Wednesday, 18 May 2022 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of Pope St. John I, Pope and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scriptures, which remind us of the need for us to remain firmly attached to the Lord, to be connected to Him, the True Vine and the One and only True Lord and Saviour. In our Scripture passages today, we are reminded that as Christians we have to be rooted in Christ, the One in Whom we ought to believe in wholeheartedly and put our full trust in. Otherwise, if we do not do so, then we will easily lose our path and way in life, and we may end up falling into the temptations of worldliness and sin.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles regarding the matter of the confrontation that arose between the ones who supported a much more rigid application of the Jewish laws and traditions and wanting to impose them on all the faithful, and those who were supporting a more relaxed and welcoming stance to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people. Both of these groups had contrasting views on how the Church should act and respond in evangelisation towards the many non-Jewish peoples as well as the expectations to be placed on each Christians.

The divisions that existed between each factions were threatening to split the Church apart and that might also lead to the alienation of those who would have wanted to follow the Lord, especially from among the Gentiles when they had to follow the Jewish customs and practices. That is because many of the Jewish customs and practices were abhorred by the peoples like Greeks and Romans among others, and those customs were seen as incompatible with their own culture and customs. Hence, it would have been difficult for them to be Christians and followers of the Lord if they had to abandon their own ways and customs.

As such, we heard in that same passage from the Acts of the Apostles, the very first gathering of the whole Church, the First Council of Jerusalem, in which the leaders of the Church and the elders all assembled to pray and discuss together the direction that the Church would take in going forward and following God together, as one people and as one Church. St. Peter the Apostle spoke up before the assembly of the faithful, presenting to them the facts and also the message and vision showed to him from God, which told him that the Lord wished for all the people, Jews or Gentiles, to be His followers all the same, and the restrictions of the old and former laws and how they were interpreted should not hinder or become barriers for the ones who wanted to follow Christ.

At that time, the Jews tended to have a lot of judgmental attitude towards the Gentiles, dismissing them as being pagans and being unworthy of God and His grace and love. That was why the faction of those who wanted to impose the strict and harsh requirements of the Jewish customs wanted to impose the same conditions to the Gentile converts to Christianity, because they conflated their attachment to the particular ways that they observed the Law with devotion and faith in God. The Lord Himself has criticised those who were too attached to their flawed interpretation of the Law and wanted them to break free from that path.

Hence, St. Peter highlighted the need for all the faithful to follow the true path as shown by Jesus, the True Vine and the One in Whom everyone ought to believe in. Instead of believing and holding fast to their own beliefs and ideas, all of the faithful must put their faith and trust, and derive their faith from the Lord Himself. And God has entrusted His Church at the hands of the Apostles like St. Peter and others, as well as their successors, that they may arbitrate judgments and decide through the Holy Spirit, the path and way moving forward for all the faithful people of God.

In our Gospel passage today, we are reminded through the parable of the True Vine as mentioned, highlighting to us that just as the branches have to remain connected to the main stem or vine, hence, we have to remain connected to Christ if we are to grow and prosper in faith. If we instead follow particular ideologies and refuse to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Lord speaking to us in the depths of our hearts and minds, then we will end up easily losing our direction and path in life, falling prey to the temptations of worldly desires and ambitions that had seen the downfall of so many people.

Today, just as we are reminded to remain faithful to the Lord, we are presented with the great examples from Pope St. John I, a holy Pope and Martyr who remained firmly faithful in the Lord despite him being caught squarely in the middle of political and theological conflicts at the time. As Pope, Pope St. John I led the Church in the time of great turbulence as the Church in Rome and Italy were under the state control of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, whose ruler, Theoderic the Great was an Arian, following a heresy that was in opposition to the true Christian belief and faith.

Pope St. John I was sent as a delegate to the court of the Roman Emperor in Constantinople by Theoderic with the aim to resolve the political and religious tensions existing between the Romans and the Ostrogoths. The Emperor treated and respected the Pope well, although the embassy was unsuccessful in pursuing the Ostrogoth king’s demands. Upon Pope St. John’s return to Rome and Ravenna, the Ostrogothic capital, Theoderic ordered his arrest and it was there that the Pope eventually died from neglect and poor health, dying a martyr to the true Christian faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore be inspired by the examples of Pope St. John I, the many other saints and martyrs, and all those who have dedicated their lives to serve the Lord, all who have kept themselves close to God and remain firm in their full love and dedication to His way. As Christians, let us all be inspiration to one another, and help each other to be committed to God, and not to fall into the path of sin, or to be swayed by other worldly matters. May God be with us always, and may He, the True Vine, keep us all alive with Him in faith, now and always, forevermore. Amen.

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