Monday, 2 May 2022 : 3rd Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are presented with the nature of our faith, this faith that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ, Our Saviour. Each and every one of us as Christians are called to proclaim the Lord and His truth through our lives and actions, in everything we say and do. We ought to do what the Apostles and all the holy men and women of God had done before us, in proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the One from Whom the salvation of the world had come from.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of the time when St. Stephen, one of the seven first deacons of the Church, was confronted by the opponents of the Church, those who refused to believe in God and His truth as revealed through the Lord Jesus and His Apostles. The Sanhedrin and all those who have arrested and oppressed the Apostles tried a lot of effort to suppress the rapidly spreading Christian teachings and faith. And in order to do that, they even chose to employ false witnesses and other methods to try to persecute the disciples of the Lord like St. Stephen.

Hence, St. Stephen encountered great difficulty in going against the plots of those who sought to destroy him, against the authorities with the power to persecute him and who turned the people against him. Yet, he remained firm in his faith and convictions, not fearing the repercussions and threats against himself, but instead, inflamed by the Holy Spirit, encouraged and strengthened, he preached about the Lord and Saviour, openly proclaiming Him before the people, revealing all that God had done to them through His Son, Whom they had recently persecuted and gave to the Romans to be crucified, died and then risen in glory for the salvation of all the people.

Those false witnesses employed against him tried to bring St. Stephen down, and they used increasingly desperate means to discredit him, and yet, the great wisdom and courage that St. Stephen had shown would overpower whatever wicked means and plots arrayed against him. The Lord was working through His servant, and now, many years after his martyrdom, we are still inspired by the great courage and dedication that St. Stephen had shown, in facing even persecution, suffering and death squarely in the face, never once flinching or giving in to his fears and doubts, because he trusted fully in the Lord and His providence.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the interactions between the Lord Jesus and the multitudes of people who had followed Him and tried to follow Him wherever He went. They followed the Lord and He pointed out that they followed Him because of their desires to be satisfied and fulfilled, by the amazing miracles that He performed, particularly that of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand men and many more. The Lord knew that in the hearts and minds of those people, there were still yet doubts and lacking in genuine faith, and hence, He wanted to convince and persuade them to truly believe in Him and His truth, and not just superficially showing their faith.

This reminds all of us of the very important mission that God has entrusted to us as Christians, that each and every one of us ought to proclaim the Lord, our God and Saviour, His love and compassionate mercy, His kindness and His truth to all the people, to everyone we encounter throughout life. We are all called to be the ministers of God, following in the footsteps of St. Stephen, the Apostles and the many other saints and martyrs, all those who have devoted their time and life, who have often suffered for the sake of the Lord, His Church and His people. We are all called to continue their efforts and works in our own ways.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius, the great and renowned Church father and Doctor of the Church, who was especially remembered for his dedication in defending the orthodox and true Christian faith and teachings against the dangerous influence and the falsehoods of the many heresies and false teachings that were running rampant during his time and ministry, threatening to destroy the unity and harmony within the Church, and also threatening to mislead countless souls down the path towards damnation. Against this, St. Athanasius persevered faithfully, committing his time and effort to go against those who proclaim those falsehoods, much like how St. Stephen himself had courageously proclaimed the Lord before those who persecuted him.

St. Athanasius was the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria whose tenure of work and ministry happened after the important Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. He led the Church in Alexandria and beyond against the heresy of Arius, the popular preacher who initiated the Arian heresy and controversy, who amassed a large following and support even amongst the bishops and the powerful rulers of the Roman Empire. However, that did not deter St. Athanasius from persevering in his efforts to bring the people of God and the Church out from the erroneous teachings of heretics like Arius among others, and even though he had to endure about seventeen years in various exiles from his See due to the opposition against him, he endured in his faith and struggle to the very end.

In what he would later be well known for, St. Athanasius was credited with the authorship or as the inspiration for the later codified Athanasian Creed, the expanded version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed that emphasised heavily on the true nature of God, the relationship of the Members of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, against the erroneous heretical teachings, particularly that of Arius and his Arian heresy and which is recited especially on this day, his feast day. St. Athanasius showed all of us, just as St. Stephen had done, what being true Christians is all about, to stand up for our faith and proclaim the truth of God, faithfully and courageously even amidst opposition and oppression.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to commit ourselves in the same way as St. Athanasius, St. Stephen and the many other holy servants of God had done? Are we able and willing to follow the Lord faithfully and wholeheartedly, and making use of the various talents, gifts and opportunities that He had provided for us, so that we may glorify the Lord by our lives, by our words, actions and deeds? Let us all reflect carefully on how we can be ever better and more committed disciples of His, from now on. May God be with us always, and may He strengthen us that we will remain faithful and true to our calling, and be courageous in proclaiming our faith in our respective lives, now and always. Amen.

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