Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listened to the words of God, reminding each and every one of us yet again that becoming Christians and walking faithfully in the presence of God is something that is not easily done and which likely will end up bringing us hardships and challenges, just as we have been constantly reminded especially in the past few days through the Scripture readings of this week. Following Christ often required us to make sacrifices and to experience those hardships and trials mentioned, just as our predecessors, and the saints and martyrs can easily attest.
In our first reading today, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard of the conversation between King Agrippa of Judea and that of Festus, the new Roman governor in charge of the case surrounding St. Paul. If we had been following the Scripture readings from the earlier part of this week, all these happened due to the opposition that the Apostle faced due to his work and ministry, in proclaiming the Christian truths and evangelising to many people, Gentiles and Jews alike that earned him the ire of many among the Sanhedrin or the Jewish High Council, which then persecuted him and handed him over to the Romans to be judged for the accusations they levied on him.
This was pretty much just like what the Lord Jesus Himself experienced earlier on, but St. Paul was following the guidance and lead of the Holy Spirit, Who told him that he was destined to travel to Rome and to die there, in martyrdom just like the other Apostles and many other disciples. However, this would not happen before he brought the word of God, His truth and love to the people in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, planting the seeds of the faith there, at the very heart of the Empire and superpower of that time, which would soon become the greatest persecutor of Christianity.
In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the calling that God gave to St. Peter, His foremost and chief disciple, as He called on him after His resurrection to be the one to lead the people of God and to shepherd His entire flock, as the leader of the Church on His behalf, His Vicar on earth. St. Peter has been appointed to be the leader of the Church, as the first Pope because of the faith that he had shown and all the commitment that he would later on do for the sake of the Church, as the Lord Himself knew that St. Peter would become His most faithful servant, and he truly loved Him from his heart, and God knew all that is in man’s hearts and minds.
Hence, St. Peter dedicated himself and his life to love and serve the Lord, to feed the flock of the sheep of the Lord, to fulfil what the Lord had entrusted to him and the other leaders of the Church, the Apostles and those whom they had chosen to be their successors, the Popes and bishops. St. Peter himself would also eventually go to Rome, and according to tradition, he and the other Christians were persecuted by the intense persecutions under the Roman Emperor Nero, at whose rule and command, the Apostle St. Paul as mentioned earlier eventually faced martyrdom by beheading.
Apostolic tradition states that St. Peter fled Rome with some of the other faithful because of the intense persecutions, and on the way out of Rome, he saw the Lord carrying His Cross in the opposite direction, towards Rome, which led to St. Peter asking Him where He was going. The Lord replied to St. Peter that He was going to Rome to be crucified again. That encounter according to Apostolic tradition gave St. Peter the courage and strength to endure the bitter persecutions that he had to endure in Rome, and was eventually martyred by crucifixion, and he chose to be crucified upside-down as in his own words, St. Peter said that, he was unworthy to die in the same way as his Lord, Master and Saviour. Thus, everything happened just as the Lord predicted it for St. Peter as we heard in our Gospel today.
Today we also mark the Feast of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, also known as the Ugandan Martyrs, St. Charles Lwanga and his many companions in martyrdom in Uganda, where they who were persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed for their faith in Uganda, during the early years of Christian mission in that area. There were missionaries and local converts amongst the martyrs, all those who have given themselves for the service of God, and all those who remained faithful to the Lord despite the persecutions and sufferings they encountered. They faced intense challenges just to live their lives faithfully as Christians.
At that time, Christian missionaries just arrived in Uganda, over the several years in which they ministered to the locals. Many among the locals welcomed the missionaries and many chose to become Christians, including that of St. Charles Lwanga, who was an important official in the court of the king of Buganda, the largest local kingdom. The king saw the increasing conversion to Christianity among his people as a threat to his own power and influence, and began to persecute Christianity throughout his realm. But this did not stop the Christian faithful from continuing to endure the persecutions and remaining faithful to God.
All these became worse when the converts among the royal pages and courtiers refused to obey the king’s debaucherous desires and shunned his wicked actions. The king ordered all Christians in his court and also foreign missionaries to be rounded up and put to death, and the locals if they would not abandon their faith. St. Charles Lwanga and his companions in martyrdom refused to abandon their faith, and in prison, he even managed to convert some more people, before being martyred by being burnt alive after refusing again to abandon the Christian faith. And not only that, but through martyrdom, they had shown many others what true faith in God is like.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to these courageous and great examples of faith despite persecution and hardships, all of us are reminded to be strong and faithful ourselves, to steel our resolve to be good and dedicated Christians at all times. We should not let the challenges and hardships we encountered and will face in the future from changing this faith and commitment we have in God. Let us all look upon the examples of the Apostles, the saints and martyrs like the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, St. Charles Lwanga and his companions. Holy Martyrs of Uganda, courageous servants of God and beloved disciples of Our Lord and Saviour, pray for us! Amen.