Wednesday, 10 May 2023 : 5th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. John of Avila, Priest 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, each and every one of us are reminded that as Christians, all of us should be truly connected and linked to the Lord, attuned and in tandem with His ways and truth at all times. Unless we keep ourselves connected to the Lord and follow Him wholeheartedly, we may find it difficult to remain truly faithful to Him, and we may easily end up falling away from the path that the Lord and causing us to fall into eternal damnation if we are not careful and vigilant in how we live our lives. That is why we should heed to messages carried in our Scripture passages today so that we may truly know what the Lord has called us to, to a life and existence that is truly blessed and harmonious with His truth and love, to obey Him and to do as the Law and the commandments He had told us to do, with genuine understanding and appreciation of what we believe in.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles of the beginning of the narrative of the moment of time when the Church in its early and very rapidly growing days, began to be pulled into two opposite extremes, as we ourselves heard from the account of the Acts of the Apostles. Back then, the Church grew rapidly with the conversion of many of the Jewish people both in Judea and Galilee as well as in the diaspora, and not few of them came from among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Meanwhile, the Apostles and the missionaries of the Lord had also managed to get great inroads into the Gentile communities throughout the Mediterranean, as many among the Greeks and other local populace, as well as the Romans and many others began to heed the call of the Lord and embraced Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

The Pharisees and the teachers in particular, as mentioned, carried on their past baggage of beliefs and prejudices, as they began to argue and insist that the whole Church and all of the Lord’s believers should follow the full rigour of the Jewish laws and customs, as how the Pharisees themselves had observed and enforced. As we all ought to remember from the Gospels, the Lord Jesus Himself had often rebuked and criticised many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their overly strict interpretation and observation of the Law of God, which happened because of the accumulation of excesses and changes throughout the many centuries since the first time revelation of the Law through Moses during the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The Law of God had been passed down through the generations, and the interpretations of the Law had been changing ever since, with the Law by the time of the Lord Jesus having become excessive and difficult to observe by the people of God.

Not only that, but one of the main criticisms that the Lord laid on the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law are the fact of their hypocrisy. This means that while they enforced the very strict interpretation of the Law and forced others to obey and to follow their way of observing the Law of God, but they themselves did not truly obey the Law the way that they themselves had prescribed. Then, in addition, their preoccupation and obsession with the extensive details of the Law and all the rituals and the complicated nature of the laws, rules and regulations had distracted and prevented them and others from becoming true believers, as they made idols out of their own obsession with the Law of God and their own preoccupation with the intricacies of the laws and rules that they had made in their way of observing the Law and the commandments of God.

And it is in idolising their own prejudices and preoccupations with the Law and how it ought to be observed and done that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had ended up separating themselves from the True Vine, that is the Lord Himself, Who manifested Himself through His Son, through Whom He wanted to make us know and understand all these things. In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord speaking to His disciples using the parable of the vines in order to deliver to them His intentions and teachings, and to remind them to remain firmly faithful to the teachings and truth of the Good News that He has brought upon them, and which has been revealed to them. They should not seek to find other focus or distractions, or put their emphasis and attention upon other things that may end up misleading them down the wrong path, as what many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.

Through the parable of the vine, as well as by referring to Himself as the one and only True Vine, the Lord wanted all of His disciples and followers to remember that everything and especially all those who belong to the Church of God must be rooted in Him, in His teachings and truth. Anyone who separated themselves from the Lord will not have life or part with Him, and those who profess teachings and beliefs contrary to what the Lord Himself had taught His disciples, were wrong and mistaken, and unless they change their ways and beliefs, they would likely end up being discarded, damned and rejected at the end of days. They also can cause division and harm to the unity of the Church, as what happened back then during the time mentioned in our first reading today, was almost the case. Thankfully, the Apostles and the Church elders, guided by the Holy Spirit, convened the very first gathering of the Church, in what would be known as the First Council of Jerusalem.

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church led by the Apostles resolved the situation and reaffirmed that the Church and all the Christian faithful ought to follow the Law and commandments of God as revealed and explained by the Lord, but not the grievous excesses, abuses and misrepresentations and misinterpretations of the Law as espoused by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Lord, as the True Vine, truly guided and gave help and life to the Church, and as long as the faithful remained firmly attached and faithful to Him, they would indeed be blessed and strengthened in their ways and life, and the Lord would provide for them. Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to prefer to depend on other things, and got distracted by the many temptations of worldly desires and attachments found all around us.

This is why today each one of us should look upon the inspiring and good examples set by our holy predecessors, the glorious saints and martyrs. Particularly as today we celebrate the feast of St. John of Avila, a holy priest and servant of God, let us be inspired by his life, works and devotion to God. St. John of Avila was a dedicated priest and missionary, who was renowned as the ‘Apostle of Andalusia’ for his tireless efforts in reaching out to the people of God, proclaiming the truth and Good News of God, calling on the people to repent from their sinful ways, and also encouraging and calling for the reforms in the Church and also reform in the way how the society and the communities of the people of God lived their lives, which were often full of wickedness and evils back then. He inspired many others to follow his examples in calling the people of God to a renewed life of holiness, and his extensive writings and works eventually led him to be declared one of the Doctors of the Church.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore be filled with zeal and faith anew, and be inspired by the good examples set by St. John of Avila and our many other holy and devout predecessors, in staying connected and true to our faith in the Lord, the one and only True Vine of all. May the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, Our King, Saviour and Good Shepherd be with us always, and may He empower each and every one of us with the strength and courage of the Holy Spirit, now and always, that we may be good role models and examples as devout and faithful Christians at all times. Amen.

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