, as just the Lord encountered plenty of opposition and challenges from those who disagreed with Him and refused to believe in Him, was persecuted and forced to endure humiliation, punished for the punishment that He was innocent from, and bore the cross of condemnation, and we heard how these enemies also acted against His disciples, that is why as followers of Christ, we too are likely to suffer the same fate as the Lord, hated and despised by the world.

That is why, we are presented with the choice, whether we want to follow the Lord, taking up our crosses in life and walking with Him, or whether we want to follow the path of the world, to embrace the path of disobedience and sins against God. These are the paths and choices presented to us, and unless we have strong faith in God, it is very easy for us to fall into the temptation to walk away from God.

In our first reading today taken from the Book of the prophet Nahum, we heard of the Lord’s promise to His people that He shall crush the wicked and all those who have oppressed His people. It is the promise that the Lord will be faithful and will stand by His people in the midst of persecution and suffering. He will not abandon them to the darkness, and while for a while they might suffer, in the end, those who have kept their faith in Him will be triumphant while those who opposed Him and rejected Him will be crushed and destroyed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is therefore a kind reminder for us not to easily give in to the temptation to sin and disobey God, although the path of faith may seem to be challenging and daunting. In the end, as the
Lord said, “What worth is it for man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” This shows us that it is better for man to lose the whole world and yet remain in God’s grace. For the pleasures and glory of this world is all but temporary, while the soul is eternal.

What worth is it therefore for us to gain the comforts and pleasures of this world if we end up losing in the battle for our souls? When the souls of the wicked and those who were unrepentant are judged and condemned, they will all suffer for eternity from which there is no recourse or any way out at all. All these for the temporary taste of worldly goodness and joy, and in the end, eternal suffering awaits us all.

And the devil and his forces are always active out there trying to pull us away from God’s path, by tempting us to follow the temptations of our desires, by presenting to us many forms of worldly pleasures and false leads, into which if we succumb to them, it will be difficult for us to get out and escape, unless we make the conscious effort to resist those temptations. What shall we do then? This is where we should thus look on the examples set by our predecessors in faith.

Pope St. Sixtus II, holy Pope and Martyr, together with his many companions were persecuted by the Roman Empire and the pagans, who tried to destroy the Church and crush the faithful. Pope St. Sixtus II led the Church during the turbulent days of the Church when persecutions were rampant, and even so, he dedicated his life and effort to unite the Church, and tradition stated that he successfully restored the relations between the Church in Greece and Africa that had been torn apart and divided by certain issues earlier on.

And to the very end, when the Roman Emperor Valerian continued the persecution of the Church and the faithful, Pope St. Sixtus II was among the many faithful arrested for refusing to abandon their faith in God, and despite the efforts to convince them otherwise, and the pressures, Pope St. Sixtus II and his companions in faith chose to remain faithful to the very end, dying as martyrs rather than to enjoy reprieve and comfort by giving in to the state.

Meanwhile, today we also celebrate the feast of St. Cajetan, a priest and also founder of the Religious Order of the Theatines, remembered very well for his care and concern for the poor and the needy, for those who were suffering especially from spiritual sickness and the lack of faith. He chose to dedicate his time, effort and attention to help all those who have lost their compass and guidance in life, and chose to spend much time to care for their needs and guide them back to the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we see from today’s saints’ examples, we can see how being faithful and doing what the Lord had asked us to do is not something that can easily be done, and we see just what kind of difficulties and trials that they all had to face, and how some had to endure even death in martyrdom for being faithful. But this is exactly what is meant by ‘taking up our crosses and following the Lord’, for being Christians is not one of inaction and comfort, but instead one of dedication and commitment.

Let us all therefore discern carefully from now on, how we will carry on living our lives, with all the opportunities that we have been given. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith and be ever more genuine and devoted in our love for God from this moment onwards. May the Lord, our loving God, continue to guide us and help lead us down the right path in life, giving us the strength to carry our crosses faithfully and follow Him wholeheartedly, all the days of our lives. Amen.

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