Fr Bonnie's Reflections

HE HAS RISEN! WHAT ABOUT YOU? WITNESSING AND EXPERIENCING THE RESURRECTION POWER HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

EMPTY TOMB 2

The word “witness” is a register from the legal system. As a verb, it refers to the act of giving a positive or negative testimony about a person or an event and as a verb it refers to an individual who comes forward to disclose what he or she knows about a case. According to the United States Department of Justice, there are three types of witnesses:

  • Lay witness: This is the most common type of witness, and it refers to a person who saw certain events and could describe what he/she saw.
  • Expert witness: This has to do with a specialist with expert knowledge that could throw more light on the case that is under examination using the resources of his or her learning.
  • Character witness: This refers to someone who has prior knowledge of the victim, the defendant, or other people involved in the case. Character witnesses usually don’t see the incident happen, but they can be beneficial in a case because they know the personality of the defendant or victim, before the trial. Neighbors, friends, family, security agents, colleagues, and the clergy are often used as character witnesses.

The narrative of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus generated a lot of questions, agitations, and pushbacks from the authorities who believed that our Lord’s suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial should collectively end his life and times as a revolutionary.

Contrary to their thinking, wish, and plan, our Lord, rose from the dead despite the assignment of armed soldiers to guard the tomb (Matt. 27:62-66). When the hour of the resurrection of the Lord approached, the soldiers were not conscious enough to tell the story as the appearance of an angel and a great earthquake overwhelmed the landscape leaving them like dead men (Matt. 28:1-5). Death could not hold him; hades could not hinder him; the soldiers could stop him; our Lord Jesus Christ rose in power and majesty!

Another name for The Acts of the Apostles could be “Acts of Witnessing to the Resurrection.” From Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost through the conversion and mission of Paul, it was about our Lord’s rising from the dead and the power it brought in the lives and works of his followers. We shall come back to the mission of witnessing to the resurrection.

What is the meaning of the Resurrection?

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ leverages several facts that deserve our insightful attention.

  • Fulfillment of the Scriptures: In the Gospel of John (2:19) our Lord said, “destroy this temple, and I will raise it in three days.” Christ was not only destined to suffer and die he is also destined to rise again and never to die; this is the full length of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
  • Confirmation of the Divinity of Christ: One of the accusations of the Jews against our Lord Jesus Christ was that he was making himself equal to God (John 5:18). The resurrection confirms this because God cannot undergo total extermination in the grave. At the expiration on the Cross, our Lord Jesus Christ commits his Spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46), his soul goes to preach to the souls in prison (1 Pet. 3:19), while his body remains in the tomb.
  • Restoration of hope and joy: On Good Friday there was mourning because of the cruel death on the cross; it seemed that the case is over. There was darkness all over the world. On Saturday, there was confusion and painful silence. On Sunday, however, hope and joy revamped the whole earth as the Lord rises from the dead.
  • The Tomb is Empty: The central point of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is that the tomb is empty. The emptiness goes beyond the absence of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is also a spiritual implication which tells us that the evil loads in our lives have been eradicated because our debts have been paid in full (John 19:30).

Witnessing to the Resurrection

From today through the coming weeks most of our greeting would begin or end with “Happy Easter,” which also means “happy resurrection.” However, only very few of us would remember to run our lives through the lens of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ by asking one question, “what is the impact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on my life as a Christian; He is risen what about me?

In the First Reading (Acts 10:34a, 37-43) we hear the apostle Peter giving a witness account of his encounter with Jesus Christ which also includes his interaction with him after he rose from the dead in the context of a meal. He identifies himself as a lay witness, an expert witness, and a character witness.

The Gospel today (John 20:1-9) further tells us about the witnessing of Mary of Magdala who visited the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark. She made a pilgrimage of faith not knowing how she could have access to the sealed tomb. Something within her could have encouraged her to undertake that journey by herself from the account of the Gospel today. When she sees an empty tomb, she runs to Simon Peter and John to give witness about what she saw.

How does the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ resonate with you today? He rose from the dead for your sake, and there would be no need for you to remain in the tomb of sadness, hopelessness, and despair when he has overcome the powers of death and the grave. The Psalmist says today is the day the Lord has made we shall rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

You need to rise and run up like Mary of Magdala to give your witness about the resurrection. St. Paul encourages us today to look up to our risen Lord who sits at the right hand of the Father (Col. 3:1-4). You may be in the Good Friday or Holy Saturday of your life; it may be taking more than you think or imagine, wait, for your Easter Sunday comes soon. St. Paul says that our resurrected Lord can accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine (Eph.3:20)

God bless you more today and always. Happy Easter!

Fr. Bonnie

THE GOOD IN THE FRIDAY: HOMILY FOR THE GOOD FRIDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Fr Bonnie's Reflections

I found this story very interesting. One day St. Peter was standing at a balcony and from a distance, he saw Judas Iscariot coming with a wooden box. When Judas came closer Peter asked him where he was going with a wooden box and what plan he was trying to hatch and reminded him how he betrayed their Master. Judas Iscariot answered and said that he was coming to see Peter. Peter became confused and asked him what was inside the wooden box and he asked him to come and see. Peter came down and opening the box he saw a cock. Infuriated he asked Judas what that meant and before Judas could reply the cock crew and Peter remembered what happened the night our Lord was betrayed and Judas smiling said to him: “I am not the only bad man here; you are also a bad man you denied…

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THE HOLY FEET, THE HOLY TABLE AND THE HOLY PRIESTHOOD: A HOLY THURSDAY REFLECTION. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Fr Bonnie's Reflections

last supperPope washing feet 2

Whilst having a discussion with some people, someone in the group mentioned that a certain event would commence on “Holy Monday” and end on “Holy Wednesday”. The other people in the group looked surprised and actually laughed out loud and wondering why the person could use such unconventional denotations to represent such days in the Holy week that are not familiar. The person stood his ground and argued that since it is Holy Week, all the days should be “Holy” not just Thursday and Saturday. There appears to be sense in that actually.

Today is one of those days in the year that we call “HOLY”. It is known as Holy Thursday as well as Maundy Thursday. The holiness of this Thursday comes from the sacred nature of the events that form the framework of today’s celebration and which will launch us into the passion of our Lord, his death…

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“THE LORD NEEDS IT” THE LORD’S PASSION FOR SOULS HOMILY FOR THE PASSION SUNDAY (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

triumphant entry

Once upon a time, a man comes to the great ancient Philosopher, Socrates and says to him, “O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.” The philosopher did not say a word but leads the young man down to the sea, and wading in with him, dunks him under the water for thirty seconds, and he lets him up for air. Then he asks him to state again what he desires, and the young man repeats, “O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge!”

After restating his intention Socrates puts him back under the water, but he keeps him a little longer than the first time. Letting him out he asked him what he wants now, and the young man who was choking exclaims, “O great Socrates, please I want Air!” Smiling Socrates responds and says to him “when you want knowledge as much as you want air, you shall have it.” If you have a passion for anything, nothing stops you from getting it, but yourself, when you give up.

One thing that most great people in the world have in common is passion. Name them, Abraham Lincoln had passion for freedom; Mahatma Gandhi had a passion for human rights. Martin Luther King Jnr had passion for equality; Mother Theresa had passion for the poorest of the poor. And today we would learn that our Lord Jesus Christ had a passion for our souls. Passion is the springboard of excellence and success.

Today is Palm Sunday and the doorway of the Holy Week. Today is also known as Passion Sunday as the Passion Narrative introduces us to the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the opening ceremony of the Palms, we heard the Gospel of Luke (19:28-40) which tells us about the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

This entry of the Lord into Jerusalem is different from the other visits because of the events surrounding it, and it is fittingly referred to as the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. While our Lord was getting close to Jerusalem, he sends two of his disciples on a dramatic errand that could capture and sustain the attention and contemplation of any active mind. Why would our Lord need a colt tied on a tree as a conveyance to Jerusalem and why was the need urgent?

In Matthew’s account of our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11), we learn that there was a donkey alongside the colt and again they were tied to a tree, and the need for two animals was urgent. The tree here reminds us of the tree at the middle of the Garden of Eden where the serpent lured them into sin.

The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is to pay the price of the sin of Adam and Eve which ruptured the relationship between God and humanity. The colt represents our souls that God needs urgently. The coming of Jesus Christ into our context is to disengage our souls from the tree of sin. The tree around which the colt is tied reminds us of the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden (Gen.3:3) where our first parents erred.

Furthermore, the Village is known as Bethphage, and the name means “house of unripe fruits.” We can see from the name that the soul is suffering from deficiency; that means unfit for God. Christ, our Lord, came not only to undo the power of that tree and replace it with the tree of redemption namely, the Cross of Calvary but also to raise our souls from being unripe and unfit to being ripe and fit for the harvest.

The Lord’s Passion for your Soul: “He Lord Need It!”

One of the ways to demonstrate our passion for something is to go for it without wasting time. We see that note of urgency when Jesus sends two his disciples to Bethphage to untie the colt from the tree and same to him. By this act, our Lord demonstrates that he cannot wait any longer to save our souls from the prison of sin and damnation.

Our Lord’s passion for our Souls made him come down to our lowly state to become human like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15). St. Paul says, though he was in the form of God Jesus did not regard equality with God but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-9).

Today we step into a critical time of contemplative remembrance of the passion Jesus Christ had for our souls to the point of offering up himself as a sacrifice to purchase our redemption. St. John says that he is the propitiation for our sins and that of the whole world  (1 John 2:2).

Attentive to the preceding, we understand that the Lord has a passionate need for our souls that have been tied securely on the stake of sin and damnation. He has come to deliver our souls from its prison of abandonment to the tree of sin outside Jerusalem into the Jerusalem of redemption. Our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem marks the actual beginning of the triumph over sin and death that have besieged our souls represented by the colt upon which he rode. The highest point of the triumph will be his death on the cross on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.

Moving Forward: Showing our Passion for the Lord!

The Psalmist once asked, “what shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? And he answers and says, “I will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Psalm 116:12-14).

Some people erroneously think that they could make a return for God’s goodness by merely coming to Church on Sundays or any other “important” day or making some big donations or offerings to the Church. Making a material offering is commendable, but the offering of our souls to God is more desirable to Him.  We don’t come to Church to please God but to obtain spiritual nourishment for our faith journey.

The best return we can make to the Lord is to be passionate about what He wants from us. Most of us have a passion for a lot of things but not what should be helpful to our lives. You become passionate about God by loving Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and loving others as you would love yourself (Luke 10:27). Furthermore, you demonstrate your love for God through your faithful obedience to Him (John 14:15).

As we launch into the Holy Week with the ceremony of the Palms today, let us focus on our Lord’s passionate passion for the redemption of our souls and strive to return his liberating love by living holy and worthy lives throughout this season and beyond.

Have a regenerating Holy Week and may God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

STONE THE SIN NOT THE SINNER HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY LENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Stone the sin not the sinner

Some time ago, there was a viral video showing a nanny abusing a helpless child. She would abandon the baby at a corner and would intermittently slap and shake him violently while also shouting at him. The background to the story relates that the parents were becoming uneasy about the physical appearance of the child each time they return. Consequently, they resolve to install hidden surveillance cameras in the house to monitor the activities of the nanny in their absence.

When the parents confronted the nanny for molesting their child, she denied the and was even ready to swear by the graves of her dead parents. She continued to deny the allegations until she saw the footages of the physical abuse from the various cameras in the house. It was at that point that she broke down in tears and accusing the devil of influencing her actions.

In our contemporary times, surveillance cameras (CCTVs) are excelling in catching people in the very act of committing various crimes and missteps like robbery, trespassing, vandalism, traffic offences, murder, sexual misconducts and a whole lot of other anti-social and immoral conducts.

Today, in the Gospel (John 8:1-11) we encounter the Scribes and the Pharisees using the “natural CCTV” (the human sight) to catch a woman in the very act of adultery. The catchers bring the woman to Jesus and ask for his opinion while quoting the Law of Moses which prescribes death by stoning for such a sexual crime.

Replying, our Lord says to them, “let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” While waiting for their response, he bends down to write on the ground. As our Lord Jesus Christ writes, the accusers of the woman exit one after another beginning with the eldest among them until the youngest.

Examining the event, our attention goes to the intention of the Scribes and Pharisees for bringing the woman to Jesus. The Gospel tells us that they brought the allegations against the woman to our Jesus Christ to test him so that they could have some charge to bring against him.

We understand here that they were using the woman as a bait and as a victim in the line of advancing their plot against Jesus. Beyond this, they gave the wrong information about the law of Moses. The legislation concerning adultery are the following:

  • Leviticus 20:10 – If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
  • Deuteronomy 22:22 – If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So, shall you purge the evil from

Looking at these references closely, we understand that these Scribes and Pharisees were not in any way trying to protect the law otherwise they would have provided the male partner in the crime while also giving the right version of the law. Furthermore, the woman says nothing; of course, women in those contexts were not allowed to speak in public and not even in this situation where there are more than two witnesses.

Stone Your Sin Not the Sinner

The Scribes and the Pharisees in the narrative were smart, but our Lord Jesus Christ was more intelligent and more knowledgeable than them. In his reply, he did not condemn the woman, nor did he compromise the act instead he makes an appeal to their consciences, “let the one without sin be the first to throw a stone at her?”. With this critical challenge, our Lord indirectly tells them to stone their sins, not the sinner. He makes it clear to them that she is not the only one who has such a sin.

God Writes Our Sins on the Ground, not on Stones

It is interesting to see our Lord Jesus Christ physically writing for the first, and that would also be the last time. However, we should also not that he wrote more on people hearts through his words and works. In the passage, we learn that as our Lord was writing, the accusers of the woman started leaving the place beginning from the eldest to the youngest.

While the Gospel of John that reports this event did not tell us what our Lord was writing, we are left with making a connection between the process of writing and the chronological exit of the accusers. Some commentators say that he was writing their name and their respective sins or how many times they committed adultery and others have other views. Whichever way the arguments go, what is essential is that each of them had a personal connection with what he was writing, and they could not stand whatever they saw.

More significantly, our Lord decides to write on the ground and not on a stone as people who do in those days to demonstrate to us that God is not interested in holding our sins against us as whatever is written on the ground would be blown away by the wind of divine forgiveness. The instruction our Lord gives to the woman, “go and sin no more” goes ahead to confirm the mercy of God over our sins.

Moving Forward: Utilizing God’s Second Chance Offer!

Like the unnamed woman in the Gospel, God is continuously catching us in the very act of not just adultery, but of every single sin, we commit. God’s “surveillance apparatus” goes beyond our words and actions to the depths of our hearts. The Bible makes it clear that we cannot hide from God no matter how we try (Psalm 139:7-13).

Unlike the Scribes and the Pharisees, God is not interested in the death of a sinner but in their turning away from sin to live (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). God is giving us a second chance like the woman who was set free from the condemning claws of the Scribes and the Pharisees. Your life today is a profound statement from God that He is offering you a second chance for repentance. He wrote the commandment on stone as a permanent guide, but for our sins, he wrote on the sand to be blown away by the wind of his loving mercy.

For us to take the second chance from the Lord, there is the need for us to pay attention to words of St. Paul to the Philippians today (Phil.3:8-14), which tells us that he is considering everything as loss for the supreme good of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ. The accused woman could say the same thing because her encounter with Jesus Christ brought the ultimate transformation to her life. This could be your story this season of Lent if you would come to the Lord to admit and acknowledge stone your sins.

Have a beautiful Sunday and glorious week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

THE DISTANT COUNTRY AND FATHER’S HOUSE: THE JOURNEY FROM REPENTANCE TO RECONCILIATION HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

VThe Prodigal Father

In life, people make conscious efforts to change certain events and situations around them for various reasons, but one thing that nobody can change is the past. The past can only come back as a story or a lesson. Where the future would lead you is more important than where the past has left you. The story of the prodigal son is one of the most read and reviewed of all the parables of Jesus Christ, and it fits into our initial thoughts because it tells the story of a notorious past and a rebranded future.

In the parable as the Gospel Reading, today (Luke 15:1-3,11-32) relates, a man had two sons, and the younger comes to him asking for his share of his father’s inheritance. It was a weird request because his father is still living. However, the father did not argue with him but gives half of what he has. After some time, the young man gathers his properties and travels to a distant country where goes on a spending spree presumably with friends and acquaintances.

After a while, the distant country goes into recession with a consequent severe famine, and he becomes poor and desperately in need. The severity of the condition in the distant country makes him hire himself out to one of the local people to take care of pigs without food nor pay. One day he comes to his senses while remembering the wealth in his father’s house and he says to himself,

I shall get up and go to my father, and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.

Rising, the young man heads to his father’s house. While still at a distance, his father sees him, and unlike a typical senior man, he runs to meet him. Catching up with him he does two significant things; hugging and kissing him. He was about pleading for his waywardness when his father orders a robe, a ring and sandals for him and a party is also set up in his honor.

The parable could have ended there but then comes his elder brother who refuses to enter the house and join the party when he learns that his brother is finally home after meddling with prostitutes as he puts it. Even his father’s pleading would not change his mind as he felt shortchanged because of his father’s forgiveness and reconciliation with his younger brother.

The Distant Country

In the parable, we learn that the younger son collected his belongings and set off to a distant country a few days after getting half of the wealth of his father. It is important to note here that the Gospel did not give us the name of the distant country. From the description “distant” we understand that the location is far from his father’s house. The distant country seems to be an attractive, a pleasure destination and at most a “sin city.” The amazing thing is that his money finished so fast.

The distant country represents a severe disconnection from the father’s house. In the distant country, what you see from the outside is not what you get inside. In a distant country, there is instability and disappointment. The most straightforward description of being in a distant country is to be in sin. In the distant country, we lose our connection to God’s hands and from his attentive ears (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Coming the Senses

 The crucial moment in the narrative was when the younger son came to his senses after hiring himself out to one of the local citizens to tend the swine in his farm without food and pay; maybe his job provided shelter for him. Coming to his senses means that he was all along out of his senses.

In the Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul relates to being out of one’s senses to being under the snare of the devil (2 Tim 2:26). The younger son was out of his senses when he decided to leave his father’s house to a distant country. He left the stream of water with a just a bucket of water thinking that it would last for a lifetime. He was out of his senses when he demanded freedom but dropped his responsibility in the trash.

Coming to the senses is a spiritual activity rather than a mere thought. It involves a purposeful turning around and having a change of mind which is at the same time the crux of the Lenten Season.

Returning to the Father’s House: The Reconciliation Journey

It is one thing to come to one’s senses and another thing to walk the talk. We are living in a world where you hear a lot of “I will” and little or no corresponding actions. Starting with yourself, you can recall how many times you may have made a declaration about what you want to do or stop doing and how many times you fail to live up to those declarations.

Today, we learn from the younger son how to activate our decisions especially when they would have life-changing positive impacts in our lives. The journey of the younger son to the father is the journey of reconciliation. Repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are bedfellows, and for every occasion of sin, the three are very important. The younger son repented and moved towards the father for reconciliation while hoping that the father would forgive him.

A closer look at the way the younger son related to his father shows that he knows his father to be a kind-hearted and understanding man. He was sure that his father would have him back, but he was not sure if he would give him the position of a son. His proposal “take me as one of your hired servants” shows the conviction that the father would not send him away, however, he was not expecting to be a son again because he messed up big time.

The father broke the protocols of seniors by running to meet the son. An old man running shows that the case is critical. The situation was indeed crucial for the father; he runs to forgive him without those usual question like “where have you been you stupid good-for-nothing child?” The hug and kiss indicate acceptance and reconciliation.

Moving Forward: Are You Still in a Distant Country? The Father is Waiting!

There are many names for the parable in the Gospel today besides the famous “prodigal son.” Some people prefer the prodigal father while still others talk about the lost sons and the loving father. The latter is fitting because it throws light on the action of the elder son which is the focus of the parable as our Lord gave the parable as an answer to Pharisees and the scribes who were complaining that he welcomes sinners and eats with them.

The younger son sinned against his father but coming to his senses, he returns and receives his father’s forgiveness and reconciliation. But the elder son who presumably is the good son who did not disconnect from the father refuses to accept the repentance of his brother and the reconciliation with the father. In his mind, his brother is meant to die in the distant country and should never have thought about returning.

At the end of the parable, the younger was inside their father’s enjoying his welcome party while his older brother who was the homely good boy relocates to the distant country lost with his judging heart as he refuses the invitation of his father to come into the house. While the younger moves on to a better future with a new relationship with the father, the older son got stuck with the unproductive past.

Where do you locate yourself in this parable? Are you still lost in a distant country? Our merciful and patient father is waiting for your return and the time to come to your senses and return home in now!

God bless you and have a fabulous week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

ARE YOU A BARREN TREE? PRODUCING THE LENTEN FRUITS HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Barren-Tree (1)

There is a story about a boy who loves to play with his friend next door under a tree at the back of their house. One day his dad informs him that he would cut down the tree because for three years no fruit has come from it. The little boy is hurt, and he shares the bad news with his friend next door, and they both cry.

Next day, he breaks his piggy bank and goes to buy a bushel of apples and with the help of his friend, he ties the apples on the tree. Next morning his father sees the tree with apples and calling on his wife he says, “honey I don’t know how this is possible; suddenly the barren tree has apples on it, and the most amazing thing is that it is an orange tree!” The little boy was trying to preserve his play station, namely, the tree.

A world without trees would be a disaster to human beings, animals, and the environment. The changes we are having in the world today are not unconnected with the increase in deforestation which involves the massive and often unnecessary cutting of trees. To explore the importance of trees here would take the entire space for this reflection. However, a concise presentation would help us to have a foreground.

Trees produce fruits, but that is a fraction of what we get from trees. In the process of manufacturing their food through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide (C02) in the environment and release oxygen (02) which humans and animals need to survive. Trees also protect the environment from wind, erosion, and also have aesthetic values.

We depend on trees for woods which we convert to firewood, charcoal, all kinds of papers, all forms of house fittings and furniture, boats, wine corks, and carvings. Tress also produce liquids for maple syrup, chewing gum, cosmetics, crayons, paints, and soap. Dye and some medicines also come from the bark of some trees.

In the Gospel today (Luke 13:1-9), our Lord Jesus Christ tells a parable about the barren fig tree. The owner of the fig tree comes searching for fruits on it over three years but found none, and he threatens to cut it down instead of taking allowing it to up the soil. However, the gardener begs the owner to give the tree one more year of intensive care and afterwards he can cut it if still bears no fruits.

Though Jesus did not give an immediate explanation of the parable, it is, however, it is clear that the tree represents all of us. Furthermore, Jesus Christ represents the gardener who not only advocates (1 John 2:1) and mediates (1 Tim. 2:5) for us but also nourishes us with the word of God and healing (Matt. 95-36), and with his body and blood (Matt. 26:26-29). Finally, the owner refers to God the father our creator.

The Barrenness Leading to Fruitlessness?

It is very worrisome to discover that for three years the fig tree was unable to bear fruits. The number “three” in biblical numerology refers to completeness. With regards to the fig tree, it got the full attention it needed with all the enabling nutrients. It is, therefore, crucial to know why the fig tree remained barren since it had all that is required.

The best way to discover what is happening to the tree is to examine its base and roots. The problem cannot be from the trunk, the branches, and the leaves but the roots. For the roots of a tree to derive nourishment from the soil, they are expected to be open and receptive to what the soil provides.

It is evident that we are like the fig tree in the vineyard of God the Father. Here, we have an able gardener; our Lord Jesus Christ who is constantly feeding us with the word of God and with his body and blood that nourish our souls. The challenge is our readiness to open our hearts to receive all that our Lord is offering and to use them for fruit bearing.

Moving Forward: Bearing the Lenten Fruit of Repentance

Among other things, the Lenten Season invites us to true repentance. The parable in the Gospel today sets out to show that God is giving us time to repent following the intervention of the gardener to allow the fig tree for one more year.

Earlier in the Gospel, some people approach Jesus to tell him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of the sacrifice. Responding to them, Jesus makes it clear that they are not greater sinners because of their tragic death nor are those who were killed by the tower at Siloam greater sinners. He concludes by saying to them “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.”

Barrenness and the resultant fruitlessness are indications of sin. In the parable, our Lord is telling us to repent, or we risk elimination from the vineyard of the Lord. The Greek word in the narrative is “metanoia” which means a change of heart. God is, therefore, asking us to change our heart through an intense and conscious renewal of our roots not the decoration of the branches like the little boy did in our opening story to save the tree.

We need to return to God as the Israelites did after four hundred years of their slavery in Egypt, and God responded to them through Moses via the theophany of the Burning Bush as we saw in the First Reading (Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15). The Burning Bush shows the ever-present (I AM) burning love of God that is waiting for us this Lenten Season. Our responsorial Psalm says, “the Lord is kind and mercy.” Yes, He is waiting for us to turning back and become fruitful and productive.

The tree had one year to become productive; we have had years ahead of us to achieve our “metanoia” and come out from the slavery of sin. Now have a very fitting time to accomplish this and may we not allow it to elude us. God is interested in spiritual fruits not in barren religious trees. May we move from barrenness to essential fruitfulness to the glory of God and for our salvation. Amen. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN OF TRANSFIGURATION: THE GLORIOUS JOURNEY OF LENT HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Climbing the mountain of the Lord

Mountain climbing is typically a very tasking activity with a lot of physical, mental, and emotional demands. Between May 10 and 11, 1996, about eight people lost their lives while trying to make it to the top of the highest peak in the world in Nepal. The mishap eventually got the name, “the Mount Everest Disaster.” Most people who succeed to touch down after scaling those heights tell tales of exhaustion, various degrees of injury, hypothermia, frostbite, reduced visibility, hypoxia, and other horrible experiences.

The Gospel Reading (Luke 9:28b-36) tells us that Jesus Christ took three of the apostles to the mountain to pray. One may like to know why he selected the trio of Peter, James, and John excluding others. The answer is evident in their activities within the group. Peter has already received the key after confessing through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Luke 9:20; Matt. 16:16-19). On the part of James and John, they showed their ambition to sit at the right and left hands of Jesus in his glory. It only fitted that they experience that glory for which they were ready to give their lives (Mark 10: 35-40).

On reaching the mountaintop and at the point of prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured before the three apostles. His face changed in appearance, and his clothing became dazzling white. Furthermore, two biblical figures, Moses and Elijah, appeared and were conversing with Jesus. The sight was very overwhelming for the three apostles, and Peter speaks requesting that he builds three tents for Jesus and the two celestial visitors, but then the impressive sight ends before he could conclude his request.

Climbing the Mountain vs. Our Lenten Journey     

The ascent to the mountain starts with the conscious disengagement from the base of the mountain. To disengage, one needs to leave certain things behind to ascend with ease.  In the case of our Lord Jesus Christ and his three companions, they left the other disciples and possibly the crowd at the base of the mountain to reach up to the peak of the mountain.

Summarily, to climb the mountain, one must give up the pleasures and comforts of the ground level. The Lenten Season is closely related to climbing a mountain. We are invited to give up those things that delimit our journey especially sin. Before the transfiguration event, Jesus did instruct that whoever wants to be his disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).

A common aphorism has it that “the journey is more important than the destination.” The statement means that without a worthwhile journey the destination would be wishful thinking. On account of this, we often wish people a “safe journey” because it precedes the arrival hence the way you travel determines how you would arrive.

On this journey, there is a need for focus while watching every step we take. One of the best pieces of advice from mountain climbers says, “you need to take one step at a time and be sure of where you want to put the next step.” Barry Finlay says that every mountain top is within reach if you keep climbing.

Transfiguration means Change

Most mountain climbers have a common thing to say, “it is a transforming experience!” Transformation, in turn, means a thorough change. Beyond the change of a physical position from the lower level to the upper level, mountain climbing brings about a transforming difference in the life of the climber.

The Gospel Reading relates the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ before the apostles while he prays at the mountaintop. Our Lenten journey would be useless if we do not experience a transfiguration from the disfiguration of sin. During these forty days, the Lord invites us to continue the journey with him from the desert of temptation last Sunday to the mountain of transfiguration.

The journey may appear crooked, winding and even dangerous but the glory is waiting for us at the peak; we need to stay in the climbing mode and never lose hope. In the Second Reading (Phil. 3:20-4:1), St. Paul tells us that the goal of this journey is to change our lowly body to conform with the glorified body of our Lord Jesus Christ and we look forward to this at the Easter.

Moving Forward: Conquer Yourself not the Mountain

When one succeeds in climbing and coming down from a mountain, the individual conquers oneself not the mountain. While the mountain remains the same, those who climb the mountain come down with transforming experiences and stories like Peter, James, and John could recall in the transfiguration mountain.

In the course of our Lenten Journey, we need to allow God to walk through us just as the fire of God passed through the pieces of sacrifice that Abram laid out for God in the First Reading (Gen.15:5-12, 17-18). May this journey bring unfailing divine transformation and elevation into our lives. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

OVERCOMING THE DEVIL’S STRATEGIES HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

overcoming the devil

Once upon a time, the devil enters a church during the service. His appearance causes a rumble in the church as people scamper and disperse from various directions including the officiating ministers. In no time, the church is empty of people except one man who sits at the back of the church. The devil comes to the man and asks why he is not afraid of him like the others and the man replies and says to him, “I have been living with your sister for 48 years, so it makes no difference meeting you today”.

The short story is indeed funny, but what we quickly learn from the story is that one of the strategies of the devil is to scare us and push us into wrongdoing (scampering and dispersing from God). St. Peter says that he comes like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The devouring here is not physical but spiritual and involves nudging us into disobedience and sin.

Jesus Christ and the Tempter

The Gospel Reading today (Luke 4:1-13) begins by relating to us that after the spirit-filled baptism at the Jordan, our Lord Jesus Christ was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for a period forty days where he faced three-fold temptations by the devil after the period of prayer and fasting.

It will be essential for us to note here that Jesus was under the leading of the Holy Spirit and not any material or human drive. Furthermore, the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit could not shield him from the temptation of the devil. Moreover, the devil comes to him at the end of his forty-day fasting when one could presume it is all quiet and peaceful. Furthermore, the temptation comes shortly before the Lord begins his public ministry.

A Brief on the Person of the Tempter

Think of any person that is highly intelligent, thoroughly evil, slimy, deceptive, wicked, vindictive, and hypocritical; that is the devil. The Bible has many names for him, accuser (Rev. 12:10), adversary (1 Pet. 5:8), enemy (Matt. 13:39), evil one (Matt. 13:19), father of lies (John 8:44), murderer (John 8:44), thief, killer, and destroyer (John 10:10a), unclean spirit (Matt. 12:43), and others.

“If you are the Son of God, command this Stone to Become Bread.”

The first temptation of our Jesus Christ pertains to his immediate need, namely food. Remember that he was disembarking from a forty-day fast from food. It is also instructive to note that the devil starts by using a challenging statement that strikes on the identity of the Lord, “if you are the Son of God.” The devil often strikes by distorting the truth or raising doubts in our minds about what we know or believe.

Responding to the first temptation, our Lord directs him to the word of God in Deuteronomy (8:3) which says, “one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  Incidentally, that chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy talks about God’s instructions to the Israelites on the fortieth and last year of their wandering in the wilderness.

We learn from our Lord’s response that you don’t argue nor bargain with the devil. The only way to respond is to refer to the word of God. We could recall and appreciate St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians (2 Cor.10:4), where he says that the weapons of our warfare are not human but have divine power to destroy strongholds and refute arguments and every obstacle that rises against the knowledge of God. The word of God is a potent weapon against the devil’s machinations.

I shall give You all this Power and Glory…If You Worship Me

In the second temptation, the devil takes our Lord up and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. He goes on to promise that he would give all of them to Jesus Christ if he bows down to worship him.

Here again, we see a deceptive move by the devil to fault our Lord. Temptations would always come with the promise of a benefit or gain. The devil’s gifts come with a condition and a lot of hidden charges. Furthermore, if there is someone who does not like to share that would be the devil. And to think of it that he would hand over all his kingdoms to anyone is a blatant lie.

Again, to the second temptation, our Lord responds with the word of God, “you shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Deut.6:13). Notice that the devil will not give up when he fails the first time. Moreover, the “benefit” of the second temptation seems to be more attractive than the first one.

If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down .…He will command his angels concerning, You to Guide You….

Again, the devil comes using his usual tact of challenging the identity of Jesus Christ, namely, “the Son of God.” Here the devil wanted Jesus to presume God’s protective love using a famous biblical text from the Book of Psalms (91:11-12). It is hilarious that the devil did not extend the quote up to verse 13 where it says, “you will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” The reason is evident because the verse is against him; the devil.

On this temptation, the devil provides a scriptural text, and our Lord responds with another text which shows a context, “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Every text in the bible leverages a context; otherwise, it becomes a pretext. Notice here that the devil came three times which in biblical understanding indicates completion. Here it means that our Lord faced thorough temptation, but the devil could not tamper him.

Moving Forward: Overcoming the Tempters Strategies

We all face one temptation or the other at various points in life. Life without temptation is an illusion because temptation is a significant part of our fallen nature and evident in our fallen world. Temptation comes when we experience the enticement to do something that is contrary to the will of God. Temptations come in many ways to make us revolt against God and please the devil.

Within the inauguration of our forty-day Lenten journey, there is the need for us to be aware of the following strategies of the devil to tempt us to sin.

  • He comes at a vulnerable time and when there is a need.
  • He creates doubts in your mind.
  • He comes with lies and deception.
  • He comes with promises, but underneath is a trap.
  • He appeals to your position, rank or identity to entice you.
  • He makes it seem that he doesn’t exist and gives you false reasons to believe.
  • He would come again even if he keeps failing.

As we continue to the march into Lenten Season, may God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9) remain with us and assist us to pass through the trials and ascend into triumph with our Lord Jesus Christ who overcame the temper’s machinations. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

Have a fabulous week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

ANSWERING THE CALL FOR “A RETURN!” HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Repent and Retun to God

The return of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the narratives in the Gospel that speaks of repentance after an episode of wandering in the region of sin and disobedience. In the parable we learn that the father was hopefully looking out and waiting for the son to return from the distant country and seeing him from a distance, he runs towards him to welcome him and he goes further to restore his position in the household.

The word return has two basic meanings, to bring something or someone back to the right place, and to get a profit, yield, income or gain. These two meanings aptly resonate with the message of this Ash Wednesday which discloses God’s call for our return to Him.

Where did we Go and What have we Lost?

The First Reading today (Joel 2:12-18) begins with an invitation from God which says:

Return to me with your whole heart with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.

One typically returns from somewhere to another place. From the passage, we understand that those who are receiving the message took a leave from God’s presence and wandered away. Their destination was the region sin and consequent disconnection from God. When we commit sin and stay in it, we take leave from God and stay far away from Him.

There are consequences that trail one’s departure from God; in fact, leaving God is the same as losing Him. In the event of our estrangement from God, we lost His protective love and mercy. To be without God is not helpful to our existence as our Lord Jesus Christ would say, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He knows that our estrangement would lead us to total annihilation beyond the present life and for this reason, God calls for a total return of all the people both young and old, priests, ministers, and indeed everyone.

The Ash and our Return to God

The ash is the result of committing anything to fire. From this description, we understand that ash indicates the vanity of human life and all the activities within it (Ecclesiastes 1:2ff). In the most passage in the Bible, people sat on ash or sprinkled it on their heads to indicate penitence and sorrow for sin (Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Daniel 9:3: Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13).

During the ceremony of receiving the ash, the priests or the ministers would say one of the following: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Three important verbs in the two statements are, “Remember, Repent, and Believe.” We often forget the necessary things and remember the unnecessary ones. The ceremony challenges us to remember that no matter how long we live on earth our life is still short and we shall end up as dust.

The next instructional prayer tells us to repent and to believe in the Gospel. As we march into the Lenten Season, the message of repentance would be repeated especially from the oracle of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:4) and the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 13:3). Repentance challenges us to repose our faith in God which entails belief in God and confession. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans (10:9) that if you confess that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Moving Forward: Living the Lenten Life

After receiving the ash, the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 6: 1-6, 16-18), challenges us to live the Lenten life through the introduction of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The elucidation of these pillars of the Lenten Season helps us to understand that the season makes an expedient demand from us. We are invited to excel in charity (Luke 6:38). When we give, especially to those who are in need we become extensions of the hands of God who is always giving to us. Our charity, however, should not be materials for the public announcement; otherwise, we lose our heavenly reward.

Prayer is a very key and recommended activity for us this season. We cannot have a relationship with God without prayers. Our prayer should not be occasional, St. Paul says “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Furthermore, our prayer should not just be for some petitions, that is for needs but for everything including thanksgiving to God (Phil. 4:6-7).

Finally, the Season invites us to practice fasting and abstinence. The need to fast is basically to mortify the body and elevate the spirit. In his letter to the Galatians (5:16-17), St. Paul tells us that the flesh is at war with the spirit and there is a need for us to live in the spirit and not to gratify the desires of the flesh. Fasting and abstinence help us at this moment to pay attention to the soul by denying our flesh those pleasures that are unhelpful to our spiritual growth.

As we answer the call to RETURN may we continuously keep our eyes on the need to Remember, Repent and Believe and may the three pillars of the Lenten Season, Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting help us to have a rewarding journey through the season.

God bless you and have a beautiful Lenten Season.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

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