Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Popes)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Lord in the Sacred Scriptures, we are all called to reflect on the lives of two great servants of God of the past, both of whom had dedicated themselves to the Lord all their lives, enduring great trials and challenges in serving the Lord and facing persecutions and oppressions all the while doing God’s works. We should reflect on their lives this Advent that we too may become more faithful by following their examples and faith.
First of all, the prophet Elijah, one of those two great servants of God was mentioned in our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Sirach. The prophet Elijah was a great prophet and servant of God sent to the northern kingdom of Israel, to their king and people, to remind them of God and their obligation to serve God and abandon their sinful worship of the pagan gods and idols. Elijah laboured for many years, preaching God’s message and performing miracles among the people and their king who were stubborn in opposing God.
As mentioned in the Book of Sirach, Elijah performed many wonderful deeds, such as bringing God’s retribution in the years of famine and drought that happened during the reign of king Ahab for his wickedness and the Israelites’ constant refusals to follow the Lord, and then the moment when he stood up alone against the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal, the Canaanite pagan idol at Mount Carmel. By the power of God, Elijah called down fire from Heaven that showed that God is indeed the true God and Creator of all, and defeating all those priests of Baal before the people of God.
Yet, at that time, just as Elijah performed many wonderful deeds, he also faced a lot of tough experiences as he was often rejected by the king and the people, and had many enemies among them, even though they had witnessed everything that God had performed and done through Elijah. He had to flee into exile and was on the run from the land of Israel because of this, on more than one occasion. He had to work and labour alone amidst the often hostile populace and encountered a lot of challenges along the way.
Elijah was then later on taken up to Heaven in a flaming chariot sent by God, as witnessed by his disciple and successor, the prophet Elisha. All these were mentioned by the prophet Sirach as well. Then, he was again mentioned by the Lord Jesus in our Gospel passage today, as one of His disciples asked Him regarding the coming of the prophet Elijah, and how he had actually come then. It was believed among the Jewish people, the descendants of the Israelites, that the prophet Elijah, who was taken up into Heaven and therefore did not die, would come again to proclaim the Messiah or the Saviour of God.
This was a reference to St. John the Baptist, the one who was the Herald of the Messiah, the one who prepared the path for the Lord Jesus as predicted by the prophets. The Lord mentioned how John was the fulfilment of those prophecies, and indeed, his works and ministry had prepared the path for the Lord and His coming into this world. St. John the Baptist had often been compared with the prophet Elijah because both of them had suffered persecutions for their works and both of them lived in a similar manner, travelling in the wilderness, proclaiming repentance and the coming of God’s salvation.
Some said that St. John the Baptist was indeed the same prophet Elijah sent into the world to finish the works that he had once initiated. And others said that St. John the Baptist had the spirit of the prophet Elijah, which was not the same as being the same person, but that both by that extension had the same ministry among the people of God, the same approach and efforts. And regardless which one is the real case, St. John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah both had laboured hard, sweat, blood and endured sufferings for the sake of the glory of God.
Today, we have yet another great servant of God who dedicated his life to Him, and who can also become our role model and inspiration in life. Pope St. Damasus I was the Pope, and therefore leader of the Universal Church during the important years and time of the Church when there were numerous converts and more and more coming to believe in God. At that same time, there were also a lot of divisions and disagreements in the Church, which Pope St. Damasus worked very hard to overcome as the leader of all God’s faithful people.
Pope St. Damasus himself became Pope during a turbulent time of a succession crisis following the death of the previous reigning Pope due to interference from the secular ruling class and nobles of Rome. There was a contested election and two rival Popes were elected, in a heated campaign before Pope St. Damasus eventually prevailed against his rival. This rival himself belonged to the heretical party, the Arians, who had wrecked a lot of damage and divisions in the Church for many decades up to that time.
Pope St. Damasus was instrumental in leading the charge against the heretics and all of their false teachings, devoting much of his time and efforts to overcome the falsehoods spread by those who claimed to teach the truth of God, but in reality were spreading false ideas. He also helped the creation of the Biblical canon especially in the Western, Latin half of the Church by his works with St. Jerome, whom he tasked with the compilation and the proper translation of the Greek Septuagint Bible into Latin, which would become the renowned Latin Vulgate Bible.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in Pope St. Damasus, his life and works we can see how those who dedicated their lives to serve God often had to face a lot of challenges in their mission, and many had to even face prison, suffering and death, like what the prophet Elijah and St. John the Baptist endured, the latter which suffered martyrdom at the hands of King Herod, for his courage in defending the truth of God and the sanctity of His teachings and ways. Having heard of these great examples, are we now more encouraged to live our lives faithfully in accordance with God’s truth?
Let us all seek to glorify the Lord in each and every moments of our lives, that we may indeed be ever faithful in our every actions, words and deeds so that through us, through our contributions no matter how small they may be, we will always bring glory to the Name of the Lord. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.