Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all presented with the reminders for each and every one of us to be firmly faithful to God and to believe in Him wholeheartedly, that we do not just pay a lip service to Him or observe the commandments and laws of God for the sake of doing them, or if we do them for the sake of being popular or to get fame and attention to ourselves. That is not how we should be living our faith, and that is not what Christians like us should be doing, or else, we are no better than hypocrites and unbelievers who have no true faith in God.
In our first reading today, we heard from the continuation of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Church and the faithful in Galatia. In that passage, St. Paul reminded the faithful in Galatia, many of whom were Jewish converts to the Christian faith, and there were also being a rather sizeable Jewish diaspora there, to no longer be ‘enslaved’ to the old Law, which was not actually really referring to the Law of God, but rather to the customs, traditions, practices and all those which the people of God in the past had gradually grown to ingrain themselves into, and not only that, but even becoming more and more obsessed on, as they became too engrossed and focused on obeying even the smallest details of those rules and regulations.
That was what we have also heard throughout the other parts of the New Testament and the Gospels, where there were frequent disagreements and clashes between the Lord Himself and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as the two latter groups were adamant on keeping, preserving and enforcing their way of obeying and observing the Law of God. As a matter of fact, after many centuries since the Law of God was passed down to the people through Moses, it had gone through very extensive changes and additions, such that the Law as was known and observed by those same Pharisees and teachers of the Law had become very cumbersome and oppressive.
Not only that, but those rules, regulations, practices and customs had become something that made it really difficult for many people to follow and to observe, and in fact became a distraction and barrier for many in their journey towards God. For the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law themselves, the Law became a tool for them to achieve fame and glory. Many of them became trapped in the desire to achieve greatness and praise through those laws, by showing off their piety and activities, and in the end, causing them to be focusing upon themselves and their ego rather than on God. While for others, the Law made it difficult for many to approach God, and made them to shun Him and turn away from Him instead.
That is why St. Paul exhorted and reminded the faithful in Galatia not to continue in the way and the path that their ancestors and predecessors had kept, which was erroneous and the Lord Himself had pointed out as He came to reveal the truth about the Law of God and all that He had told us all about Himself and how each one of us ought to live our lives in accordance with God’s will. Those who believe in the Lord and follow Him should heed the words that He has spoken and which He then reminded us again through His Apostles like St. Paul. They are all exhorted and reminded to embrace the path of God’s love, in loving God and one another, and in focusing their lives on Him and following His commandments in its true meaning and purpose. We should not be selfish or self-centred.
Today, the Church also celebrates the feast of Pope St. John XXIII, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who was one of the Popes of the last century, and the one who was credited with the initiation, planning and opening of the Second Vatican Council about sixty-four years ago. He was also remembered as ‘The Good Pope’. Pope St. John XXIII, his life, works and inspirations hopefully can help to inspire us to become better and more genuine disciples of the Lord, in living our lives wholeheartedly as Christians, in the service of God and in loving Him, and in showing the same care and love to our fellow brothers and sisters as well.
Pope St. John XXIII was born as the son of a poor farmer in northern Italian region of Bergamo. He was born into a large poor family, which while was distantly descended from a noble family, was impoverished and had nothing much in worldly properties, with little hope for education or prospects, but the young Angelo Roncalli was supported by his relatives and others who helped him to enter into the local seminary, and who then helped him to persevere through until he was ordained as a priest. After this, he was tasked by the local bishop of Bergamo to be his personal assistant and secretary, which he carried out most dutifully. He experienced the hardships of that era, as upheavals affected the Church and the community, and he was also inspired by the leadership and passion which his bishop had for his flock.
That would continue to shape the young Pope St. John XXIII, as he was later on sent to the ministry as a war chaplain, and then as the part of the Holy See’s diplomatic service, in being the Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria, and then later as the Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey. In both of those responsibilities, Pope St. John XXIII dedicated himself to the advancement of local Catholics’ cause, as well as the building of good and enduring relationships with the separated Eastern Orthodox brethren of the Church. He was also credited with saving the lives of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, fleeing the persecution and genocide of Jews under the NAZIs.
In his later ministry as the Apostolic Nuncio to France and also as the Patriarch of Venice before he was elected as Pope and Successor of St. Peter, Pope St. John XXIII continued to dedicate himself to the service of the Lord and His Church, showing the love of God to the people and helping many, even those who have lapsed from the faith to return to Him. One inspiring story told of how the then atheist President of France, Vincent Auriol, had a great respect and developed a good relationship with the then Apostolic Nuncio, and the later Pope would also maintain his good relationships with various parts of the Church and others to good use, as he led the Church towards the renewal through the Second Vatican Council.
Pope St. John XXIII through his efforts in the Second Vatican Council helped to renew the Church and diversified its outreach and works in guiding more and more souls towards the Lord, in renewing pastoral priorities and works, in the renewal of efforts for Christian unity among others, as well as for the betterment of the efforts of evangelisation of the Good News and the Gospels to more and more of the faithful all around the world. His efforts and sincere commitment to the glory of the Lord would inspire many of the Council fathers to continue and complete his works, and conclude the Ecumenical Council successfully several years after the Pope’s passing.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore be inspired by the good examples set by Pope St. John XXIII so that we may ever be more committed to serve the Lord faithfully, and to focus our lives and attention on Him, doing whatever we can in order to glorify Him by our actions and deeds, at each and every moments of our lives. May God bless us all and may He encourage and strengthen us always, now and forevermore. Amen.