Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are presented with the moment when St. Paul reached Jerusalem and caused a great uproar there as the members of the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish High Council and their supporters, both from the party of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, had gathered to persecute St. Paul and to condemn him. However, they could not agree on how they were to handle him.
St. Paul knew that they would do whatever they could to persecute him and even condemn him to death, but that was not what the Holy Spirit had guided him to do. He still had one last mission to do, to evangelise to the people in the city of Rome, the capital and centre of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was not yet time for St. Paul to be persecuted to his death. And that was why he incited the two opposing groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees to a near riot simply because he said that he was a Pharisee, and it was his belief in what the Pharisees believed that led him to be put on trial there.
St. Paul as Saul was indeed a Pharisee and a zealous one at that, before he was called by God and was redeemed, turning over a new leaf and embracing a new path in life as God’s servant. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were often at loggerheads as they were diametrically opposite in their beliefs, with the Pharisees believing firmly in the spiritual and immaterial world, the resurrection of the dead, the presence of spirits and Angels, while the Sadducees represent the secular party, those who firmly reject all those, and particularly oppose the notion of life after death and the resurrection.
That declaration by St. Paul was enough to drive the assembly into a frenzy, each group defending their own viewpoints and attacking the other, to the point that some of those same Pharisees even defended St. Paul and said before the assembly how he was innocent and not to be punished, totally contradicting their own stance earlier on. It was also proof that whatever false charges and accusations they wanted to impose on St. Paul was not valid and right in the first place. Nonetheless, St. Paul allowed the Holy Spirit to guide his path, and he was rescued by the guards who led him to the Roman governor, before whom the Apostle would claim trial and appeal before the Emperor himself, paving for his final missionary journey to Rome.
As we have heard in those readings today, including in the Gospel where we heard the Lord praying for the sake of His disciples, that they would be blessed and protected, united and kept as one flock, hence, as Christians we have to realise that in following the Lord, we may often have to endure trials and challenges, and we may have to suffer a lot just as St. Paul had experienced. Many of our predecessors throughout the history of the Church were persecuted and had to face prison and all sorts of torture in their faithful living of their lives and their dedication to God.
And these include St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, the two renowned saints who were told to have perished in the most severe persecution to ever face the Church in its early days, under the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ordered the persecution of all Christians, the burning of all Christian texts and bibles, and the destruction of churches and Christian properties. Many martyrs were born of that persecution, and yet there were many tales of those who persisted in their faith, laying down their lives for the Lord rather than choosing apostasy.
The question is, what are we then going to do? In the face of opposition and persecution, should we then turn away from the Lord for the sake of convenience and happiness, for respite and joy? Or are we going to follow the examples of the Apostles and the saints, like St. Paul, St. Marcellinus and St. Peter among many others? The temptation for us to give in to the pressure of the world, to conform to the path of sin and abandoning our faith can be really great at times, but that should not be a reason for us to turn away from God and find the way out and seeking convenience and pleasures for ourselves.
May the Lord continue to guide each and every one of us that we may be always ever faithful to Him and strong in our convictions to walk in His path, despite the persecutions and oppositions, rejections and hardships that we may have to endure. And may all of us remain resolute in living our lives with faith to the fullest, respecting one another while at the same time, standing up courageously for our faith in God, so that each and every one of us may inspire each other in faith, that in all the things we say and do, we will help our fellow brothers and sisters to remain firm in their own faith and life. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.