Friday, 9 October 2020 : 27th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Denis, Bishop and Martyr, and Companions, Martyrs, and St. John Leonardi, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today through the Scripture readings all of us are called to embrace God’s love and His path, and to believe in Him wholeheartedly, just as we heard how in the early Church and throughout the Lord’s ministry, there were all those who refused to believe in the Lord and preferred to keep to their old beliefs and their previous ways of the Law, and these disagreements had even led them to accuse the Lord Himself wrongly of a heinous sin and evil.

In our first reading today, we heard of St. Paul continuing with his address to the Church and the faithful in Galatia in Asia Minor, where for the past few days of our Scripture passages, we have heard how St. Paul chastised the faithful for their lack of faith and for believing in the misguided teachings of those who placed the Law above that of faith, and those who sought to divide the Church and lead the faithful astray. This is likely because in Galatia, as were in other cities and places where the first Christian communities appeared, many of the believers were from the Jewish diaspora, the Jewish people scattered throughout the world as they had been for centuries.

And among the Jews, some of whom became converts to the Christian faith, there were those who belonged to the Pharisees and believed in their tenets and way of living the faith. The Pharisees were very rigorous in their enforcement of the many rules and regulations, tenets and all which numbered no less than six hundred and thirteen, if not more, in how the Jewish people ought to live their faith. And the issue lies in the fanaticism in which these people carried on their beliefs, and their attitude in enforcing this belief on others made it problematic for the Christian faithful.

Those same people also held strongly the view that the Jewish people were God’s sole chosen people and that they were far superior to the other peoples and races, and that they alone were worthy of God’s grace and blessings, His salvation and glory. They looked down on the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people, mainly the Greeks, Romans and other local populace that did not follow the laws of Moses preserved by the Jews and especially by the Pharisees.

And they also demanded that the Gentiles who converted to the faith ought to adopt the Jewish laws and customs in their entirety, and that they ought to be circumcised and follow all the cultural traditions of the Jews, which essentially would have forced them to abandon their own customs and culture. And all these became significant source of friction between the members of the Christian community, that St. Paul wanted to resolve.

In our Gospel today, we heard the Pharisee accusing the Lord Himself of colluding with the devil, with the prince of demons Beelzebul when He miraculously drove out evil spirits from a person. Many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were so adamant in their opposition against the Lord that they were unable to look beyond their narrow-mindedness and stubbornness in insisting that their way was the true way and others like the Lord were wrong and even blasphemous.

The Lord then immediately pointed out the flaw in their argument and said that it did not make sense for the demons and the evil spirits to be divided among themselves and fighting against each other. For if that was the case, then the dominion of Satan and all of his forces would have been torn apart, and the truth was that, the evil one and all of his allies, all those wicked spirits desiring our downfall, are always ever united in their desire and aim to bring about our destruction.

The Lord knew this full well, and just as St. Paul did in his response to the happenings in Galatia, both of them were saddened by what they saw as the divisions sowed by the devil in the community of the faithful. And thus, the Lord used the example of how the devil’s dominion would have collapsed and fallen apart if all of its members were divided against each other to point out that this will happen to us unless we seek to overcome the divisions among us and seek true unity in Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings serve as a powerful reminder for us not to be easily misled by the devil and all of his forces, as they attempted to sow divisions and dissensions among us. We have to keep in mind what St. Paul said, that God has called on all, Jews and non-Jewish people alike, to follow Him, and that there should not be any distinction between them, for everyone is equal before God and is equally beloved.

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, our challenge lies in how we should strive for unity in our Christian community, and hold firmly to the faith which we have received from the Church. We must not allow the forces of evil from successfully dividing us and destroying the unity within our Church. And we should be inspired by our holy predecessors, whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Denis and his companions in martyrdom, as well as St. John Leonardi are good examples for us in how we should be faithful to God.

St. Denis was the Bishop of Paris at the time of the late Roman Empire, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius, who was infamous for his particularly brutal persecution of Christians, in which even the Pope at the time, Pope St. Fabian, was martyred together with many other Christian faithful. St. Denis himself presided over the Christian population that was targeted by intense persecution, and despite the difficulties, laboured hard to preach the Good News which successfully converted many among the pagans, and which brought opposition against their efforts.

Eventually, St. Denis, the bishop of Paris and two other clergy were arrested and then sentenced to death by the governor. They were executed by beheading, but miraculously, after his head had been cut off, St. Denis was still alive, picking up his severed head and preaching a sermon as he walked down for miles from the place of his martyrdom, and eventually stopped at a place where he died, in which now stood the great St. Denis’ Basilica built and named in his honour.

Meanwhile, St. John Leonardi was a renowned and holy priest, who was the founder of the Order of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca, remembered for his devotion to God and also to Mary, the Blessed Mother of God. Through St. John Leonardi, many people came to be converted, after having been touched and inspired by his tireless efforts in reaching out particularly to sinners. He made popular the Forty Hours Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and was instrumental in the Counter-Reformation effort in deepening the faith and spirituality of many among the faithful.

St. John Leonardi faced difficulties and oppositions in his efforts and works as well, from those who were wary of his works and were skeptical of him, much like how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law often ridiculed, opposed and went against the Lord and His works. Nonetheless, St. John Leonardi remained firm in his conviction and desire to help others and to lead more and more souls to the salvation in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be inspired by their examples, and after discerning the message of our Scripture passages today, let us strive to be more faithful as Christians, in genuinely loving God and devoting our time, effort and attention, in all things to glorify God by our lives. May the Lord, our loving God, bless us all and guide us in our journey, and help us all to remain united in faith, and not be divided and scattered by the falsehoods and dissent planted in our community by the evil one. May God be with us all, His Church, now and always. Amen.

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