Peter, Linus, Anacletus, Clement I, Evaristus, Alexander I, Sixtus I, Telesphorus, Hyginus, Pius I, Anicetus, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor I, Zephyrinus, Callistus I, Urban I, Pontain, Anterus, Fabian, Cornelius, Lucius I, Stephen I, Sixtus II
So how many people have we got on the list? 24
What do they have in common?
They all were popes.
They all are saints.
They all were martyrs.
My Brothers and Sisters!!
We all know that we were born from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The blood of our Saviour moistened the foundations of our Church. However I’m not sure how many Catholics are aware that for more then 200 years, the beginnings of our Church were being moistened by the blood of the first successors of St Peter, by our first popes. The first 24 of them, included St Peter, ended up as martyrs. They were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. When the Risen Christ asked Peter about his love to the Saviour and about and his readiness to look after the Church, Jesus’ family, Peter not only said Yes but he also lived up to his Yes. And it was the story of our popes for more than 200 years.
Let’s take for example Pope St Dionysius. He was the 25th pope and he was to be the first one to die due to natural causes. However in 259 when he was elected the pope he didn’t know that. What he knew was that 24 men who had held this office before were all killed. Imagine being asked: “Do you accept the election?” Wouldn’t you be looking around and saying: “Why me? I’m not worthy. Choose the man sitting next to me.”
That’s why I admire those men who loved Jesus and our Catholic Church so much that they accepted the leadership position knowing the consequences of the decision. They didn’t build big churches, they didn’t establish successful charity organizations, they didn’t write many inspiring books but they all sacrificed their lives for the growth of our Church.
To finish this homily I’d like you to imagine another situation. I’m sorry if it may be a drastic one. Imagine a person who killed half of your family and now this person standing right here where I am. And imagine this person preaching to you, telling you that you need to change your life; that you need to love God and neighbour more. How would you react to this situation? Would you stay in your pew or would you leave the church? Do you know that such a situation has happened?
Who was the man we called St Paul today? He was one of the most fanatic persecutors of the Church. Not a single catholic was safe if Paul discovered they believed in Jesus. And this man who caused grief and distress to so many, in the end was called to spread the faith he once tried to destroy.
Today we should give thanks and praise to God for converting Paul into catholic faith and for what God did in him and through him for the Church. “I have fought the good fight to the end, I have run the race to the finish, I have kept the faith.” These words are so true. Christ has done so much for the Church through him.
However today I can’t forget the humility of the Christians of that time. I can’t forget their openness to accept the ways God chooses to guide and lead his people. They had deep humility when accepted that God was speaking to them through the man who did so much harm to them previously. They were open to accept God’s mysterious ways when they welcomed Paul as God’s messenger. I admire our Catholics from the first century of Christianity. Do you know why? Because they didn’t leave their pews when Paul stood to preach to them.
I can only pray that you and I may have the same humility and openness to listen to God speaking to us through our Holy Father Francis and our bishops who are the successors of the Apostles.