Friday, 26 May 2023 : 7th Week of Easter, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures, all of us are reminded that each one of us have been called by the Lord to follow Him and to do His will, to wherever that He will lead us to, just as He had done with the Apostles, the many saints and martyrs of the Church, our holy predecessors. Each and every one of us as Christians are expected to live our lives worthily of the Lord and to continue carrying out our activities in accordance with God’s will, doing whatever we can to serve Him and glorify Him at every possible opportunities. We should heed the Lord’s call and love Him as much as we should, just as how He Himself has loved us so much first, that He gave Himself for us that through His loving sacrifice for us, we may all be saved.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles regarding a conversation between Festus, the Governor and Procurator of Judea with King Agrippa, the Herodian ruler of the region, about St. Paul the Apostle, his works and ministry and how the Jewish authorities, members of the Sanhedrin had been accusing him of wrongdoing, and how St. Paul appealed to the Emperor for his case. Through what we have heard here, we are reminded of how God moved things and spared St. Paul from the hands of his enemies in Jerusalem, who no doubt would have wanted him destroyed. Instead, as the Lord Himself had told St. Paul earlier on, that He was sending him to Rome, to the last stop of his long missionary works, where he would evangelise and proclaim the Good News of God at the very heart and centre of the Roman Empire itself.

St. Paul could have chosen to stay away from trouble and from all the hardships facing him, just as the past few weekdays’ Scripture passages from the Acts of the Apostles could show us. St. Paul willingly embraced God’s calling and mission, embarking on this last missionary journey through Jerusalem, and then on to Rome, in which St. Paul would go on to do more great works at evangelisation, stopping by the island of Malta along the way where he laid the foundation of the faith there, and many more. Through the hard work of St. Paul and other early Christian missionaries, the Church grew rapidly amidst the many challenges and hardships that it had to face, persecutions and oppressions that many among the Christian faithful had to endure. Their faith remained strong and firm as the Lord guided and strengthened them, and empowered them through the Holy Spirit.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the calling of St. Peter the Apostle, and the mission which God entrusted to him as He reaffirmed him as the leader and shepherd of His entire flock, the Church. That happened at the shores of the Lake of Galilee, where after the Lord’s Resurrection, He went and met with His disciples just as He has promised them. And in this private moment mentioned in the Gospel passage today, the Lord asked St. Peter, not once but three times, ‘Peter, do you love Me?’, which St. Peter replied fervently and lovingly with, ‘Lord, You know that I love You.’ And the Lord told St. Peter to take care of His sheep, the flock of His beloved people, to feed them and to take good care of them, as a reminder of the mission which He had entrusted to him earlier as His Vicar, as the leader of the whole entire Church.

And why the Lord asked St. Peter three times? It is symbolic as a response to what St. Peter had done earlier on at the beginning of the Lord’s Passion, where as we all know that St. Peter denied knowing the Lord and denied Him a total of not just once but three times. St. Peter was likely driven by fear, the fear for suffering and for being persecuted and hence, in his moment of folly, he abandoned and denied the Lord back then. But the Lord, through this threefold questioning of St. Peter was showing that He loved him, forgave him from his past mistakes and lack of faith, and entrusted to him anew what He has entrusted to him, the guardianship and leadership over His whole entire Church. St. Peter was also told of the kind of suffering and martyrdom that he would have to endure for the sake of the Lord, and to the very end, St. Peter would remain firmly faithful to his calling and mission.

Today all of us are reminded that as Christians all of us are called from the world, from among the ordinary people to become extraordinary in the Lord. Often we are reluctant to follow the Lord or to do as He has commanded us to do because we thought that we are incapable of doing all the things like our predecessors had done. But as we all have seen and discussed, the Lord’s own disciples are those who have come from ordinary background, and were people who were imperfect and even weak in their faith at first. St. Paul himself was a great persecutor and enemy of the earliest Christians, and had a part in the sufferings and martyrdom of many among the faithful. St. Peter as we knew, abandoned and denied the Lord three times. Yet, all of them had a change of heart and mind, and committed themselves thoroughly to the Lord for the rest of their lives.

Today the Church also mark the feast of one great saint whose life and works may be great source of inspiration to all of us as we carry on living our lives as Christians in our world today. St. Philip Neri was known as a great priest and servant of God, known as the ‘Second Apostle of Rome’ after St. Peter himself, for all the efforts he has done for the glorification of God and for the spreading of the Good News of the Lord and His salvation. He founded the Congregation of the Oratory, which still remained busy and active to this very day, and he contributed a lot in his mission to reach out to the least fortunate and to many of those who have fallen into sinful ways in the community back then. He ministered to prostitutes and those who were often shunned by others, and many were inspired to follow his examples, and not few became followers of the Lord because of his efforts. He established a growing community of believers both within and beyond his Oratory Congregation, and brought many closer to God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all thus be inspired to follow the Lord ever more faithfully following in the footsteps of St. Philip Neri and the other Apostles like St. Peter and St. Paul, as well as many other among our holy predecessors, whose examples in faith and way of life should inspire each one of us to carry out our lives most worthily as Christians, that is as the disciples of the Lord. Let us all seek the Lord ever more faithfully and show greater commitment to Him, and entrust ourselves to Him and to His providence from now on, that we may always be worthy in our way of life and actions, and be inspiration for many others who desire to follow the Lord as well. May the Risen Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us in our faith and commitment. Amen.

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