Homily for the Memorial of St. Callistus
This morning we celebrate the memorial of St. Callistus I, who served the Church as pope in the 3rd century. We actually don’t really know much about this saint and even what we do know comes from Hippolytus, who didn’t have the best things to say about him.
We know that as the pope, Callistus caused a major controversy in the Church, a controversy that led to a schism that lasted almost two decades. Much of the Holy Father’s ministry focused on emphasizing God’s mercy. He was accused of sympathizing with heretics and was resented by many in the Church because he believed that even the most serious sins could be absolved after a sincere and heartfelt confession. That belief scandalized Tertullian, who incorrectly believed that certain sins were too serious to be forgiven through confession.
Unfortunately, Callistus wasn’t able to win over his dissenters before his martyrdom in 222 and they continued to question his authority as the pope. Despite that, the Church has never questioned his orthodoxy or his holiness as a man of faith.
The story of St. Callistus should remind us of the importance of bringing the mercy of God into all of the various situations that we face in our lives. Even when it isn’t necessarily the popular thing to do, we are called to be merciful, to be those witnesses of the love of God in the world – especially to those who are seemingly far from the Church or are living lives that are sometimes in opposition to what the Church holds as true. We aren’t called to be so strict in our following of the teachings of the Church that we allow that to turn us into the Pharisees of our day.
Now, please listen to what I’m saying here. I’m not saying that we aren’t called to follow the teachings of the Church. Those things are absolutely important and they are to guide how we live our lives and we should be giving witness to them in the world. What I am saying is that being merciful to others opens the door to proclaiming the truths of our faith in such a way that brings others to true conversion of heart, that brings others to an encounter with God. That’s what is important. That’s what the Pharisees didn’t understand and what Jesus called them out for constantly.
So today, may we ask the Lord to continue to help us to become even more those witnesses to the Gospel for our families, our friends, our loved ones, those we encounter in our daily lives. Let’s pray that we might continue to be examples of God’s mercy in a world that so desperately needs it, so that others can be brought to true conversion and to an encounter with the living God.
Image: Saint Callistus, Pope and Martyr, El Paso Museum of Art. Public domain. Wikicommons.