Fr Bonnie's Reflections

CALM DOWN: FAITH OVER FEAR!

CALM DOWN: FAITH OVER FEAR!

HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)

                         Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

A recent viral video shows a Nigerian child of about seven years begging his mom not to punish him for a misconduct. The most spectacular point in the video is where the little boy begs his enraged mother to calm down. When the mom asked what he means by asking her to calm down, the boy quickly remarked that she is overtly worked up by his misdeed, but she needs to relax, rest, and give him the last chance. The little boy’s headline reads: “mommy calm down”!

The First Reading today (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a) tells us about Elijah’s encounter with God at the mountain of God that is Horeb. The previous chapter showed how Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and Asherah in a contest when God answered him by the fire from heaven that consumed his portion of the sacrifice, which was the object of their competition.  

As a result of losing in the competition, Elijah slaughtered the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah. Consequently, queen Jezebel, their sponsor, sought to kill Elijah, and he fled, and God directed him to come over to Horeb for a meeting.

While waiting for God to show up, Elijah experienced three phenomenal events that could have indicated the presence of God: the strong and violent wind, a high magnitude earthquake, and fire which was the element God used to answer him the last time he prayed, but God was not in any of these until there was a tiny whispering sound and God showed up.

In this narrative, we could see that God was, in some way, telling the agitated and worried prophet to calm down by showing up to him in the most gentle way, the tiny whispering sound which was almost like silence. Most times, God speaks to us in whispers so we need to be calm to hear God.

Confronting the Storm on the Other Side

The Gospel Reading (Matt. 14:22-33), gives us a very vivid narrative on the experience of a storm in the middle of the sea. After the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus asked his disciples to go over to the other side with a boat while he dismisses the crowds. After that, he goes to the mountain by himself to pray. Meanwhile, his disciples were battling with a wind storm on their way to the other side.

During the fourth watch of the night ( about 3 am according to biblical chronemics), Jesus came to the disciples walking on the seawater as they struggle with the wind storm. The thought of a ghost could have scared them more until our Lord identified himself.

Still, in doubt, Peter asked the Lord to command him to come to him, and Jesus did. Peter started making his way to the Lord as long as he kept his focus on Jesus. But shifting his gaze from the Lord to the storm, he began to sink and called out for help. Jesus helped him out of the water while still standing on the water and queried his doubt and little faith.

Calm Down: Have Faith Over Fear!  

Notice that the narrative begins with the Lord asking his disciples to go over to the other side, which is unnamed. The last event on this side was the healing of the sick and the multiplication of bread and fish. From the last time we checked, this side ended well, with everyone satisfied and happy. Now, a deadly storm confronts the journey to the other, and the disciples were worried and wearied with uncertainty.

Life often presents us with frequent journeys to the other side during which we confront storms of various shapes and sizes. Many people making the trip to the other side are often tossed about by violent situations. The coronavirus pandemic and other dreadful experiences of the moment are significant storms on our journey to the other side.

One common thing with storms is that they often come with an intensity that presents finality, but they do expire with time, especially when God steps in. Notice that when Jesus showed up, the storm died down. Worth mentioning is the fear factor which possesses the mind and alters one’s actions. Notice that fear made the disciples not to recognize Jesus when he showed up; “it is a ghost they said and cried out in fear.” Anxiety could be very destructive and may leave one imagining what is not there. Fear brings distortions to our perception of things. St. Paul tells us that God did not give us the spirit of fear but of power, and of love, and of sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).

Let us look at Peter’s version of fear. At first, he dared to ask Jesus to invite him over; “command me to come to you on the water.”  That was a faith-inspired request, but when he received the command and started walking towards Jesus, fear took over his faith, and he started sinking.

From the narrative, we could see that fear stands as false evidence appearing real. The disciples were afraid of both the storm and the imaginary ghost, but nothing still happened to them. The Lord was mindful of them and came to them at their point of need. In the Prophecy of Isaiah (35:4) God said, tell those with fearful hearts, be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.

The disciples needed to calm down and place their faith over their fears. The same situation relates to all of us as we face trials when attempting to get through to the other side of life. In that sickness, calm down. When problems run after you in the family, calm down. In the current situation in your life, calm down. Worry would only weary you. Remember this statement, fear is the conversation you have with yourself over things you cannot change, but faith is a conversation you have with God about the things God alone can change. Calm down; have faith over fear. Remember that you cannot please God without faith (Heb. 11:6).

God Bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.      

THE EXPLICATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE TRANSFIGURATION. REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Transfiguration of the Lord,

Fr Bonnie's Reflections

transfiguration 2

“He must have lit up the sky that day on the mountain, what we call the transfiguration. Jesus on the mountaintop unveiled a foretaste of heaven and glory. Light filled him so that the witnesses remarked on a hue of white that was whiter than any shade possible.
It was a sci-fi transportation to another dimension and while Peter, James, and John were still reeling, Moses and Elijah showed up.
It broke the barrier between heaven and earth for Jesus was the one who could belong to both at the same time. A citizen of heaven, a citizen of earth.”-  Sara LoweHealing, Finding Truth Among the Mysteries

Today, we are celebrating the feast of the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. The transfiguration tells us about a witnessed change in the personal appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ into a glorified form. From our premise above, it was…

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THE LORD SUPPLIES ALL YOUR NEEDS!

         HOMILY FOR THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)

                                           Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D

There is no living person on earth that could boast of not needing anything; at least everyone needs air. Sometimes when people say there is no need for something, they mean that there is an option with a different need. Abraham Maslow, the humanist psychologist, talked about five hierarchy of needs in his theory of human motivation. At the base of the pyramid are the physiological needs, which include food, water, air, and shelter. The others are the safety needs, love and belongingness needs, esteem needs and finally the self-actualization needs,

One of the criticisms trailing Maslow’s theory is that needs don’t follow a hierarchy as any need could jump in at any time. We have some reasons to accept this perspective. For instance, a wealthy could still get hungry and thirsty despite transcending physiological needs. For clarity and better understanding, we shall divide needs into two parts in this reflection: the material and spiritual needs.

In the First Reading (Isaiah 55:1-3), we hear God sending out invitations for everyone to come for a scheduled meal of food and drink. The good news is that there are no-cost implications. Furthermore, the meal will bring life and renewal to all who partake of it.

Addressing the Needs of a Multitude

In the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 14:13-21), we see our Lord Jesus Christ attending to the two-fold human needs in a live interaction with a multitude made up of five thousand men excluding women and children.

Earlier, Jesus had withdrawn with a boat to a deserted place when he heard about the death of John the Baptist. He was not afraid of Herod but changed the foreground of his mission to avoid distractions. Disembarking from the boat, Jesus saw a large crowd that took a shortcut to his destination. The next thing that our Lord did would melt your heart. The narrative tells us that seeing the crowd, Jesus was moved with pity (compassion); why? Because he saw their needs. The Book of Psalm says that the Lord is gracious and compassionate to all (Psalm 145:8-10).

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not stop at the level of pity as most people would do, but he goes ahead to cure their sick. We may mistake the mention of sick here to refer just to a physical ailment, but there would be more to that. Surely our Lord also healed spiritual, mental, and emotional sicknesses through prayers and the word of God, which he proclaimed.

The healing ministry of Jesus on that fateful day stretched to the evening time, and the people developed another need, physical hunger. When the disciples approached our Lord to send the people away to go and get food in the nearby villages, he asked his disciples to give them something to eat. He was asking them to be proactive when there is a need.

Our Lord’s instruction seemed like a weird thing to say because the disciples did not prepare to host the crowd to a dinner. Moreover, feeding five thousand men, excluding women and children, would be unimaginable in the desert place.

But wait, our Lord wasn’t joking. He meant it when he said they should feed the crowd or, more appropriately, Jesus had a plan as he could see the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

When the disciples mentioned they had five loaves of bread and two fish with them, Jesus requested for them and giving thanks, Jesus instructed the disciples to share them among the people. They ate to satisfaction with some remaining fragments that could fill twelve wicker baskets to the brim.    

The Lord Supplies!

Imagine the joy in the hearts of everyone in that crowd as they received food for not only their souls but also their bodies. Often in life, we pass through situations that put us in acute needs. Some people need peace, and some do not have hope, some have become faithless in the face of various challenges in life. There are still many others who are groaning under the weight of financial stress, joblessness, relationship hurdles, and other issues, just like the multitude in the Gospel today.

Here is the good news. For whatever you might be contending with  our compassionate Jesus Christ is looking out for you with love in the desert place of your life. St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading (Rom. 8:35, 37-39) that nothing will separate us from that love God in Christ Jesus because God has a plan to supply all our need exceedingly abundantly more than we can think or imagine (Eph.3:20).

It might not look good now; it will be okay. Remember that God is mindful of you, God will bless and grant you increase as the scripture tells us in the Book of Psalm (115:12-14). Walk into the new week with these divine assurances; God knows your needs, and you are precious in God’s loving eyes. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

FINDING THE HIDDEN PATH TO WISDOM

HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY (YEAR A)

                               Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Who would love to have wisdom? I guess everyone would; me too. Many people talk about wisdom, but giving it a unified definition has not been an easy project. Can you try to define wisdom without consulting a dictionary or search engine? These may leave you more confused by telling you about knowledge and sagacity, which are lower than wisdom.

Necessarily, it would take a bit of wisdom to find the hidden path to wisdom. This assertion about wisdom resonates with the liturgy of the Word for this Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). The First Reading (1 Kings 3:5,7-12) tells us about the encounter Solomon had with God in a dream where God allowed him to ask for just anything, and it would be granted.

Solomon had the opportunity to ask for a lot of things, including long life and wealth, but he requested for an understanding heart to distinguish right from wrong to lead the people of Israel better. God loved his humble and wise request and promised to endow him with the gift of wisdom and other blessings.

What is Wisdom?

We still need to have an active understanding of wisdom in this reflection. Wisdom is not the same as thing as knowledge though it involves knowledge. High intelligence quotient does not translate to wisdom; one can be a genius without having wisdom. Furthermore, speech eloquence alone is not evidence of wisdom.

Wisdom is more profound than emotional intelligence, which talks about the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions and those of others, and It is also deeper than social intelligence that examines how to build and maintain social relationships.

Wisdom is spiritual intelligence. It is a gift from God that helps us to understand what is in the mind of God about something and moves us to act accordingly. The Book of Job says that the fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding (Job 28:28). God is the author of wisdom, the Book of Wisdom (9:4ff) says that wisdom sits by the throne of God and seeks what is right.

The description above brings us back to Solomon’s answer to God: “an understanding to distinguishing right from wrong.” Putting all these together, we understand that wisdom is a divine facility that fundamentally helps us to make the right choices by distinguishing good from evil. We could recall Solomon’s judgment between the two women claiming ownership over a child and the young Daniel’s wisdom that saved the life of Susanna.

Wisdom and the Kingdom of God

In the Gospel Reading (Matt 13: 44-52), our Lord gave three relatable parables to describe the kingdom of heaven. The first likens the kingdom of heaven to a hidden treasure in a field that someone finds, covers, and selling off all possessions, comes back to buy the area.  The second likens the kingdom of God to one in search of fine pearls, and finding one sells everything buys it. The third relates the kingdom of God to a net that catches different types of fish, but coming ashore the good are separated from the bad ones.

Looking at the parables of the kingdom of heaven, one can see how they relate to wisdom. In the first instance the individual finding the hidden treasure did not steal it. Wisdom would always show us the right thing to do. So, the person takes the legitimate step by selling off everything to buy the land and so gets a proper ownership of the treasure. Often times people think that outsmarting others is wisdom.

Furthermore, wisdom is like a hidden treasure of great value. In life, most valuable things are hidden like precious stones and metals. Even in the human body, the most useful parts like the heart, liver, kidney, and lungs are hidden, and we may never see them till death. Wisdom is not what anyone can pick up from the roadside. One obtains wisdom by digging deep into God.

The second parable talks about a beautiful pearl that a merchant buys by selling everything. Here we see how wisdom relates to elegant pearls. Pearls like precious stones and metals do not stay on the surface. Pearls are found on oysters at the sea bed. They come iridescent and refined, so they are of great value, and any merchant who finds one would love to buy and sell at a higher cost.  

Any attentive Christian should be on the search for the wisdom to enter the kingdom of heaven, like an ideal merchant searching for pearls. The search should relentless and resilient the same way the wise men sought for the Lord (Matt 2:1-12).

Finally, we have the net that gathered all sorts of fish before the fishermen separated the good ones from the bad ones. I did not know that not all the fish in the river are edible until I made my first catch as a little boy scout. It was a large fish, but I was asked to throw it back to the river because nobody can eat it. Wisdom helps us to distinguish the good things from wrong ones through the process of separation. Those who make kingdom of heaven are those who are distinguished from the lot.

Moving Forward!

Wisdom, like Solomon prayed, helps us to separate good from evil; in other words, it helps us to make the right judgment in every situation. Wisdom, like the kingdom of God heaven, provides the divine facility of filtering to separate the worthwhile from the worthless.

Before we end this reflection, it would fit for us to pause and ask ourselves what we truly need in our lives. We indeed need to sustain our life here on earth using some material resources; however, we need wisdom for us to achieve the ultimate purpose of our life on earth to be with God eternally.

In the Book of Wisdom (9:6), Solomon said, “for even if one is perfect among the sons of men, yet without the wisdom that comes from You, he will be regarded as nothing.” We can see here that our lives will count as nothing without wisdom. In the serenity prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr says: “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the ones I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

May the divine wisdom help us always to know the difference between what we want and what we need. We all need the wisdom to make the right choices that will lead us to the kingdom of heaven.As you pray for various need in your lives, do not forget to pray for wisdom, you need it to make the kingdom of heaven. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

OVERCOMING THE ENEMY’S FAKE SEEDS

HOMILY FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)

                                            Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

The word “fake” is not strange to a lot of people. We know about fake news which has become a lucrative business for some mischief makers. The word fake denotes the flip or negative side of genuine reality. Put in another way, anything fake is a counterfeit or an imitation of authentic reality. There are as many fake things as there are genuine ones. For instance, there are fake people with fake lives; in fact, some people are so fake that the only real thing about them is their shadows when they come closer to light.

One of the primary functions of any fake thing is to try as much as possible to mirror the original. The end is to make an unsuspecting person to go for them instead of the original. We see this happening in the area of commerce where people are persuaded to buy fake products bearing the labels of the genuine ones.

We started this reflection with talks about fake things because our focus would be on the first of the chains of parables in the Gospel Reading (Matthew 13:24-43) which talks about the weeds that appeared among cultivated wheat in a Master’s farm. Noticing the weeds, the servants reported the situation to the Master and a request to uproot the weeds. The Master knew that it was act of the enemy but asked the servants to allow the weeds and wheat to flourish till the harvest time.

While Everyone Slept the Enemy Came

Notice that the event that brought about the presence of the weeds among the wheat happened while everyone was asleep. While everyone slept, the enemy, interpreted as the devil, was awake. While people were enjoying the sleep of the night, the enemy comes to do the havoc. The question we could ask is, “who is everyone?” The answer is in the question. Everyone refers to all of us. We need to be vigilant because the enemy is continually going around looking for a victim, as St. Peter tells us (1 Pet. 5:8).

The sleep itself is more than the physical relaxation we know. It is a spiritual slumber. Often, we get so comfortable with life that we snore away with inattention and become vulnerable to the enemy. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:11) says that the night is over, and it is time to wake from sleep.

The Bad Seeds (Unfriendly Friends)

We understand here that the enemy comes to the farmland with some strategic plans. The first approach is to pretend to be familiar and friendly with the original wheat seeds. This reminds us of the opening description of the counterfeits and fakes in the world who try to copy the genuine realities.

The bad seeds come as the imitations of the original seeds. Notice that the weeds try to copy the wheat even by the sound of their names, “weeds and wheat.” Here we understand that the strategy of the enemy is to pretend to be friendly while working underneath with a destructive agenda.

Furthermore, the enemy intends to make the weeds compete with the wheat for nourishment and to make them starve and even perish before the harvest time. Thankfully, the Master understands the enemy’s plan and thus allowed both the weeds and wheat to flourish for the time until harvest.

The Harvest Time (Separation Time)

The Book of Genesis (8:22) tells us that while the earth remains seedtime and harvest time shall not cease. The Master allowed the weeds to flourish with the wheat until the harvest time. The harvest time, as the parable narrates, is metaphorical. For every action, there is a consequence, and this relates to sowing and harvesting.

The harvest time is the time of reckoning and review. During the harvest time, there would be a final separation of the fakes from the genuine. At the harvest time, all the pretentious antics and dispositions of the enemy will fall, and the truth would shine forth. At the harvest time, the workers of iniquity will be exposed and separated from the genuine people.

Moving Forward: Overcoming for Good Harvest

In the Parable of the Sower of last Sunday, the seed referred to the word of God. In the Parable of this Sunday, the seed referred to people; in fact, two categories of people, the good and the bad seeds. God made this distinction after the Fall of Adam and Eve when God said that there would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15).

There would be a need for us to be awake to overcome the destructive plan of the enemy. Remember that the enemy struck while people were sleeping. It is deplorable that in our day and age, most people who should be awake to their responsibilities are sleeping away. We now have sleeping parents, teachers, mentors, leaders, and even priests and church ministers.

Most things are falling out of their rightful places in our world today because someone who should be awake is sleeping. Let us remember that the first quality of a faithful servant is vigilance as our Lord Jesus Christ mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (12:37).

Being awake to responsibility should come with prayers. We understand that the enemy is the devil, and that means the weapon of our warfare should not be carnal but should have divine powers to uproot the strongholds and arguments of the evil one (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

Apart from the devil, there are two other enemies we should overcome before the harvest, and they are human enemies who come as friends. We should be careful how we keep the doors of our lives open to people who might have hideous plans like the weeds. The enemies in this category often come as friends. The scriptures call them wolves in sheep clothing (Matt.7:15).

The last enemy would be ourselves. We become enemies unto ourselves from the type of decisions and choices we make. Some of the good seeds may have died because they decided to give up striving in the face of the challenges of the weeds.

As we march into a new week, let us deeply resolve to stand firm in faith as good seeds knowing that God’s unfailing love will reach out to us and keep us till the harvest time. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE SOWER, SEED, AND SOIL ENCOUNTER

             Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

                                             Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

The Parable of the Sower and the Experience of Church Growth

Most people love nature, do you? I do too. Among the things we admire in our natural environment are plants and trees. We are often overwhelmed by their various physical structures, the beautiful leaves, and flowers with radiant colors, not excluding the shades they provide, the fruits, and other valuables.

While we relish the importance of plants and trees, we often forget that each of them has a story of three parts. The story begins with a planter (sower), a seed, and a dependable soil. No matter how beautiful a seed appears, it would need good soil to develop its potentials. We can say that without good soil, a good seed would remain a good seed until it ceases to exist.

The First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (55:10-11) likens the Word of God to the rains and snow that cannot come down without making a powerful impact on the earth; “My word shall not return to me void, it shall do my will, achieving the end which I sent it.”

In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 13:1-23), we hear the famous parable of the sower from our Lord Jesus Christ. The parable, unlike most others, comes with an explanation for the benefit of the disciples. Our Lord used a common farming practice among the people, namely seed sowing, to deliver the parable.

The parable tells us about a sower whose seed fell on four different soil types as he sows seeds using the broadcasting method. Some of the seeds fell on the roadside, but they could not germinate because birds made feasts out of them as soon as they are sown. Other seeds fell on the rocks with surface soil, and when they grew, they could not have depth because of the rocky landscape.

Some others fell among thorns. They germinated, but they could not flourish because the thorns made it exceedingly difficult for them to thrive, so they lost out. Finally, some fell on good soil with all the necessary preconditions for germination, growth, and flourishing. The seeds on good soil made it and bore exceptional fruits in abundance.

The Four Types of Soil-Types (Christians)

The narrative of the parable of the sower goes deeper than what we read and hear. Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed the messages behind the parable to the disciples in private. The seed is the word of God if you like the gospel. The soil represents our hearts, and the sower is anyone who has the divine mandate to bring the good news.

The pathway soil represents the heart that is easily distracted to the extent that it loses the message as soon as it comes. The birds represent the evil one that comes to snatch away the word from those hearts. The rocky hearts receive the message with joy but lack the depth to retain the message. Material things and riches choke the thorny hearts. The good soil represents the good hearts that receive the word of God and runs with it.

From our Lord’s rendering of the meaning of the parable of the sower, we can identify four types of Christians spanning out to the four types of seed-soils.

Roadside Christians:  According to our Lord’s interpretation, the birds represent the evil one who comes to steal the seeds from the pathway soil. We all know that the plan of the evil one is to steal, kill, destroy (John 10:10a).

Notice that the location of the soil (roadside) is the first thing that would potentially attract the attacker who is always looking for an opportunity to strike (Ephesians 4:27). Roadside Christians are those who do not have time to digest the word of God when they receive it, and because of this inattention, the evil one comes to cart it away.

Roadside Christians come to Church, but they do not allow the Church to go into their hearts. Roadside Christians are not intentional about their Christian life; in fact, they answer Christians but do not live up to their Christian identity.

Rocky-heart Christians: Rocky-heart Christians are those who intentionally receive the word of God with joy, but they contend with depth and stability because of tribulations and other challenges. Rocky-heart Christian do not stay long in their faith convictions. They are stable today and unstable tomorrow. Little trials often overwhelm and destabilize rocky Christians from the faith.

Thorn-infested Christians: Christians who fall into this category have everything going on well with receiving and assimilating the word of God. However, their faith goes to extinction on account of worldly cares and attraction to riches. Thorn-infested Christians are ready to deny their fully developed faith to acquire material wealth.

Regrettably, most people in Christian leadership positions fall prey to this misfortune in their blind search for enrichment. In our world today, the search for better livelihood leads most people to the love of money to the detriment of their souls. St. Paul advised that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10).

The Good-soil Christians: Good-soil Christians represent those who can stand firm against the evil one (Eph. 6:11). They are steadfast before persecutions and tribulations (Acts 14:22). Furthermore, they do not fall headlong to earthly riches (Proverbs 11:28).

Good-soil Christians face confrontation by the evil one, but they submit to God to resist the devil, and the devil flees (James 4:7). They do face opposition, but they believe that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them (Phil. 4:13). They have needs, but they have the conviction that God will supply all their needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil.4:19).

Sincerely, what type of Christian (soil-type) are you? There is no second best among the four soil-type Christians. If you genuinely want to be a good-soil Christian, you can make it by your committed openness and living by the word of God. Be patient in every trial, and do not let worldly riches overwhelm you.

Let us make it a deal in the coming days to become good-soil Christians ever ready to receive the Word of God, live by it, and bear lasting fruits. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

BRING YOUR BURDEN TO THE LORD!

HOMILY FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)

                                          Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Over Burdened Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images

Once upon a time, a kind-hearted man was riding his wagon through an Indian countryside heading towards the city. On his way, he saw a farmer trekking to the city center with a massive sack of fruits on his head. Stopping, the kind man offered to give the farmer a ride if he would sit at the back of the wagon.

The farmer accepted the offer, but sitting at the back of the wagon, he still had the sack on his head. When the kind-hearted man saw the farmer in that position, he stopped and asked him to feel free to drop the bag and enjoy the ride. Replying, the farmer said, “I am grateful to you for offering me a ride, but I don’t want to bother you with my load; I can carry it.”  Can you imagine that?

In the First Reading today (Zechariah 9:9-10), we hear the same narrative of Palm Sunday when we celebrate the Triumphant Entry of our Lord Jesus Christ to Jerusalem riding on a donkey before his passion and death. The central point in that narrative is the King that humbly rides on an ass (donkey), the animal that transports heavy loads from one location to another.

Among other highlights in the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 11:25-30), our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a life-changing invitation to come to him with our labors and burdens so that we can have rest. Furthermore, he invites us to take his yoke and learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart, and we would find rest for our souls.    

What is your Burden?

Just as we have different physical appearances, we also have different shapes and sizes of burdens. Life without a burden is almost impossible. Burdens could be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. They are those sicknesses of the body that often defy medical solutions. They could be those torrents of feelings that get us depressed and devastated. They could be those habits that die hard. They could also include the siege of sin in our lives that separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2).

Bring your Burden to the Lord

There is always a discomforting burden confronting even the best among us. Remember the narrative of St. Paul when he prayed for the end of his burden, and the Lord said to him, “my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

We are often like the farmer on the journey of life with some massive burden on us. Our Lord Jesus represents the kind rider of the wagon who offered to take us on a free ride. However, like the farmer, we often choose to keep the burden on ourselves instead of dropping it in the wagon to enjoy the free ride.

Complaining and freaking over your burden would not make it easier. The only way is to bring them to the Lord. We ought to bring them to the Lord because he is able and available to assist us with our burden. The Book of Psalm (55:22) says, “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he would sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be moved”.

Furthermore, our Lord tells us to take his yoke and learn from him because he is meek and humble of heart, and we shall find rest for our souls. We might be asking a vital question here, “what is the yoke of the Lord?” In animal farming, a yoke is often a wooden harness around the neck of a beast of burden like a donkey, usually two at a time to enable them to pull a heavy object. In a broad sense, a yoke evokes submission and compliance.

When our Lord says, take my yoke upon yourself, he was telling us to fit into the mold of obedience and submission. Notice that he added, “and learn from me” because he did the same following the will of his Father, and he did so with meekness and humility (Phil 2:6-9). In other words, Jesus, our Lord, is asking us to bring our burden to him with humble submission, and he would take them up. He ordered them, and he would pay the bills. He is good at paying bills, remember that he paid the ultimate bill on the cross when he said, “it is finished!” (John 19:30).

Before we conclude, there would be a need for us to examine some of the obstacles to our bringing our burden to the Lord.

Pride: Pride deprives us of the favors from the Lord as God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; Jas 4:6; 1 Pet.5:5)  A famous scripture tells us that pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).

Remember that our Lord said that we should learn from his humility because it takes a humble heart to bring a burden to the Lord. The cure to pride is humility. St. Peter says that we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and in due season he will exalt us (1 Peter 5:6).

Fear: Fear is a significant obstacle in our spiritual journey. One funny thing about fear is that it often presents false evidence to us. We can make FEAR an acronym meaning False Evidence Appearing Real. In another way, FEAR says, Forget Everything And Run.

In fact, in the whole of the Bible, the instruction “do not be afraid” appeared 365 times, and you know what that means, as we have 365 days in a year. The cure to fear is Faith. Our Lord spent time talking about faith in most of his teachings. Faith is vital in our relationship with God because we cannot please him without faith. FAITH can also be an acronym that says: Forward All Issues To Heaven.

As we march into a new week, let us be intentional about bringing our burdens to the Lord with humility and faith, knowing that he would supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, our Lord. God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF GENEROSITY

HOMILY FOR THE 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)

 Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Generosity - Braving the Hot Mess

Once upon a time, a wise monk was ascending the Himalayan mountain to observe his usual quiet moments of prayer and meditation. On his way, he picked a precious stone, and with excitement, he dropped it in his shoulder bag and continued his journey.

Further up the mountain, the wise man met a young man who was descending looking tired and hungry. Presuming that the monk could have food in his bag, he asked for something to eat. The wise monk opened his bag and finding nothing edible, and he gave the young man the precious stone. The young man was excited as he collected the precious stone and sped down to the city. “With this, my entire life will change if I sell this to any of the rich merchants in the city,” he assured himself.

Reaching the city, the young man started having a double mind about the precious stone. Instantly he turned back and headed to the mountains to look for the wise monk, He saw him coming down from the mountain, and he said, “thank you for the precious stone I appreciate it, but I am returning it to you. I would rather have you give me that thing that made you give me this precious stone without thinking twice about it, that thing must be more precious than the stone”.

The thing the young man was asking from the monk is the spirit of generous giving. There is a significant difference between merely giving and generous giving. Giving comes from the hand, but generous giving comes from the heart. Generous giving involves an attitude of giving freely and without conditions. St. Paul also calls it cheerful, giving in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (9:7).

Receiving the Prophet’s Reward

Significant aspects of the Liturgy of the Word today tell us about generous giving. In the First Reading (2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a), we hear an exciting story about the hospitality a couple extended to the prophet Elisha. We interpret their hospitality as generous giving because they were not expecting anything in return from the prophet though they had a vital need; they had no child. What was topmost in their minds was how to make the prophet of God comfortable anytime he shows up in the area.

Elisha could have been amazed at their selfless giving, and that was why he asked his servant Gehazi how he could compensate the couple for their uncommon kindness towards him, and he mentioned their need for a child. The couple did not ask a payback for their kindness with a child. Instead, their generous giving spoke for them.

In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 10:37-42), our Lord Jesus Christ was reflecting on the narrative of the First Reading when talked about extending kindness to those who serve God:

whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple- amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

There would be a need for us to understand our Lord’s statement here. You will receive the prophet’s reward if you receive him because of his prophetic identity, not because of what he can do for you. The Shunammite couple received Elisha as a prophet of God, not on account of what they would obtain from him through his stay in their home.

Another fact that may puzzle any active mind is the nature of the prophet’s reward, which is a promise to anyone that provides for a prophet because he is a prophet. Ordinarily, most people would think of this reward in material terms.

However, going through the stories of the prophets in the Scriptures, we do not see them as wealthy individuals. In lieu, some of them were materially rich until they became prophets and left their possessions like Amos and Elisha.

So, what is the prophet’s reward? We can identify this from the promises God made to those who preach the good news. Isaiah says their feet are beautiful upon the mountain (Isaiah 52:7). Our Lord says that great portents and signs would accompany them (Mark 16:17). The prophet’s reward is essentially spiritual blessings though there could be some physical resonance.

When our Lord rose from the dead, the first thing he said to the disciples at the Upper Room was “peace be with you” (John 20:19-20). Peace from the Hebrew understanding is “shalom,” and it means wholeness and complete wellbeing. Now we can see the direction of the prophet’s reward: spiritual blessings and peace.

Moving Forward: Give from the Heart, not from the Hand

You have heard that givers do not lack. It is not one of those conspiracy theories; it is a fact because there would be gifts for anyone that gives (Luke 6:38). The liturgy of the Word today challenges us to be generous in our giving, which means giving from our hearts. St. Paul would tell the Corinthians that those who sow sparingly would reap sparing and those who sow generously would reap generously (2 Cor. 9:6)

Often most people mistakenly think that giving should always be handing out of money or other material things. There is so much we can offer from our hearts. It could be your time, a sincere counsel; it could be prayer or even a sincere simile that could make someone’s day. Remember that there would be a reward for every giving, especially when it comes from the heart. Theodore Roosevelt says, “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

God bless you and have a beautiful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie,

THE “ABBA” THAT CARES!

    HOMILY FOR THE 12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)/ FATHER’S DAY

                                     Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Once upon a time, I sat watching some kids having a conversation about their daddies. One said that his dad could drive any big truck. The second replied, saying that driving a big vehicle is nothing compared to a train which his dad could drive. The third child could not hold his peace as he claims that his dad could navigate a big ship. The fourth child challenged his peers as he places his father in the air as a pilot.

In their midst, however, was a fifth child who could not say a word. I was puzzled by his unusual silence, which I took to be a sign of modesty. But I discovered later that his father passed when he was a baby. He was in the right company, right place, but the topic was not right for him because he had no dad.

Daddy’s are often the first heroes for most children. Maybe I had the same idea that my dad was the strongest man in the world, and he could do anything and that no one, including death, can defeat him. But that was wrong, our daddies are mere humans subject to weaknesses and failures, and they are not all-powerful as we thought as kids. But most dads are great; most of us would attest to this fact.

Understanding the Real Essence of Fatherhood

It is an overly sweet coincidence that we are reflecting on God as a caring Father on Father’s Day. There would be the need for us to explore the real essence of fatherhood; in other words, we shall be looking at what father’s do that would make them deserve the name. To achieve this, we shall use the fatherhood of God as a perfect example.

Before we go on with the essence of fatherhood, there would be a need for us to understand what fatherhood entails. Who is a father, and what are the functions of a father?

The Hebrew rendering of the word “father” is “abba,” which shows a close relationship that involves profound care. So, a father is not just someone who had a child with a woman, but one who is intentionally and proactively involved in the integral growth and development of the child.

The idea of God as “abba,” in other words, daddy, is the sense that our Lord Jesus Christ used the word during his agony in the garden (Mark 14:36), as well as St. Paul when he was talking about the Spirit of adoption to sonship that helps us call God “abba” (Romans 8:15).

The scripture is replete with indicators of God as Father.  The Book of Deuteronomy (32:6) calls Him the Father, who creates, forms, and protects. Isaiah (63:16) says God is our Father and redeemer. The Book of Psalms (103:13) calls God a compassionate Father, and Psalm (68:5) calls Him the father of the fatherless and judge for the widow. We all could remember that our Lord Jesus always referred to God as Father, and in the prayer, he taught his disciples he enjoined them to approach him as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9).  

Caretaking: The Hallmark of “Abbahood”

We are conversant with the word “caretaker,” which refers to someone who has a relationship of care over something, someone, or some people. By functionality, a caretaker could also be called a father. In the Book of Genesis (45:8), Joseph told his brothers that God brought him to Egypt and made him the Father of Pharaoh by being the caretaker of his household and the entire land of Egypt.

Fatherhood would be preposterous without care. In the First Reading today (Jeremiah 20:10-13), prophets recounts God’s protective care as a loving Father against the intrigues of his enemies and persecutors.

In the Gospel today (Matt: 10:26-33), our Lord Jesus reveals the profound nature of God’s daddy-care over us. He tells us not to be afraid because He would take care of the essential part of our being, namely our souls. Our Lord says that everything about us is personally known to God as he knows the end of everything from the beginning (Is. 46:10). He knows the number of hairs on our heads.

Moving Forward: Every Father should “CARE.”

Fathers are timeless and precious. A world without fathers is unimaginable. We appreciate all fathers today. When we take a look into the sacred scriptures, we see that most great friends of God were fathers starting from Abraham through whom God raised a holy nation for himself.

Like we established earlier, merely fathering a child does not qualify anyone to be a father. Every father must be a daddy in the biblical sense of “abba,” which entails giving care. So, every father to qualify as one should be able to CARE. We are using the word CARE here as an acronym, and it means the following:

Compassionate: Without compassion, a father would not be able to maintain a connection with his child or children. Every father should be as compassionate as God.

Availability: God is not only able but also very much available. At large, fathers fall short of an essential duty. You cannot underestimate the power of being present.

Responsibility: If you look closely, you can see that the word responsibility is a combination of two words, “response and ability.” So it means the ability to respond to the needs of the family, which is not limited to physical needs.   

Encouraging: Every father should provide the facility of encouragement for the family. Fathers encourage by teaching, especially with good examples from their lives.

We thank God for the gift of fatherhood as we renew our faith and trust in His failing care over us. As we celebrate Father’s day and congratulate our fathers, we also urge them to pay attention to the demands of an ideal father, the one they give CARE.

God bless you and have a blessed week ahead.

Fr, Bonnie.

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