Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the truth which God has revealed to us through His Apostles and through the Holy Spirit by Whom He willingly taught us about Himself and all that He wants us to know, this same truth which He has passed on to the Apostles to His Church. He revealed all these to us because He wants us to put our trust in Him and turn away from our sinful ways so that we may be worthy of Him and be forgiven from our many sins and faults.
In our first reading today, we heard the accounts of St. Paul and his visit to Athens, in what is now Greece. Athens was a truly great and magnificent city, which influence and prestige was even more remarkable at the time of St. Paul. Although it was no longer as dominant and great as it was a few centuries earlier when it dominated much of Greece and the Aegean and Mediterranean region, Athens was still a great city and a major centre of learning and philosophy, having been renowned for its many thinkers and philosophers, such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle among others.
And Athens was also one of the main centres of Greek pagan beliefs, as one of its main cultural centre. At that time, when St. Paul visited Athens, it was truly a pagan city, with statues and idols of the Greco-Roman gods everywhere, and with most of its people believing strongly in their beliefs. It is with this context that St. Paul stood up in Areopagus, in the main venue where Athenians and others would come to discuss and debate matters as they had done so for centuries. He spoke courageously about the Lord, the One and only True God in that occasion.
St. Paul revealed before all the people that God was indeed truly the One true God, Who created all things and Who made all things happen. The Greco-Roman belief worshipped nature and its wonders, with gods corresponding to different parts of the natural world, such as the well known Zeus or Jupiter as the king of the gods and the ruler of the skies, of thunder and lightning, and Poseidon or Neptune as the god of the seas and horses, Hades or Pluto as the god of the dead and the underworld, Hera or Juno as the queen of the gods and the goddess of the family, Demeter or Ceres as the goddess of agriculture, and many others, too many to be discussed here.
And all these things, according to St. Paul, was not real gods as they were mankind’s representation of the natural world, of wonders and things that they could not comprehend and did not know. But all those things, be it the sun, the moon, the thunder, storms, and even death, all these are nothing more than just objects created by God. Hence, St. Paul pointed out to the Athenians that as they kept on wondering and debating on the truth of life, and worship those pagan gods and idols, there is the One true God Who would reveal to them the truth.
St. Paul therefore revealed that salvation has come from the Lord, Who sent His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, as the Divine Word Incarnate, appearing in the flesh, as the true manifestation of divinity, revealing His truth to all. And that is why everyone has been called to the same truth, to know God Whom the Athenians ascribed as to the unknown God. St. Paul was making the Lord known to all those people who had not yet known Him. And we then heard the response from the people, many of whom made fun of him and refused to listen to the truth. Yet, there were some who were intrigued and interested by what St. Paul had said, and wanted him to speak to them more about the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord sent St. Paul to be one of His ministers in revealing the truth to His people, just as the other Apostles also went to various places to speak about the truth of God and the message of His salvation. St. Paul followed the Lord’s commands guided by the same Holy Spirit that the Lord promised His disciples as mentioned in our Gospel passage today. The Lord also gave us all the same Holy Spirit, and do you know that the same mission He has entrusted to His Apostles back then still apply to us as well? We are all called to continue the good works that the Apostles had begun.
In this present day world, all of us are called to be witnesses of the Lord in our respective communities, to reveal Him among all those whom we encounter in life through our own exemplary life and actions. By our commitment and dedication, we have a lot of potential and opportunities to reach out to many more people and let them know about the Lord and His truth, as what St. Paul had done in Athens and in various other places, revealing the truth about God with great courage. Are we able and willing to commit ourselves to follow in his footsteps, brothers and sisters in Christ?
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Nereus and St. Achilleus, who were martyrs of the faith during the time of the early Roman Empire, who were either soldiers who converted to the faith and then martyred for courageously standing by their faith, or as servants of the niece of the Roman Emperor, who herself was a convert to the Christian faith. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian at that time, Christians went through a period of harsh persecution, and many including St. Nereus and St. Achilleus were martyred, both of them by beheading.
Then today we also mark the feast of St. Pancras, another martyr of the faith who was only a young boy at the time when he was martyred. Born to Roman citizens in the region of Phrygia in Asia Minor, his parents passed on early and he was taken care of by a relative. And then during the great persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, as everyone were forced to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods, St. Pancras resisted and refused to do as ordered with determination. The Emperor, impressed with the young man’s determination, attempted to persuade him with wealth and power, but these were refused and thus St. Pancras was martyred.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we heard the inspiring lives of those faithful saints, our holy predecessors, then we should ask ourselves, what are we doing then in proclaiming the truth of God? Have we been genuine in our faith and have we dedicated ourselves to the Lord and His ways, even if we have to suffer persecution and trials for our commitment? If we have not lived our lives in the way we should according to our faith, then perhaps we should keep what we have heard in today’s Scripture passages in mind, as we discern how each and every one of us as Christians can live our lives more faithfully and be good role models and examples for those around us.
Let us all be inspired by St. Paul, the other saints and martyrs, especially St. Nereus and St. Achilleus, and St. Pancras. Let us seek the Lord with renewed vigour and be genuine disciples of His, following Him wholeheartedly and truly living our lives as He has taught and shown us how we should live our lives. May God be with us always and may He guide us in our journey of faith. Amen.