Thursday, 14 October 2021 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we all listen to the word of God in the Sacred Scriptures continuing to remind us that as Christians we have to put the foundation of our faith in Christ and believe in Him wholeheartedly, and not just pay Him lip service or empty faith like that of hypocrites. We have to love the Lord above everything else and put our focus in Him, so that He is the centre of our lives and existence, and He Who has offered us freely and generously His salvation and grace, may gather us all in His presence.

In our first reading today, in the continuation of the discourse of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Rome, we heard the courageous and passionate appeal of the Apostle in calling on all the faithful in Rome to put their trust and salvation in God, in Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour of the whole entire world. At that time, the community of the faithful in Rome was also composed of the members of the Jewish diaspora there, as well as some of the local Roman population who converted to the Christian faith and became believers.

And just like elsewhere in the Church, there were often tension between some of the Jewish people, who asserted that all Christians had to observe the full range of the Jewish customs and practices, as the Pharisees and the elders practiced them, including the recent converts from among the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people. However, St. Paul was quick in his rebuttal and his explanations on how such an attitude was not truly Christian in nature and not in accordance to what the Lord Himself had revealed to us, how He rejected the excessive practices and observances of the leaders of the Jewish people in obeying the Law of God.

Contextually, the extent of the strict observance of the Law by the Pharisees and the elders of the descendants of Israel was such that it would have made it very difficult for the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people to follow the Lord and to practice their faith. Over the centuries, many adaptations, interpretations and modifications to the Law had fundamentally altered its meaning, purpose and practice so much such that it no longer truly represent what the Law of God was all about. It would have made it very difficult for the Gentiles to accept the Christian faith if they were forced to follow the very strict customs and rules.

Today’s Gospel also echoed the same sentiment as we heard the continuation of the Lord’s confrontation against the Pharisees as He rebuked them for their excessive focus and obsession on enforcing a very strict way of interpreting and following the Law, as well as in practicing their faith, which they themselves were often unable to follow and do, and ended up with many merely doing it to fulfil their obligations and as a formality, or even worse, as means for them to boast about their faith and to put others down, those whom they deemed to be less worthy than they were.

This is not what a Christian should be doing, as not only that they have diverged from the true meaning and intention of the Law, but many of them had obeyed the Law and its precepts in face value only, and misunderstood what God wanted to do with us through the Law. Instead of helping to bring the people closer to God, the Law ended up being tools used to satisfy the greed and desires of some, as well as becoming the way how some discriminated against their own brothers and sisters, against those whom one hated and despised.

The Lord and His Apostle St. Paul made it clear that we must be truly faithful and centred on God in our lives and actions. We must not allow the corruption of worldly power and desires to affect us and our way of life, that we do not end up behaving like those who are hypocritical and lacking in true faith in God. We must listen to the Lord and His words, His teachings and truth, and the words of His Apostles and servants, all those whom He had sent into this world to be our guide and helper, and today, we celebrate the feast of one of them, namely Pope St. Callistus I, also known as Pope St. Callixtus I.

Pope St. Callixtus I was the Vicar of Christ and leader of the Universal Church during the time of the height of persecutions against Christians in the third century after the birth of Our Lord. At that time, there were already divisions and heresies affecting the Church, and Pope St. Callixtus I was remembered for allowing converts from among these who had lapsed from the true faith and fallen into heretical ways and teachings. He called for all of them to return to the Holy Mother Church and be repentant over their sins. Through this, many would come to realise the errors of their ways and began the path towards redemption.

However, Pope St. Callixtus I did not have it easy as there were those within the Church then who disagreed with his methods and works, and refused to admit those who have lapsed and fallen into heresy, considering that salvation can only be given once, and once people left the Church or fell into heresy, they would not be allowed to return. Nonetheless, Pope St. Callixtus I, in the spirit of what St. Paul the Apostle had written in his Epistle to the Romans, and as the Lord spoke, warning against the excesses of self-righteousness exhibited by many of the Pharisees, continued to strive for welcoming lapsed Christians right to the moment of his martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we listened to these Scripture passages today and reflect on what we have just discussed, as well as the life and efforts of Pope St. Callixtus I, all of us are reminded to look upon our own lives and discern carefully how we can lead a more Christian existence and living, in faithfully following the Lord and His truth, and in remaining true to the love that He has shown us, while avoiding the excesses of self-righteousness, ambition, ego and personal desires among others.

Let us all seek the Lord with new spirit of humility and with genuine love from now on. May the Lord be with us all and may He help us to live our lives most worthily for the Lord. May God bless us in our every good efforts and endeavours, now and always, evermore. Amen.

Thursday, 14 October 2021 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Luke 11 : 47-54

At that time, Jesus said to the teachers of the Law, “A curse is on you, for you build monuments to the prophets your ancestors killed. So you approve and agree with what your ancestors did. Is it not so? They got rid of the prophets, and you build monuments to them!”

“For that reason the wisdom of God also said : I will send prophets and Apostles and these people will kill and persecute some of them. But the present generation will have to answer for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the Sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, the people of this time will have to answer for them all.”

“A curse is on you, teachers of the Law, for you have taken the key of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you prevented others from entering.”

As Jesus left that place, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to harass Him, asking Him endless questions, setting traps to catch Him in something He might say.

Thursday, 14 October 2021 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7a

Out of the depths I cry to You, o YHVH, o YHVH, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o YHVH, who could stand? But with You, is forgiveness, and for that You are revered.

I waited for YHVH, my soul waits; and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects YHVH more than watchmen, the dawn. O Israel, hope in YHVH.

Thursday, 14 October 2021 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Romans 3 : 21-30a

But, now it has been revealed, altogether apart from the Law, as it was already foretold in the Law and the prophets : God makes us righteous by means of faith in Jesus Christ, and this is applied to all who believe, without distinction of persons.

Because all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God; and all are graciously forgiven and made righteous, through the redemption effected in Christ Jesus. For God has given Him to be the Victim, Whose Blood obtains us forgiveness, through faith.

So God shows us, how He makes us righteous. Past sins are forgiven, which God overlooked till now. For, now, He wants to reveal His way of righteousness : how He is just, and how He makes us righteous, through faith in Jesus. Then, what becomes of our pride? It is excluded. How? Not through the Law and its observances, but through another Law, which is faith. For we hold, that people are in God’s grace, by faith, and not because of all the things ordered by the Law.

Otherwise, God would be the God of the Jews; but is He not God of pagan nations as well? Of course He is, for there is only one God.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate together the feast of a holy servant of God, His Vicar on earth, that is Pope St. Callistus I, martyr of the faith and Leader of the Universal Church. Pope St. Callistus I or Pope St. Callixtus I led the Church through difficult times and through challenging moments, when the Church and the faithful went through series of persecutions by the Roman Emperors.

Pope St. Callistus helped lead the flock of God’s people through those turbulent times, and he and many other leaders and elders of the Church helped to build up the foundation of the Church and stabilised it through the time of challenges and troubles. He helped to reunite those who have been wayward in their faith and abandoned their faith to return to the Church through atonement and repentance.

There were some of those in the Church at that time who favoured unconditional punishment and condemnation without mercy for all those who have erred and betrayed the Lord and their faith. And indeed they disagreed bitterly with Pope St. Callistus I, and the happenings at that time almost splintered the Church apart. However, by the grace of God and by his hard work, Pope St. Callistus I managed to keep the Church of God together amidst those turbulent times.

What he proposed was not an open toleration or total ignorance of the sins of those who have fallen on the road to the temptations of the devil, or a total rejection, humiliation and condemnation of those who have fallen aside. Instead, it is a path of mercy and forgiveness that was offered with the need for genuine and clear repentance on the part of those who have erred and sinned.

Thus, in the same way, Jesus also rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their refusal to change their ways, as they liked to judge others and condemn them for the faults, mistakes and sins they have committed, slandering and oppressing them, and using their position and influence to bring about suffering to all those whom they have put the burden on.

These people acted high and mighty, and they acted as if they themselves were pure and blameless from any wrongdoings or sins, but in fact, as the Lord Himself pointed out to them, that they were themselves subject to the wicked and wrong things that they had done, and they were blind to their own errors, which resulted in them leading others to error as well. This is what they had done, and the great disservice that they had brought upon God’s people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this reminder as well as the examples of Pope St. Callistus I and other faithful servants of our Lord are reminders for all of us not to engage in similar behaviour and activity, namely being overly judgmental and condemning upon others based on what they have done, and instead let us all focus on the potential that all men has for change and redemption.

But this does not mean that we and the Church should go soft in dealing with all of those who have erred and sinned. There are many, even in our Church today, who thought that we should give unconditional allowance for sinners to return fully to the Church, giving them allowance, chance and incentives to return to the Church, but ignoring the fact that they have committed often grave sins before the Lord and His people.

Doing this means a great disservice to those sinners, who may then think that they have no need for repentance or the need to change their ways if they want to attain salvation. This will lead to the sinners continuing to live in sin and not strive to change themselves for the better. And truly, if they fall into damnation, the responsibility will be ours for the fate of those poor souls.

We do not peddle or give false mercy that requires no action from those who receive it. Rather, we offer the Lord’s most generous mercy while requiring all those who intend to receive it to embark on a path of total conversion and repentance as the prerequisite for the reception of God’s greatest and ever rich mercy. Without the action from the sinners to change their ways and repent, God’s mercy will not work on them.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all devote ourselves ever more to bring one another closer to the salvation in God, and let us all commit ourselves to call especially those trapped in the darkness of sin to repent, change their sinful ways and follow the Lord once more. May our loving and merciful God be with us all always, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Luke 11 : 42-46

At that time, Jesus said to the Pharisee, “A curse is on you, Pharisees; to the Temple you give a tenth of all, including mint and rue and the other herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. These ought to be practiced, without neglecting those.”

“A curse is on you, Pharisees, for you love the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted in the marketplace. A curse is on you, for you are like tombstones of the dead which can hardly be seen; people do not notice them, and make themselves unclean by stepping on them.”

Then a teacher of the Law spoke up and said, “Master, when You speak like this, You insult us, too.” And Jesus answered, “A curse is on you also, teachers of the Law. For you prepare unbearable burdens and load them on the people, while you yourselves do not move a finger to help them.”

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Psalm 61 : 2-3, 6-7, 9

My soul finds rest in God alone; from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my Rock and Salvation; with Him as my Stronghold, I shall not be overcome.

Find rest in God alone, o my soul; from Him comes my hope. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; with Him as my Stronghold, I shall not be overcome.

Trust in Him at all times, my people; pour out your hearts before Him; God is our refuge.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Romans 2 : 1-11

Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are, if you are able to judge others. For in judging your neighbour, you condemn yourself, for you practice what you are judging. We know that the condemnation of God will justly reach those who commit these things, and do you think that by condemning others you will escape from the judgment of God, you who are doing the same?

This would be taking advantage of God and His infinite goodness, patience and understanding, and not to realise that His goodness is in order to lead you to conversion. If your heart becomes hard and you refuse to change, then you are storing for yourself a great punishment on the day of judgment, when God will appear as Just Judge.

He will give each one his due, according to his actions. He will give everlasting life to those who seek glory, honour and immortality and persevere in doing good. But anger and vengeance will be the lot of those who do not serve truth but injustice.

There will be suffering and anguish for everyone committing evil, first the Jew, then the Greek. But God will give glory, honour and peace to whoever does good, first the Jew then the Greek, because one is not different from the other before God.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard in the Holy Scriptures and the Gospel about the nature of the Law of God, and how we ought to keep it in faith, and how important it is to understand what the Law is all about, and how to best apply it in our lives. It also highlighted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who kept a superficial vigil and observance over the Law, but not understanding the true intent and meaning of the Law.

As is with any forms of laws, the Law of God is often bound to be misinterpreted and misused, especially when its meaning and purpose are not fully understood by those who enforce these laws. It is imperative that the people of God understand what the Law is all about, that is about love, and not just any forms of love, but the love which comes from the source of all love itself, that is God.

The Law is meant as the symbol and representation of love of God for us mankind, by giving us this set of guidance and pointers to help us to orientate ourselves in this world filled with temptations, darkness, evils, and impurities. The ultimate aim of the Law is indeed ultimately to keep us in God’s grace, and to bring us back to His love all of us who have sinned and walked away from Him.

But when those who were tasked to safeguard and apply the Law erred in their judgments and refused to listen to what the Lord had to say about them, then the Law lost its purpose, and ended up becoming a chore and a tedious thing for the people of God to maintain and keep. As a result, that was why Jesus criticised the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were obsessed with the external applications of the Law rather than the holistic applications of the Law.

Being too engrossed in the external and superficial application of the Law is dangerous, as this ended up in the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law adopting an excessively strict and burdensome interpretation of the Law, which brought a great burden on the people of God, and sadly that this is done not in the spirit of true understanding of the purpose of the Law, ending in the observance of the Law just for the sake of observing it, which will bring no benefit but instead condemnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore today we are all urged to turn deep into the Law of God, all the rules and observances which we have known in the Church, and begin to appreciate them in complete fullness and find the true meaning and purpose of the Law, that is the love of God for us, and His great desire to reunite us with Himself, so that we may be free from sin and unworthiness, and gain the eternal inheritance He had planned for us.

Today we celebrate together as the Church, the feast of Pope St. Callistus I, also known as Pope St. Callixtus I, the leader of the early Church and a martyr of the faith under the persecution of the Roman authorities at the time. Pope St. Callistus I was once a slave, who managed to escape his slavery and eventually became a servant of the Lord and His Church. He suffered many times for his Christian faith, and he was sent to many punishments by the authorities for that.

Nevertheless, eventually when Pope St. Callistus I was chosen as the Bishop of Rome and the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, and as the Vicar of Christ, he extended a new outreached hand towards those sinners and those who had erred in their path, committing adultery and fornication, allowing them to return to the Church to seek God’s mercy.

There were indeed serious oppositions to this policy, and some including the Saint Hippolytus were firmly opposed to the policies of Pope St. Callistus I who was seen as being too lenient against the sinners. St. Hippolytus was thus elected as a rival Bishop of Rome and Pope, in opposition to Pope St. Callistus I. But despite the differences and the rivalry between them, God continued to exercise His good intentions upon the world through them, as they continued to minister to the people of God in faith. Eventually both of them would also meet their end in martrydom, in the defense of their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples of the saints and the messages from the Holy Scriptures which we heard today, all call for us to reassess our own lives as well as our own actions and deeds. We have to remember that first, God is loving and merciful, and through the Law and rules which He had given us, He wants to bring us back to Him and be renewed in love, so that our sins may be cleansed, and we renewed and purified, may find justification and salvation in God.

However, at the same time, we cannot turn a blind eye on our sins and defects indeed. We cannot ignore them or to bypass them in our attempts to seek the Lord and find His mercy. For God hates and rejects sin and evil just as much as He loves and be merciful to all of us. Welcoming sinners is indeed important, and we should make it a priority to help sinners to come back to the Lord through Faith. However, this cannot be done at the expense of condoning sin or to reduce our contempt of sin.

Instead, brothers and sisters in Christ, from today onwards, if we have not done so before, let us all help one another so that we may remind ourselves of the sins we have committed, that we may repent from them and find our way to the Lord, seeking His mercy and forgiveness. Let us also from now on seek to understand the true meaning, purpose and intention of the Law of God, so that by obeying the Law in all its full meaning, we may gain the favour and the blessings of the Lord.

May Almighty God guide us always in life, and help us so that we may become ever better disciples and followers, rooted in love and abundant in charity and faith. God bless us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014 : 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Luke 11 : 37-41

At that time, as Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked Him to have a meal with him. So He went and sat at table. The Pharisee then wondered why Jesus did not first wash His hands before dinner.

But the Lord said to him, “So then, you Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil. Fools! He who made the outside, also made the inside. But according to you, by the mere giving of alms everything is made clean.”