Friday, 18 November 2022 : 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the special occasion this day when we celebrate the anniversary of the Dedication of not just one but two of the greatest churches in Christendom, namely the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican, the great and renowned House of God where the Pope frequently celebrates the Holy Mass and other important major events of the faith, as the place where St. Peter himself, the first Pope and Vicar of Christ, was martyred. The other great Basilica is the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, named such because it is located just outside the walls of the ancient city of Rome, and where St. Paul according to tradition, spent his time in Rome, while waiting for his trial by the Emperor as listed in the Acts of the Apostles.

On this day therefore, it is appropriate for us to remind ourselves of the two Apostles after whom those two great Basilicas, the House of God have been named after. St. Peter and St. Paul are both the patron saints of Rome and hence of the Universal Church, and their role in the establishment of the Church in Rome, the then heart of the Roman Empire and later on as the heart of all Christendom were truly significant, as they were the ones to lay the firm foundations of the Church there, through their toils and hard work, and by the shedding of their own blood and the martyrdom that they endured for the sake of the Lord and for His people. We honour these two great men of God, our important role models, as we remember and commemorate the anniversary of the Dedication of the two Basilicas named and dedicated in their honour. Those Basilicas as mentioned, are next in honour only after the Papal Cathedral, Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which Dedication we commemorated just a week ago.

St. Peter the Apostle was the first Pope and Vicar of Christ, appointed as such by the Lord Himself, as He entrusted His Church to him as written in the Sacred Scriptures itself, entrusting to him the whole Universal Church and the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. He was appointed and made to be the leader of the whole Church, truly the Prince of the Apostles and the Lord’s Vicar in this world, as the leader of all the leaders of the Church, as the shepherd and guide for all the faithful people of God. And yet, for this great mission and responsibility, as we all ought to know, St. Peter was not one which the world would have deemed fit for the role. He was after all a mere illiterate, brash and poor fisherman from the lake of Galilee area, literally a nobody at that time. No one would have thought that this man would have become the Lord’s very own Vicar in this world.

Yet, that was what the Lord did, brothers and sisters in Christ, that He chose an ordinary man, a nobody in the eyes of the world to be His chief disciple, and what others might not have known then, was how dedicated and committed the Apostles, especially that of St. Peter, were to the Lord. What the Lord saw in their hearts were the capacity to love Him and to serve their fellow brethren with genuine dedication, and just as He called them and they responded, in the end, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they all prevailed in faith, and gave their efforts and lives for the glory of God. St. Peter himself went on to Rome and became the first Bishop of Rome, establishing the foundation of the Church there, and during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero, he was arrested and martyred, crucified upside-down on Vatican hill, where the great Basilica of St. Peter now stands. He chose to die in that manner because in his own words, he said that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Lord and Master.

Meanwhile, St. Paul the Apostle was the Apostle to the Gentiles, sent and commissioned to reach out to the various communities of the faithful all throughout Christendom, and was renowned and remembered for his many efforts and labours especially among the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people, protecting their rights and helping them to find their ways to the Lord more easily, by opposing those who sought to impose the customs and strict, unbending, Pharisaical rules of the Jewish people onto the whole Church. He was himself was once Saul, a young and zealous Pharisee who was very fervent and energetic in his pursuit of the early Christians, in the hope of crushing and destroying the Church in its earliest moments, in his misguided efforts to follow the Law as per what he once knew.

After he had encountered the Lord personally on his way to Damascus, in that well-known conversion experience, and after he was baptised and received the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit, Saul, became Paul, a new man of God. From a vicious enemy of Christians and the Lord, St. Paul became a great and most ardent defender and champion of the Christian faith, dedicating his life and works to serve the Lord, wholeheartedly. He spent a lot of time and effort in reaching out to various people he encountered throughout his missionary journeys, and went through and endured a lot of sufferings and persecutions, arrest and imprisonment, and was eventually martyred in Rome by the same Emperor Nero when Christians were made scapegoats and were persecuted for the Great Fire of Rome, and St. Paul was beheaded for his faith.

Today, as we remember this memory of the Dedication of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican and the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, we are reminded that each one of us are also parts and members of the living Church of God, as the living stones making up this one Body of all the Christian faithful. As the two Basilicas were consecrated and dedicated to God, made hallow, holy and blessed, as places worthy for the worship and adoration of God, therefore each one of us have to strive to be worthy and holy for the Lord as well, just like that of the Apostles and the other disciples of God, especially that of St. Peter and St. Paul. And why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because all of us, according to St. Paul, are no less than the Temple of God’s very own Holy Presence, His own dwelling place, as He has come to us in His own Real and Precious Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and His Holy Spirit has dwelled within us as well.

Therefore, if our lives and actions are unbecoming and unworthy of what we as Christians are expected to do, then we are in fact doing no less than defiling the sanctity of this Temple and House of God, our very own body, heart, mind and soul, our very own beings. And if we do that, then it is by our own actions and wickedness that we will be judged, and certainly none of us will want to be on the wrong side of God’s judgment. Do we want to enjoy forever the blissful eternal life with God, in His presence and in the fullness of His grace and love? Or do we rather suffer for an eternity in eternal damnation and darkness because of our wickedness and sins? The choice has been given to us, and God has given us the freedom to choose our path in this life we have on Earth. Let us all choose wisely, brothers and sisters in Christ.

May the Lord therefore be with us, His Church, strengthening and empowering us all as His disciples and followers, and strengthening our unity as members of the same Church, the Body of Christ, so that we may always be holy just as our Lord is holy. May God bless us all and our every good endeavours and works, and may He remain with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

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