Not the best time to be a Christian some might say. However what is the best time to be a Christian? Well, the best time to be a Christian is the time God has given us. Pope Clement believed so. He couldn’t change his times. He couldn’t swap them for better ones. What he was able to do was to accept the grace of Christ Jesus to be a sign of contradiction. Living in the midst of wolves he didn’t become a wolf. The hatred, injustice and suffering didn’t make him resentful and revengeful. The evil which came to him, stop at him. He was the border the evil couldn’t cross.
We still have a prayer he composed for the State which was persecuting the Church:
To those who rule and lead us on the earth
you, sovereign Master, have given their authority and kingship
that seeing the glory and honour you have provided for them,
we should be subject to their rule, not resisting your will.
Grant them, Lord, the health, peace, concord and stability
to use aright the sovereignty you have bestowed on them.
For you, King of heaven, Lord of the ages, you it is
that give to mortal men glory, honour and power over what is on the earth.
Lord, make their counsels conform to what is good and pleasing to you,
that using with reverence, peacefully, gently, the power you have given them,
that they may find favour with you.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! This prayer is a powerful application of the words of St Paul from the Letter to Timothy which we heard in our Second Reading: ‘My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet.’ St Paul wrote these words when Christians were already persecuted. The people of the Empire like wolves were tormenting them. It wasn’t easy for Christians to practise the message of Christ: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Their enemies and persecutors had faces of those in civil authority. That’s why St Paul told the young bishop Timothy to encourage the people in his Church of Ephesus to pray for civil authorities so that Ephesians could live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. Religious and reverent life is the life of the lamb that in the midst of ferocious wolves doesn’t become a wolf.
St Paul, St Timothy and St Clement knew that the evil experienced can turn people into evildoers. What they practiced and encouraged other to practice was to be the border which evil couldn’t cross. They faced evil but they didn’t pass it on.
St Clement after seven years of guiding the Church of Rome was first exiled from the city where he was bishop and later thrown into the sea with an anchor tied to his neck. He died but the evil he experienced stop at him. He did not pass it on.
Our times don’t see such cruel persecution like those seen by St Peter, St Paul, St Timothy, St Clement and the Christians of that period. Today the State and various activists don’t care whether we believe in God or not. Still our Christian understanding of who a human person is, the value of life from the conception to natural death, the nature of marriage are not widely accepted. Christians are ridiculed or shut down for their beliefs about those human matters. That’s why we still need to treasure the prayer of the fourth Pope, St Clement. We need to pray to remain the disciples of Christ who don’t use evil to fight evil.