14 Oct – Memorial for St Callistus I, Pope & Martyr
Callistus (d. 223) was born a slave, owned by Carpophorus, a Christian in the household of Caesar. His master entrusted a large sum to Callistus to open a bank, which took in several deposits, made several loans to people who refused to pay them back, and went broke. Knowing he would be personally blamed and punished, Callistus fled, but was caught and returned to his owner. Several depositers begged for his life, believing that he had not lost the money, but had stolen and hid it.
They were wrong; he wasn’t a thief, just a victim, but he was sentenced to work the tin mines. By a quirk of Roman law, the ownership of Callistus was transferred from Carpophorus to the state, and when he was later ransomed out of his sentence with a number of other Christians, he became a free man. Pope St. Zephyrinus put Callistus in charge of the Roman public burial grounds, today still called the Cemetery of Saint Callistus. He later became an archdeacon and the 16th pope.
Most of what we know about him has come down to us from his critics, including an anti-Pope of the day. He was, on more than one occasion, accused of heresy for such actions as permitting a return to Communion for sinners who had repented and done penance, or for proclaiming that differences in economic classes were no barrier to marriage.
This last put him in conflict with Roman civil law, but he stated that in matters concerning the Church and the sacraments, Church law trumped civil law. In both cases he taught what the Church has taught for centuries, including today, and though a whole host of schismatics wrote against him, his crime seems to have been to practice orthodox Christianity. He was martyred for his faith.
– Patron Saint Index
What shall we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are all descended? If Abraham was justified as a reward for doing something, he would really have had something to boast about, though not in God’s sight because scripture says: Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him. And David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:
Happy those whose crimes are forgiven,
whose sins are blotted out;
happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.
The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy. Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.
‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’
Abraham believed God, who took it into account and held him to be a just man
Faith is a funny quality. It can take root like the mustard tree, and grow strong and unshakeable. Faith can also be frail, especially when not grounded in a ready heart. Faith that is weak, when made to wait too long, can waver in its resolve. Like the seed that falls amongst weeds, faith can be choked and wither. How many times have we prayed yet when not receiving an instantaneous response to our prayers, lose hope and despair?
Abraham’s faith was like the mustard tree, unshakable despite the impossible circumstances he was put through. He believed unconditionally in the fulfilment of God’s covenant even when God took His time to keep His promise. Abraham surrendered to God despite the most improbable odds and what seemed like hope had slipped away. I think it also helped that Abraham had Sarah to help him in his faith journey, and together they provided each other the encouragement, the love, the support – the fertile soil that helped their faith grow unshakeable and strong like the mustard tree.
Most of us build up our faith gradually but falter at the first signs of failure. We flounder when God appears to be taking His time; the angst is worse when we pray in isolation, when we separate ourselves from our Christian family, brothers, sisters, loved ones. Both Abraham and Sarah were childless; by the time God blessed them with Isaac, Abraham was 100yrs old, Sarah was 91. If we look at the context of their experience as husband and wife, most ordinary couples would have become frustrated and resentful of each other and frustrated with God, from all the waiting. Most ordinary couples would have let their awkward incident with surrogate parenting (the story of Hagar, Genesis 16: 1-16) embitter them and turned against God. Abraham and Sarah remained supportive of one another and firm in their faith, holding on together, to the hope that God would keep his covenant with them.
Their faith and mutual love allowed God to work His miracle, by blessing them with a son, at a time when it appeared most impossible to achieve – “by faith, Abraham, called by God, set out for a country that would be given to him asn an inheritance; he parted without knowing where he was going… by Sarah herself received the power to become a mother, in spite of her advanced age; she believed that He who had made the promise would be faithful..” – Hebrews 11:8-12.
As we consider the path that our journey of faith has taken, let’s give thanks for our loved ones, our partners, our family, our siblings and others in the family of God who have helped to support us during the times when our faith has wavered. Their mutual support, faith and love, was like a ‘mustard tree’ that kept us secure and grounded, that kept us safe, till our own faith took root and could steady itself. Let’s not forget the role that they’ve played in letting God’s plans for us come to fruition.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for all those who are lonely, neglected, depressed and fearful. We pray they find solace and comfort in brothers and sisters in Christ, in family, in their loved ones.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our partners, our parents, our family, our friends who patiently pray for us and support us even when we’re argumentative, difficult to be with, difficult to talk to, depressed and non-communicative. We give thanks for their patience and their constant love.
Sat, 15 Oct – Romans 4:13.16-18; Luke 12:8-12; Memorial for St Teresa of Jesus, Virgin & Doctor of the Church
Sun, 16 Oct – Isaiah 45:1.4-6; Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21; Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time