Fr Bonnie's Reflections

“ONLY THE DISCIPLINED WILL BE SAVED!” HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

discipline

A little boy was repeatedly rude. On one occasion, the boy’s dad had to hit him hard on the head as a corrective measure against his unbearable rudeness. The boy felt so bad and asked his dad why he had to hit him so hard. The dad responded and said that he hit him hard because he loves him. Instantly the boy raised his hand to hit his father but first asked “can I love you back?”

Have you ever experienced the torturous treatment of a disciplinarian? The person could be your dad, mum, relation or one of your primary or high school teachers. If you have not had a direct experience with a staunch disciplinarian then you could count yourself fortunate and may be “uncooked” too.

One thing about disciplinarians is that you can never forget them and people often appreciate them later in life. The reason for the latter is that the punishment and pain they inflict are often inspired by love and the disposition to help the individual to grow and become better in life. We can recount our various experiences and I personally will not forget my dad’s torrential slaps that were phenomenal and led to instant promises of ideal conduct.

The Second Reading Today (Heb.12:5-7.11-13), could readily serve as our point of departure. In the letter, the word DISCIPLINE was mentioned up to five times while there are also other synonyms connected to it in the context. The writer of the letter recalled an exhortation in the Old Testament which said:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines whom he loves, and chastises every son he receives”

The writer went further tell us that one of the important and highly helpful duties of a father is to discipline the son. Though it might entail pain and some unpleasant experiences at the moment but later it yields pleasant fruits.

If we take an active look into the bible we will discover that those whom God loved so much passed through some excruciating and often severe punitive experiences. We know how Abraham had to go through a long route of childlessness even when God had promised him that he will be the father of a great nation with innumerable children (Gen.17:4-6). Joseph went through thick and thin, starting with his brothers, before his elevation in the Land of Egypt (Gen.37ff). The people of Israel (whom God called his people) went through tough times at various points in their life as a nation starting from the slavery in the land of Egypt through the incessant attacks from their enemies to Babylonian captivity and the fall of Jerusalem.

We can also recall the unsettling times of David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam.13:14). Most of the prophets did not have it easy like Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah and others. We cannot forget our elder in faith Job on whom God placed a premium bet with satan as a contender (Job 1:6ff). Finally, we have the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son in whom God the Father is well pleased (Matt. 3:17), but who had to go through excruciating passion to the extent he even asked God the Father why he had forsaken him (Matt. 27:46).

Why would God allow those he loves to go through pain and suffering? Put in another way, why does God often apply discipline to those dear to Him? This question is answered in all the three Readings today and we shall examine them carefully.

In the First Reading (Isaiah 66:18-21) we are presented with God’s plenary assembly consisting of all nations and tongues whose works and thoughts are personally known to God. God is all-knowing and nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 139). From all these people these will emerge, survivors (or fugitives which mean escapees) who will further announce the glory of God. The mention of survivors is an indication that there were victims or non-survivors. In other words, the survivors are those who emerge from God’s disciplinary hands.

The Gospel Reading today (Luke 13:22-30), makes the theme of our reflection today more profound. In the narrative, an unnamed person asked our Lord if only A FEW WILL BE SAVED. Looking at the passage it may seem that the question came from the blues. However, if we go back to the beginning of that Chapter (13:1ff) we will discover that our Lord has been talking about salvation on one hand and damnation, on the other hand, beginning with some events at the time as well as some parables that all called for repentance and fruitfulness.

To the question: “will only a few people be saved?” Our Lord answered not just the questioner but everyone with an imagery of a narrow but indispensable door (gate) which many will try to enter but will not be strong enough to do so. Why? First of all the door (gate) is narrow and this means that those who are moving in accompanied with unnecessary accessories cannot enter. This means that it will take an extra and extreme discipline to gain entrance. We could recall that our Lord in another place said that it will be easier for a camel to enter the kingdom of God than for a rich man (Mark 10:25).

From the reflection so far, we can locate two dimensions of discipline for any of us to be saved and these are divine discipline and self-discipline.

  1. Divine Discipline: David, one of the beneficiaries of divine discipline exclaimed in the Psalms (118:18): “I was punished by the Lord but not doomed to die”. In the Book of Proverbs (3:11-12) we are told not to despise God’s discipline as He reproves those He loves. The Book of Sirach (2:1-2) instructs that when we come to serve the Lord we should prepare for testing (divine discipline). We are also instructed not to be impetuous in the face of calamity. Divine discipline leads us to a better and more gracious life. You can imagine the renewal that Saul underwent from that discipline he received on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).

There are some plants like the jack pine, found around the northern part of central and eastern United States and Canada, that need fire to survive. After a forest fire, Jack pines release their seeds and blossom. Just as iron, when put into the fire, loses its rust and becomes glowing, it is in the same way that divine discipline refines us and brings out the best in our lives.

The Lord’s discipline is meant to bring about the death of the old man in us for the new man to emerge (Col. 3:9-10). In the Gospel narrative, it is clear that those who finally became last (though they were formerly first) were those who failed to accept divine discipline that brings about a transforming change in the life of the recipient.

  1. Self-discipline: Self-discipline is fittingly connected with divine discipline. If you like it expounds divine discipline. Real self-discipline goes beyond mere civility and urbanity. It involves making God the priority in our lives. It involves deep spiritual intelligence which goes beyond emotional and social intelligence. Self-discipline has been the way of the saints as it encourages self-mortification, self-abasement, and selflessness. It involves overcoming oneself. It is only the self-disciplined that can pass through the narrow door (gate).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul identified self-discipline as a precondition for godliness (1 Tim.4:7). Writing also to the Romans (12:1-2), Paul recommended the offering up of oneself as a sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God while at the same time saying that we should not be conformed to the pattern of this world; this is self-discipline.

It is very instructive to discover those who operate on the platform of indiscipline in the gospel narrative today. They are the ones who would arrive at the door when the door (gate) is locked. They are the ones who would think that admittance into the eternal home would be based on familiarity, hear them again: “we ate and drank in your company and you thought in our street”. We can attest that no disciplined mind can use this as the basis for entrance into the eternal home. They are those who would become last because coming first they failed to fall into the mode of discipline. Yes! Only the disciplined will be saved!

As we launch into the new week, let us be disposed for divine discipline and also make honest efforts for self-discipline.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

BEYOND PRESUMPTION: MARY’S ASSUMPTION INTO HEAVEN. REFLECTION ON THE FEAST OF ASSUMPTION. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

assumption

Today we are celebrating of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary  and this celebration is beyond mere presumption. The Assumption is at the same time a dogma of faith proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentisimus Deus of November 1, 1950. The dogmatic declaration runs thus: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”. To be assumed means to be taken up completely.

This is a solemn dogma that can only be accepted on the platform of faith. It is reasonably a consequent culmination of various divine messages in the entire Bible concerning Mary, which includes but not restricted to the message of the angel at God’s instance: “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you”. If the blessed Mother of God is FULL OF GRACE and was conceived without sin (Immaculate Conception) there is logic, reason, and faith to uphold that she was preserved from bodily corruption at the end of her earthly life. This is reasonably connected with St. Paul’s declaration in the letter to the Romans (8: 1-2):

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

In another passage (Romans 6:22-23) St. Paul went further to proclaim thus:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

From the above, we understand that Mary’s disconnection from sin right from the moment of her conception gave her an uncommon privilege to beat the natural claw of death and annihilation of the material body.

The glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven did not happen by her own power. She had no power of her own to undertake such amazing and mysterious flight into heaven. It is purely the grace of God working in her. It is based upon this that we differentiate the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven (which is by his own divine power) and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which took place through the power of God).

There are no direct biblical references narrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, but there are strong biblical pointers as well as other events with inferential relationships:

  • ETERNAL VIRGINITY (Isaiah 7:14). Here we are presented with the eternal Virginity of Mary. The word of God said that a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son. (Note well, not a woman but a Virgin). A closer and more effective reflection shows us that after the birth of her child she remained a virgin. This also points to the fact that God aided the preservation of her virginity after having her child which actually happened through the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). In effect, she did not experience any form of physical mutilation on her body which is precious to God as the first tabernacle of our Lord Jesus Christ. The prophecy of Isaiah (60: 13) confirms that God will bless the place where His feet rest.
  • FULL OF GRACE (Luke 1:28). This is the only place in the entire bible that God spoke of someone as being full of grace or highly favoured. God had in the past extolled some men and women of virtue like David, Deborah, Gideon and others but none has been told that he or she was full of grace. Mary was also told that she is blessed among all women which is another significant value placed on her. It does really follow that one with such rare attribute deserves a special package before God.
  • MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES. This refers to a unique form of subjective religious experience which God allows some people to have. Outwardly, this can be seen in some people experiencing one or two of those unique events in the Life of Jesus Christ. Examples are Stigmatism (bleeding at those spots Christ bled like Padre Pio), Bilocation (being at two places at same time like Alphonsus Ligouri and Anthony of Padua), Levitation (Being lifted up unaided by anything or person like Teresa of Avila), Glossolalia (Speaking in other tongues or languages like on the Pentecost day), Incorruption (body not decaying after death like Rita of Cascia and Bernadette Soubirous).Among these, we relate Levitation and incorruption with Assumption as mystical experiences willed by God for our Blessed mother. Evidently, this had happened with some people in the bible. In Genesis (5:24) we are told that Enoch suddenly was taken away. In 2 Kings (2:1-11), Elijah was taken up to heaven by a chariot of fire.

There is a need for us to learn from Mary and honour her than getting ourselves busy with the unnecessary war of words about her life and suitability of her cooperation with God in the salvation of mankind. We learn from her:

  • HUMILITY: Let it be done to me according to your words.(Luke 1:38)
  • LIFE OF FAITH: She believed in the promise made to her by God.(Luke 1:45)
  • LIFE OF HOPE : She stood by the promise of God with ardent hope.(Luke1:55)
  • LOVE FOR GOD AND OTHERS: Her visit to Elizabeth and assistance at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. (Luke 1:39ff; John 2:3ff).
  • FEW WORDS BUT DEEP REFLECTION: She spoke only about four times in the bible. But she pondered all in her heart.(Luke 2:19).

As we celebrate the Assumption, let us know also that our lives need to be assumed into holiness. We need to reflect in our lives what characterized the Mother of our Lord and also our Mother.

Have a great day and happy Solemnity.

FR.BONNIE

 

THE UNLIMITED POWER OF GOD’S WORD. HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

THE WORD OF GOD

Once upon a time, a train engineer by name Larry was sent by his company to work in a certain busy train station at the heart of a town. While he was on his way to work on the first day of the contract, he saw a hungry looking old beggar in the midst of the fast moving crowd of hundreds of people. He noticed the despair on the face of the man and stopped to give him some money. It was then that he discovered that he forgot his wallet at his lodging and all he could do was to smile at him and asked him how he was doing. The old man managed to smile back at him and nodded and Larry wished him a great day and left to work.

The next day Larry saw the man again and wished him a great day but not without dropping some money into his beggar’s cup. Every day while on his way to work, Larry would stop to say a word or two to the man and often gave him something for a meal. One day and that was the last day of Larry’s engagement at the station, he came to the man to tell him that he would not be seeing him again as he was going back to his main location. The man thanked Larry for his kindness and requested if he could spare a little time to listen to him. Larry agreed.

The old man told Larry that he has not always been a beggar. He told him that he was in a Care Home that was run by a Charity but unfortunately, the Home had to close down because of funding. His wife had died many years ago and his only child had also left home unceremoniously and left no trace after a big quarrel he had with him. He mentioned also that someone gave him an address of someone in a certain city who could lead him to his son for a possible reunion.

Since he had no money to travel that distance, he decided to beg and raise some money for transport. The old man told Larry that nobody paid attention to him among the thousands of people he met at the station until he came along that day with the smile and those kind words that brightened his life. The old man went on to say that Larry’s words and kindness infected other people and now he had saved enough money to get him to the address he was going to.

Larry was deeply touched by the old man’s story and after a brief reflective silence, he asked the man the name of his son and the old man said “James Lloyd” and added that he heard that he is now an engineer. Hearing this Larry exclaimed “James Lloyd! That is my boss, I report to him every day and I even told him about this old beggar friend of mine!” Larry later took the old man, Mr. Lloyd Adams, to his son Engr. James Lloyd and what a great reunion it was!

There could be many moral lessons from this story but I wish to single out the fact of the POWER OF SPOKEN WORDS. The old man recalled that it was Larry’s smiles and kind words that brightened his life at that point when nobody cared. Let us imagine that on the contrary, Larry had said to the old man: “you old fool get out of my way and go get a life!” The old man would have received more frustration atop the one he was having already.

The words we speak do really have incredible powers. They can build or bulldoze. They can help or hinder. They can provoke or pacify. They can make or mar. Words are like tools they could be used to assembly or to dismember. In the book of Proverbs (18:21), we read: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”. Based on this St. Paul advised the Ephesians (4:29) thus: Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

If human verbalizations could be powerful how much more the unstained word of God. There is actually a creative force in the word of God. From the inception of the world, we are told in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis that God created out of His spoken words. “And God SAID…Let there be….and there was..!” The letter to the Hebrews (11:3) corroborated this by asserting that it is an act of faith that we believe that the world was made from God’s spoken words.

In the First Reading today (Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10), we read about the bitter experience of the Prophet Jeremiah on account of the word of God he spoke of the people and their situation. It is very important here to state that God’s word is not always about blessings, success, progress, and breakthrough. The word of God deals with the situation as it is.

Jeremiah told the people the word of God concerning the impending fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the King of Babylon. Instead of accepting the oracle of the prophet and seeking divine counsel, the officials of the city ganged up against Jeremiah and convinced Zedekiah the king to have Jeremiah thrown into his son’s cistern because he did not tell them what they wanted to hear. There is a difference between what people want to hear and what God wishes to say to the people.

It is regrettable that the king granted the officials their request and Jeremiah was thrown into the well with mud inside. However, God used an Ethiopian Eunuch, Ebed-Melech to rescue Jeremiah. One could see that Zedekiah showed himself a typical character that acts before thinking or one that acts by impulse.

It is important to note that after being rescued from the cistern, Jeremiah did not change a single letter of the word of God he gave earlier. The true word of God does not entertain compromise. It is not a respecter of wealth and royalty. The word of God does not entertain fleeting and passing changes (Luke 21:33).

In the Gospel of today (Luke 12:49-53), our Lord Jesus Christ released some prophetic utterances that are generally unsettling. He specifically mentioned that he came to cast fire upon the earth and wished that it were already kindled. Furthermore, he spoke about a peculiar kind of baptism he is desirous to receive. Finally, he mentioned that he did not come to bring peace upon the earth but division starting from the family relationships. Three important facts are therefore notable here and we shall be examining them closely.

  1. The casting of fire upon the earth: Fire is a great symbol in the bible. In the first place, it is used severally to depict the presence of God. Moses encountered God at the burning bush (Ex.3:2). After leaving Egypt, God led the people of Israel by means of a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). God answered Elijah by fire (1 Kings 18:24). Jeremiah tells us that the word of God is like fire (Jer.23:29) and the letter to the Hebrews tells us that God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

Fire is also seen in the bible from another point of view as an instrument divine of judgement. Adam and Eve were driven away from the Garden by angels bearing flaming swords. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen.19:24). Isaiah (66:16) tells us that God will execute judgement by means of fire. Hell is described as a place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43) and the rich man who was dispassionate to Lazarus suffered in the flames (Luke 16:24).

By casting fire upon the earth, our Lord Jesus Christ was unleashing as it were the unlimited power of the word of God upon the earth. This will bring about divine visitation that will have double effects of salvation and damnation, justification and judgement.

2.The peculiar kind of baptism: The Greek root of the word baptism is baptizo and it means to dip, immerse or submerge. Literally, it could be understood as being buried and raised up again. So when our Lord was talking about a kind of baptism he urgently needs to have he was referring to his passion, death and eventually his resurrection. St. Paul made this clearer in his letter to the Roman (6:3-4) where he said:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

  1. Division, not peace: The word peace in Hebrew is rendered as shalom and it means total or complete well-being. However, there is another sense wherein peace can be used and it denotes tolerance, compromise or if you like the absence of conflict. We could understand this better when we read the Gospel of John (14:27a) where our Lord said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

From the above, we can understand what our Lord meant when he told his listeners in the Gospel not to suppose that he was coming to bring peace (compromise) but division. This means that the word of God is not meant to bring compromise but a positive division between those who will accept it and those who will not and this will begin from the family which the basic unit of the human society as well as  the root of all good and evil.

When we take an active look into our world today, we will still discover that the word of God which is a two-edged sword (Heb.4:12) is still progressively setting apart the sheep from the goat (Matt. 25:31-46). The word of God is meant to guide and lead us to in life’s journey (Psalm 119:105). This light will help us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us as St paul indicated in the Second Reading (Heb.12:1-4). This race will lead us to eternal salvation which we need even if it entails giving up our lives like the martyrs whom Paul referred to as a great cloud of witnesses.

Armed with the message of today, let us launch into the coming week with our eyes on the word of God which is spirit and life (John 6:63). We end with this instruction from the book of Proverbs (4:20-22):

My child be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings, Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your hearts. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.

Have a great Sunday and an awesome week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

FAITH AND DESIRABLE WORKS AT THE SERVICE OF SALVATION. HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

faith without works

This story will touch and teach you. Tess, an eight years old, was a sweet child with an amazing inner strength. One evening, unknown to anyone, she slipped out of the backdoor of their house and walked six blocks on a very serious self-designed errand. She was going to buy a “miracle” from the local pharmacy.

Earlier that day, she overheard her parents talk about her younger brother, Andrew. He has been very sick for some time now. Her parents brought him to a doctor for treatment, yet despite all the effort, all the tests and all the medicines, Andrew continued to grow sicker. Her parents became desperate and worried.

The medical expenses have already exhausted all the couple’s savings and they had to sell their house and would have to move to a rented apartment. Despite what they’ve done, they still had no solution in sight for Andrew’s sickness. “What we need is a miracle,” Tess overheard her father cry in desperation to her mother. Tess decided she was going to buy a miracle for her brother!

Before going out of the house, Tess went to her bedroom and retrieved a jelly glass jar which was her piggy bank and where she had been saving all the coins. She counted them and all she had was one dollar and eleven cents. “This should be enough to buy a miracle,” she assured herself.

When she got to the pharmacy store, she saw that the pharmacist was busy talking with a well-dressed man. She patiently waited until the pharmacist could attend to her but the conversation was taking a very long time. Now, worried the night was drawing near and that she might not be able to buy her miracle, she finally felt she had to try to distract the pharmacist’s attention. Using one of her coins, she made a sound with it on the glass top of the store counter.

Clearly annoyed by the interruption, the pharmacist turned to her and, with a rather unfriendly voice, asked her “What do you want? Can’t you see I am talking with my brother who travelled all the way from Chicago and we have not seen each other for many years!”

Feeling frightened at being addressed so ungraciously, Tess manage to say “I want to talk to you about my little brother too. He is very sick; my daddy says he needs a miracle. I would like to buy a miracle from you. I think I saved enough money to buy a miracle.”

“What nonsense are you talking about? Buying a miracle!” the pharmacist exploded. Tess explained to the pharmacist, “My brother is really sick, and the doctor here could not make him well. Mother says my brother needs an operation but this cannot be done here. We are running out of money and daddy believes that only a miracle can help my little brother now.

The well-dressed man, that is the pharmacist’s brother, approached Tess and stooping down to her asked, “What is wrong with your brother?” Tess replied, “My brother Andrew has something bad growing inside his head and my daddy says that only a miracle can save him now. So how much does a miracle cost here?”

The well-dressed man smiled and asked her “How much did you manage to save?” She replied, “I have a dollar and eleven cents.”

The well-dressed man stood up and said, “If a miracle can save your brother, your money should be enough to pay for that miracle. Please take me to your brother and parents, and let’s see if we can have a miracle for him.” Taking him by the hand, Tess led Dr. Carlston Armstrong, a doctor from Chicago specializing in neurosurgery, to their home.

Dr. Armstrong examined Andrew and reviewed his medical records and later Andrew underwent the surgery he needed and not long after that he returned home, much improved and began to recover gradually. Dr. Armstrong did not charge the parents anything.

After the surgery that cost them nothing, the parents of Tess believed that it was really a miracle as they couldn’t imagine how they could pay for such a medical procedure. Tess herself believed it was her one dollar and eleven cents (which the doctor gave back to her parents) that saved her younger brother. Beyond all these thoughts and looking through the window of the reflection of this Sunday, we could say that Andrew was saved by the faith and the desirable work of his sister Tess, no more no less.

In life, whenever we stop having faith, we start failing. Faith confirms our trust in God and without it, we cannot please God. The Second Reading today (Heb.11:1-2.8-19) can rightly be called a hymn of faith while the Gospel Reading (Luke 12:32-48)  tells us about our eternal salvation which lies beyond the material consolations around us.

FAITH: The most deeply connecting definition of faith couldn’t have been any other than the one we have in the opening verse of the Second Reading today (Heb.11:1-2.8-19): “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Looking at this biblical definition of faith we could dictate two important things and they are, willful assent and trust. To assent is to accept fully and to trust is to rely on something or someone. These two dispositions summarize faith.

If we take a critical look at the story of Tess earlier, we could see the aforementioned disposition running through. She accepted the fact (without a doubt) that her one dollar and eleven cents would purchase the “miracle” her brother needed to get well. Next, she relied on the expertise of the pharmacist to provide the “miracle”. It was in the process of setting her faith afire that she found the real miracle which her money could not have ordinarily purchased.

There is also in faith a productive valence which has to do with steadfastness or if you like not giving up. Of course, faith cannot work without steadfastness. The examples we were given in the Second Reading indicated that the characters mentioned (Abraham and Sarah) lived by faith, by remaining steadfast and not giving up.

DESIRABLE WORKS: It was St. James whose exposition on faith made us know that faith without (good) work is dead (James 2:14-26). This actually moderates the view of some people who often assume that John 3:16  means that only faith alone can save us. Faith becomes effectual when it is applied in a concrete situation. For example Tess in our story not only believed that miracle could save her brother she actually went in search of the miracle.

The importance of good works in addition to faith is expressed more deeply in the Gospel today (Luke 12:32-48) which is actually a continuation of the narrative of last Sunday about the rich and selfish fool. The bane of the man in that parable was his inability combine faith with desirable works. In the Gospel today our Lord instructed his listeners to sell their possessions and give alms. This is a practical way of living out the Christian faith by actively being at the service of others. By using the material things of this world to gain eternal treasures for ourselves in heaven.

The Christian life should go beyond mere words and translate into action. It is not enough to answer a Christian, there is a need for us to act as one. Let us remember the origin of the name in Antioch when people saw the disciples reproducing Christ in their words and actions and thus called them Christians (Christ-likes).

SALVATION: When our Lord in the Gospel of today advised that we should  provide ourselves with purses that do not grow old he was telling us to aim at salvation. When he advised that we should be like men waiting for their master to return from a marriage feast in order to open when he knocks he was telling us to secure our salvation.

From the above instructions, we can see that salvation is not a facility that comes merely by having faith. Rather we use our faith to work out our salvation. For this reason, Paul advised that we should WORK OUT our salvation with fear and tremble (Phil.2:12). It will amount to waste if after passing through the corridors of this world we secure everything apart from our souls (Mark 8:36).

You don’t need to perfect before you start working your salvation. Come with your faith (no matter how little) and your desirable works and God will perfect all things.

Did you know that:

Abraham was too old and Sarah was far beyond the age of childbearing.        Jacob was a liar and actually stole his brother’s blessings. Moses stuttered and actually committed murder. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute. David’s armour didn’t fit and he had an affair. In spite of his, wisdom Solomon worshipped other gods at some point in his life. Job suddenly became poor and sick. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and made a lot of blunders. Zacchaeus and Matthew were tax collectors and public sinners. Paul was a persecutor of the Church and actually killed Christians. Timothy had ulcers. Lazarus was dead. Mary Magdalene was considered a public sinner.

All these people secured their eternal gain by faith and desirable works. God does not call for an interview to grant our salvation. He does not look at our gains or losses nor at our beauty and frames. He is neither partial nor prejudge us. He loves us the way we are. He needs us to have faith in Him because without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb.11:6). He also wants us to person desirable works as whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sister that we did unto God (Matt. 25:40).

Let us work with faith as we go on to perform good and desirable works which also includes doing the will of God so that we can secure our eternal salvation.

May your faith and desirable works bring about your salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

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 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 not an accidental change but a highly resplendent substantial change with a rapid succession of dramatic events.

The transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on the mountain has regrettably suffered comparative neglect in relation to other events of his life like the miracles. However, it stands at the midpoint of his ministry and as such very central. In the words of Michael Ramsey: “It represents a height from which the reader looks down on one side upon the Galilean ministry and on the other side upon the via crucis“.

  • Background to the Transfiguration.

The event of the transfiguration was reported by the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 17:1-3; Mk.9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36) as well as the apostle Peter (2 Pet. 1:16-18). In the Synoptic Gospels, following the succession of major events, the transfiguration took place about one week after the event at Caesarea-Philippi (Matt.16:13-17; Mk.8:27; Lk.9:18) where our Lord Jesus Christ asked the epoch-making and inter-related questions: “who do people say I am?” And “who do you say I am?” We could recall that the people said he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. And the apostles, through Peter, declared that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It is important to note here that Peter spoke from divine inspiration as our Lord pointed out.

The Next major event after the aforementioned event at Caesarea-Philippi was the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on the mountain. The event of the transfiguration has a lot do to with the Messianic question and declaration at Caesarea-Philippi. At Caesarea-Philippi our Lord asked the question “who do people say I AM” and at the mountain site of transfiguration the voice of God the Father gave the ultimate answer which confirmed the answer given by Simon Peter: “…My beloved Son in whom I AM well pleased”. Note that “I AM” is God’s name and “God” can actually replace I AM in the sentences above.

There is yet another event that suggested the occurrence of the transfiguration. In the Gospel of Luke (9:27) the verse before the narration of the transfiguration our Lord said that there are some here who will not taste before they SEE (not enter) the Kingdom of God. Now, what happened during the transfiguration was for the three disciples nothing less than a peep into the Kingdom of God. Pope Benedict would argue that there is a reason for placing this instruction just before the transfiguration.

The transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ was a very significant event that would leave us with a lot of didactic lessons. Firstly, It serves as a salutary encounter between humanity and divinity. In this encounter, the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ which was purposely veiled by his humanity was unveiled for the three privileged disciples: Peter, James, and John to see and to confirm their faith.

The transfiguration further raises our hearts and minds to the glory of heaven our eternal home. From the transfiguration, we have a confirmatory note showing that beyond the changes and chances of this world, there is an eternal home for us which, according to Simon Peter, is very pleasant to behold and to stay in.

We shall be paying attention to some salient resonances in the transfiguration event in what follows:

  • Ascent to the Mountain

Mountain is a very symbolic site in biblical imagery. They are mostly seen as places of extraordinary divine encounters. The two biblical figures that appeared during the transfiguration event had vivid and remarkable mountain experiences we can relate to.

Moses encountered God countless times on various mountains and actually received the Ten Commandment on mount Sinai (Ex.19:20-20:1ff; Ex.24:9). It was also from a mountain (Abarim) that he saw the Promised Land which he could not enter (Numbers 27:12-13). Elijah, on the other hand, had some power packed mountain experiences. It was on mount Carmel that he had a battle of superiority with the prophets of Baal (1 kgs. 18:1-40). Furthermore, God invited him for an encounter with Him at mount Horeb through the gentle wind (1 Kgs.19:11-13).

Mountain is not only a place of refuge (Psalm 125:1), it is also a place of divine presence, provision, and protection (Isaiah 25:6-8). Furthermore, our Lord Jesus Christ did most of his important teachings on various mountains like the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). He climbed the mountains to pray most of the time (Matt. 14:23; Lk.6:12; Lk.9:28). He was later crucified on mount Calvary and ascended from mount Olives. Considering the foregoing, the transfiguration could not have taken place in any other place than on a mountain.

Most scholars are divided about the name of the mountain where the transfiguration took place; Tabor or Hermon. However, there is a high probability that it could be Hermon because of its proximity to Caesarea-Philippi which is about fourteen miles. Furthermore, mount Hermon which the highest mountain in Israel (9,400 feet above sea level), is very easy to climb. They could have spent almost the whole day climbing and reached towards nightfall when the event could have taken place. We were told by Luke that Peter and the two others were feeling sleepy. Of course, they came down from the mountain the next day.

  • The Three Disciples

The number “three” is strategic in biblical symbolism. Apart from its relation to the Trinity, it gives us the idea of completeness. In “three” we have the beginning, the middle, and the end. In fact, most things have a tripartite representation for instance the human person (body, soul, and mind), matter (solid, gaseous, and liquid states), the universe (land, air and water).

It was from the Twelve that our Lord singled out the three namely, Peter, James, and John to accompany him to the mountain. This will not be the first time he would take them along for some private encounter. It was the case during the raising of the Jarius’ daughter (Luke 8:51) and at Gethsemane during the agony (Matt.26:36-37).

Our Lord took the three disciples not only because of their active roles in his ministry (as key holder and sons of thunder respectively) but also for the certification that requires two to three witnesses for any fact to be adjudged genuine (Deut.19:15; Matt.18:16). Later on in his epistle, St. John will tell us that there are three witnesses: the Spirit, Water, and Blood.

  • Moses and Elijah

Moses and Elijah are very important figures in the Old Testament. Moses received the Ten Commandment that forms the basis of our Christian morals and spiritual life till date. Elijah could be said to be the most highly rated Old Testament prophet on account of his amazing prophetic exploits and his unusual exit from the world with a celestial chariot.

In the narrative, our Lord Jesus Christ was having a dialogue with Moses who represents the law and Elijah who represents the prophets. Here we notice a palpable and dramatic confirmation of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that he came not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them (Matt.5:17). If he could engage in a discussion on his mission with the law and the prophet then there is every reason to say that there was no conflict.

The two Old Testament figures were there at the transfiguration to further strengthen the authenticity of the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ before the three human witnesses namely Peter, James, and John. The vision was so beautiful and exciting that Simon Peter could not but ask for an extension which was unfortunately not granted.

  • The Voice of God the Father.

From the beginning of creation, God the father has always being heard but not seen. The voice of God the Father came as the ultimate confirmation of the Messianic ministry and mission. This was not the first time God the father broke “protocols” to speak about the Son whom he loves so much. We saw this happening immediately after our Lord was baptized by John (Matt. 3:17).

This voice of God the Father was also heard the third time when our Lord Jesus Christ was praying in public before his passion (John 12:28). Here our Lord Jesus Christ asked God the Father to glorify His name and He responded saying that he has glorified it and would glorify it again.

At the site of the transfiguration, the voice of God the father directed that His beloved Son is listened to. We could ask by who? He was referring to us through the three disciples as well as also directing the law and the prophets to give way to our Lord Jesus Christ who ultimately fulfils them.

  • Learning from the Transfiguration.

The transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ makes a direct and continual call for our own transfiguration. Our lives need on-going transfiguration from the disfiguration of sin and disobedience. We need the resplendent light of the transfiguration to dispel the dark corners of our lives. We all ultimately need some transfiguration experience.

There is a general clamour for change. Parents demand it, teachers suggest it, preachers preach it, politicians promise it but often no dependable platforms are created for the change. Change cannot be effective if we do not have the facility to accommodate it. Transfiguration change will help us to transit from mundane concerns to heavenly preoccupation. To effect this, we must like our Lord Jesus Christ and the three disciples, leave the crowd at the foot of the mountain and advance to the clouds atop the mountain, the site of our transfiguration. There is thus need for us to make that move. There is the need for us to change our awful positions to some awesome ones.

May the power of transfiguration bring lasting and desirable changes in our lives. Have a rewarding celebration.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

BEYOND VAIN RICHES! HOMILY FOR THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

vain riches

Once upon a time, a kingdom was terrorized by a ferocious lion that kept killing people randomly. The situation became so unbearable that the kindhearted King  of the kingdom promised to give half of his kingdom to anyone who could kill the daredevil beast so that peace and calm could return to the land.

Immediately after the King’s pronouncement, most of the men from the kingdom took their fighting arsenals to search for the lion and to have it killed in view of getting half of the kingdom as the king promised. During the search, some of the men were killed by the lion, others sustained various degrees of injury while many ran away, However, one young man was skillful enough to monitor the lion for some days and discovered his tracks and his resting place. One day he went by himself and while the lion was resting he killed him.

The young man was overjoyed considering the promise of half of the kingdom. He quickly carried the huge lion on his back and started going home. On his way, he saw a grasscutter from a distant and dropping the lion, he took his bow and with one aim he killed it and took it. Further down the bush path, he saw a squirrel  and again using his bow and arrow he got it down and added it to the lion and the grasscutter.

He was about leaving the forest when he saw the nest of a very rare bird on a tree branch and he was sure that the bird was laying eggs and he dropped the animals he caught and climbed up the tree to collect the eggs. The bird flew away when he saw the man but came back for an attack to save the eggs. While the man was trying to scare the bird he missed his step and branch he was standing on broke and he felled into a deep ditch, broke his neck and died immediately.

After some time, another young man, who has also been involved in the hunt for the lion, came along and saw the lion and the other two dead animals but could not see anyone. He quickly picked the lion and ran straight to the King’s palace to announce that he had killed the lion. The King was deeply delighted and immediately fulfilled his promise of giving half of his kingdom to the young man and added a lofty title to his name,

The lesson from this story is as simple as the story itself. Often times the desire to have increased by having. Often times also this desire to have more could lead us to lose what we have already acquired. Contentment is a virtue that does not obey most people.

It is on account of this insatiable palpitation in most of us that the Preacher today in the First Reading (Eccles.1;2; 2:21-23) maintained that all is vanity whereof a man will work and toil with wisdom, knowledge, and skill while another man will enjoy the fruit of the toil. No matter how rich and wealthy anyone could be, it all ends at the moment of death. Hence, it is all vanity accumulating so much only to leave them at that point when we die. In spite of the vastness of their riches, the wealthiest men and women of the world (John D. Rockefeller and others) could still bow to death and leave their riches to others.

We have a more practical treatment of our theme of reflection in the Gospel Today (Luke 12:13-21). It began with a direct question from an unnamed person in the crowd who wanted our Lord Jesus Christ to tell his brother to give him his own share of their inheritance. His brother may have been there in the crowd. But our Lord gave an answer that showed the heart of the complainant beyond his complaint. His response to him showed the innermost personality of the man rather than his case.

After distancing himself from being the judge between him and his brother, our Lord instructed him, as well as the crowd (and all of us), to beware of all covetousness. Covetousness has to do with greed, grasping or excessive desire for material acquisition. To make his point more understandable, our Lord brought in a parable.

In the parable, a man was shown as being very successful in farming that he had more than his barns could contain. Faced with so much and little space for what he had acquired, he began to indulge himself with a monologue. In his intrapersonal discourse, he thought about pulling down his barns and building larger ones to commodate all he had acquired and then he would chillax and enjoy himself for many years. But that was the very day that God made a demand for his soul and all his plans ended abruptly.

The man in question did not get his riches by any evil means. He was blessed with a rich harvest as we were told; in fact, it was more than he expected. Where he got it wrong was his clear selfishness and covetousness. He did not remember those who might be in need with empty stomachs. He did not remember that there are neighbours whose barns were empty. He did not realise that God gave him so much so that he can feed so many. In his monologue, he was not even concerned about his family not to mention other people. Hear him again: “…And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”

The world would have been a better place if the wealth in the world could be shared according to needs not according to selfish aggrandisement. It is unimaginable the amount of wasted food that comes out of the homes of many rich people in the world and the number of poor people around the world who go to bed every day hungry. While some rich people are looking for newer destinations to spend their holidays in cosy resorts, most poor people in the world are searching for a legroom for the night.  Do we not still have many rich fools around us who prefer to expand their estates to giving a little comfort to few needy persons?

The man was rightly called a fool. It is foolish really to be materially rich and then fail to reach others. It is foolish to make plans for the soul without consulting the owner of the soul. It is foolish to make material expansion without a corresponding spiritual expansion. It is foolish to depend on the arm  of flesh while the heart is drawn away from God (Jer.17:5).

Riches and wealth come from God (Prov.10:22) and no one succeeds by his (her) own strength; it all comes from God (1 Sam.2:9). With these in mind, we ought to see riches as divine provisions to aid our eternal journey. This means that riches should not be allowed to master our lives; that is actually when they become vain. The Psalmist (62:10b) advised that when riches increase you should not set our heart upon them.

Beyond vain riches, we are called upon today to focus on the giver of riches; God Himself. St. Paul gave the following instruction to Timothy (6:17) and this is also very relevant to us in our day and age: “Command the rich of this world not to be arrogant or put their trust in the uncertainty of wealth. Let them rather trust in God who generously gives us all we need for our happiness”.

In the Second Reading today (Col.3:1-5; 9-11) St. Paul enjoined us to set our minds on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth below. material wealth and riches are below but God is above.

To focus on God in the midst of the riches around us is a direct call on us to be altruistic and charitable. Imagine if the rich man in the Gospel had said to himself: “I will give out the excess from my harvest to the poor and needy!” Do you think a demand would have being made of his soul that very day? On the contrary, God would have allowed him to live longer and blessed him more to give out more to others. When we share we represent and reproduce God who is the ideal giver and sharer.

As we march into the new week may we look beyond vain riches and reach God and our fellow human beings. More gracious days ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

NEVER GIVE UP! PRAY PERSISTENTLY AND PATIENTLY WAIT HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Persistence-in-Prayer1blog

Have you ever experienced failure while expecting success? Have you ever prayed and failed to get the response you anticipated? If you have experienced any of these in the past what was your next line of action? Give up? Run away? Get depressed? Blame yourself or someone? Before giving a personal answer(s)to these let me first tell you a true life story that is highly didactic.

Jane was one of the most brilliant students during her time in the Secondary School (High School) in Nigeria. It was not surprising that she emerged with a very outstanding result excelling in all the subjects she took. The next stage of her academic development was then to enter into one of the universities in Nigeria offering an engineering course.

When the time came Jane sat for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board Exams which is the precondition for entrance into Nigerian universities. Everyone awaited her result with unquestionable optimism. When the result came out it was deeply devastating that Jane could not make it up to the cut-off mark. Everyone including Jane blamed those who calculated her scores for being careless and inaccurate.

Jane took the next JAMB Exams and the result turned out to be worse than the first. This time, everyone began to ask further questions on various issues including Jane’s state of mind. The story did not end there as Jane took the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and the ninth JAMB Exams in quick succession and they were all bad news. In fact, after the fourth trial, her parents withdrew from assisting her and advised her to go and learn a trade and/or get married and forget about going to a university.

It was at the time Jane was trying to sit for the tenth time that I met her when she came to me for counselling. She was emotional as she recounted her fate and how she had to leave her home to stay with her aunt who had been helping her with accommodation and finance. I was moved by her unwavering faith that God will hear her one day and that she will never give up.

After a meaningful session that ended with some prayers Jane sat for the tenth JAMB Exams and this time she moved her first choice to medicine as the course of study and when the result came out she not only passed, she scored an outstanding mark that was a story for the news. As I am writing this reflection Jane is working in a hospital in Canada as a Surgeon and she is also married to a medical doctor and they have two lovely boys.

Failure is often the inability to try again, it is the proneness to call it quits and the action of giving up. In the First Reading (Gen 18. 20-23), we are presented with the dialogue between Abraham and God and how Abraham made persistent supplications to God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from imminent destruction on account of their grave sin that aroused the anger of God. In the spiritual dialogue with God, Abraham persistently prayed to God to spare the sin cities in six descending steps:

  • Abraham: Spare the city for the sake of fifty righteous people!

God: There are no such numbers of righteous people there.

  • Abraham: Spare the city for the sake of forty-five righteous people!

God: Forty-five righteous people do not exist in the city.

  • Abraham: What about forty righteous people could you spare the city?

God: I will not destroy the city if there are forty-five righteous people.

  • Abraham: Suppose thirty are found will you spare the city?

God: For the sake of thirty I will not but they are not to be found.

  • Abraham: What if twenty can be found?

God: For the sake of twenty I will not destroy the city.

  • Abraham: I beg your pardon, what about ten?

God: For the sake of ten I will not but there are no ten righteous people there.

There is in this prayerful dialogue a deep sense of persistence and patient on the part of Abraham. We all know that beyond the calamitous destruction he was thinking about his nephew Lot and his family. However, he was not selfish about them he wanted other people to be saved alongside his relations. The beauty of the narrative lies in Abraham’s persistent supplication whilst patiently waiting on God to take the final decision.

In the Gospel Reading (Luke 11:1-3), our Lord Jesus Christ was asked by one of his disciples to teach them how to pray like John taught his disciples and then our Lord graciously gave them a formula of prayer that we traditionally know as the Lord’s prayer. Immediately after teaching them the prayer he added that prayer should be backed up with persistence. Drawing from the narratives of the First Reading and the Gospel, we shall anchor the rest of this reflection on three centres of gravity: Prayer, Persistence, and Patience.

Prayer: Prayer describes our communication with God; it is at best the only way we can dialogue with God. Prayer was foundational to the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before launching into the ministry proper he spent forty days and forty nights in prayer and fasting (Matt.4:1-2). He often withdrew from people to pray by himself (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). He prayed for others (Luke 22:32; 23:34; John 17) and taught (us) how to pray (Matt.6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). He prayed before his passion and death (Luke 22:41-44, John 12:27-28). He also continued to pray until he ascended into heaven (John 20:22; Luke 24:30;

Prayer is a great facility we have from God but which we regrettably under use. There was an old poor woman who received the benevolence of a philanthropist who provided her with electricity since she did. After some time, it was observed that her house was always in darkness and the philanthropist sent someone to find out what was happening. The person came at night only to discover that the electricity was working but the old woman only uses it to see where her oil lamp is in her dark room and after lighting the lamp she would switch off all the bulbs.

We are very much like this old woman when it comes to prayer. Most of us pray only when there is an urgent need. When that need is over we continue to cruise through life without due attention to prayer. Prayer should be part of our daily life just like the food we eat. Prayer should be the following for us among other things:

  • Our powerful connection to the mightiest Power.
  • Our strength in our weaknesses.
  • Our comfort in sorrow.
  • Our weapon against sin and disobedience.
  • Our door to the health of soul, mind and body.
  • Our ladder to God.

In life, when we stop praying we start perishing.

Persistence: It was our Lord Jesus Christ who said that we need to pray ALWAYS and never lose heart (Luke 18:1). He made this statement while dealing with the theme of persistence in prayers. In the Gospel today, he enjoined us to be importuned in our prayer like the man whose friend came in the middle of the night to ask for something and who had to attend to him on account of his persistence beyond their friendship.

Persistence in prayer actually honours God because it demonstrates our dependence on Him. When someone keeps knocking at a door continuously there is a clear demonstration that there is something behind the door that is very valuable for the person knocking. This can also be applied to seeking and asking.

Persistence in prayer, like in the case of Abraham, is an invitation for us to remain in the game, never to give up or quit as quitters never win and winners never quit. To be more practical and truthful to ourselves, how committed and relentless are we in our prayers? Sometimes we believe that we have prayed enough. It is not how much prayers you have said over an issue it is about how consistent and persistent you are. Keep praying until you have no reason to pray again.

Patience: Waiting is often tiring and at times frustrating for many. However, the real fact is that we have to wait. Waiting is part of our humanity that is why we wait to be born after conception and we wait to grow and the rest of our lives would still go through the process of waiting for one thing or another. David reflecting on the theme of patience said, “be patient and wait for the Lord to act” (Psalm 37:7). In another place, he said, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). The book of Lamentation (3:25) tells us that the Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks him. And from the oracle of Isaiah (40:31) we are told that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.

Don’t Give Up: Yes giving up is the watershed of failure! Often that time you wish to give up is actually the right time for your liberation. Imagine what would have being the fate of Lot and his family if Abraham gave up when God mentioned that fifty righteous people cannot be found in the cities Sodom and Gomorrah.

Have you taken time to watch a toddler learning how to walk? Can you really count how many times the toddler has to fall and the persistence in rising again and walking again. The truth is that you can move to the next level. You can get to that place where you intend to be. Keep asking! Keep knocking! Keep seeking! Do not give up!

  • Paul tells you in Phillipian (4:13) that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. So
  • Angel Gabriel tells you in Luke (1:37) that nothing is impossible for God.
  • The book of Deuteronomy (31:8) tells you that God will go before you and be with you. He will not leave you or forsake you so do not be afraid or discouraged. So do not give up.
  • Paul tells you in 2nd Corinthians (4:8-9) that you may be hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted not abandoned, struck down not destroyed. So do not give up.
  • Our Lord Jesus Christ tells you in Matthew (11:28) to come to him all you that labour and overburdened and he will give you rest. So do not give up.
  • God tells you through Isaiah (41:10) not to fear for He is with you. He tells you not to be dismayed for He is God. he says that He will strengthen you, help you and uphold you with His righteous hand. So do not give up.
  • God tells you as he did to Joshua (1:9) to be strong and courageous. He tells you not to be frightened or dismayed for He will be with you wherever you go. So do not give up!

As you march into a new week remember to keep praying persistently and patiently wait God will surely give you an upgrading answer. Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

THE “MARY” AND “MARTHA” SYNDROME IN OUR LIVES: FINDING THE RIGHT EQUATION HOMILY FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Mary and Martha

There was this young man whom I came to identify as one of the few who would never skip the least Church activity. He was as constant as the North Star (Polaris) as far as attendance is concerned and punctuality was his trademark. I kept this observation to myself while relishing his placid commitment and devotion.

There came a time when I could no longer see him at mass and I became apprehensive. For one week he was absent in all the activities in the Church and I concluded that he travelled. While still wondering why he had to travel suddenly, I asked someone about him and I was told that he did not travel as he was seen around his neighbourhood. After mass that same day, I asked someone to lead me to the young man’s house.

On reaching to Gideon’s house I was told he was inside his rooming playing with his mobile phone. I took that to be a very simplistic reason for him not to attend mass. His mother who was surprised to see me in their house thanked me for the visit which she saw as providential. According to her, Gideon does not know any other thing to do with his fingers and time apart from clicking and swiping on the mobile phone with so much dedication that would last for hours.

When Gideon came out and I asked him why he had been obviously absent from the Church he openly confessed to me that he had been under the enslavement of Candy Crush Saga. Candy Crush Saga is a simple mobile game which involves the matching of coloured sweets yet it is highly mind-numbing and addictive. People spend so much of their productive time trying to reach new levels and by so doing buying new lives and boosters. According to a research reported by The Guardian, as much as 93 million people play Candy Crush Saga every day and the company behind the gaming app, the King digital Entertainment, makes not less than $800,000.00 every day.

This reflection started with the story of Gideon’s plight with Candy Crush Saga to demonstrate the on-going tension between our needs and our wants, between our spiritual needs and our material wants or more appropriately, between the “Mary” and the “Martha” syndrome in our lives. Have you wondered why most people are ready to keep awake all night watching action movies or chatting irrelevantly on various social networks but would find ten minutes of prayer so long and tiring? This is the “Mary” and “Martha” tension that will take our attention in this reflection as we examine and sort out the equation.

The First Reading (Genesis 18:1-10a), and the Gospel Reading (Luke 10:38-42) can best  be described as the twin towers of our reflection. In both Readings, we are presented with divine visitation on the one hand and human hospitality on the other hand. Here we see the encounter between the spiritual and the material and the equational balancing between the two. One is at the service of the other and not at disservice or detrimental to the other.

In the First Reading, we are told that God appeared to Abraham by the Oak of Mamre as he sat at the entrance of his house in the heat of the day. This can be summarized in few words as divine visitation. What could have been in the mind of Abraham whom God had promised that he will be the Father of a great nation (Gen.17:4) but still battling with having a child with his wife Sarah? It could have been one of those introspective moments filled with so many questions without tangible answers.

Beyond his situation, Abraham lifted up his eyes and looking ahead he saw three men standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran to meet with them. We were told earlier that the Lord appeared to him now we are presented with three men. This is one of the most descriptive biblical pointers to the Trinity. Abraham ran to them and requested to attend to them, in order words he offered hospitality as his human response to the divine visitation.

After giving them a sumptuous lunch which was hurriedly prepared, they stood to go but not without leaving a life changing message. The message seemed laughable as Sarah’s reaction indicated but it showed forth the fact that with God what is humanly impossible is divinely happenable. The message was that Sarah would have a son in the coming year. Many of us can actually connect with this promise even as this good news is being preached.

From the narrative, we can notice that Abraham responded willfully to God’s visit. Though he was tired and may be troubled but those were not excuses for him not to attend to people he perceived that they needed a human touch and attention. Abraham ran towards the divine and provided what he could afford and in appreciation, he was given what he was lacking. In order words, he went for his “Mary” (the spiritual; that is God) and with that he was able to receive his much awaited “Martha” (that is Isaac).

In the Gospel Reading today, our Lord Jesus Christ entered a village called Bethany (John 11:1) and a woman named Martha received him into her house. Here we notice a similarity with what Abraham did. Martha had a sister called Mary. Now Martha’s intention was to give our Lord an unforgettable meal and she went ahead to busy herself in the kitchen. However her sister Mary who appears to be the calm recollected type discovered that our Lord Jesus Christ came with another kind of meal, the word of God, so she sat by his feet like a truly committed disciple and listened to him as he gave those words of eternal life (John 6:68).

Martha was not pleased that her sister left her alone to do all the culinary chores as she complained bitterly to our Lord. Our Lord did not patronize her as he told her that she is anxious and troubled about many things but only one is needed and Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.

We could ask immediately what was it that Mary chose? The answer to this is within the context of the narrative. Mary chose the food of the soul above the food of the body. As Martha was consciously preparing the table for material food, Mary, on the other hand, went ahead to prepare the table of the soul for the spiritual food.

It should be established immediately that Martha was not wrong in her decision to prepare food for the August visitor just as Abraham did for his visitors in the First Reading. We all eat and the food we eat need to be prepared by someone. Where Martha got it wrong was her emphasis on the material food she was making as more desirable than the spiritual food that Mary was receiving. Are most of us not very much like Martha in our lives and conducts?

The “Martha syndrome” is still prevalent in our day and age.

  • Most of us are concerned about how to dress well externally and appear good to people than how to dress well inwardly and appear good to God.
  • Most of us are more interested in how many movies we have watched than how many meaningful verses of the bible we could read.
  • Our fingers are more proficient on our phones than on rosaries and on works of charity.
  • We spend so much time condemning and criticizing leaving no time for fraternal correction and appreciation
  • We are ready to go the whole day in gossips and vain interactions than spending few minutes in the presence of God.
  • Most of us pay strict attention to our diets and nutrition but have little or no regard for the diet and nutrition of our souls.
  • Most of us are caught up in INFOBESITY (information overload) about ways and things of the world (especially with modern technology) but are malnourished about the things of God. In fact, spirituality is gradually becoming a material for the archives for many people.

Today we are called upon to pay Regular Focused Attention (RFA) to the Mary part of our lives. This we can achieve like Mary in did the Gospel by listening to the word of God and putting it into productive  practice (Luke 11:28). If we place the Mary attribute first we can be sure that all the Martha we need will be given to us (Matt. 6:33). Let us not abandon the Mary for the Martha like Gideon did in our opening story with the Candy Crush Saga in place of mass and other Church activities.

One question each and everyone of us should ask ourselves and provide answer would be “What part have I chosen, Mary’s part or Martha’s part? 

Have an enriching Sunday and a great week ahead,

Fr. Bonnie.

  

 

“WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?” HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR

During the month of March 1993, a photojournalist, Kevin Carter went to South Sudan during the peak of the famine that ravaged the region to get some photo news. In the course of his duty, he saw a skinny and starving little girl who was also weak and frail struggling to reach the United Nations’ food centre where a plane just landed with some food supply. The little girl had no strength left in her and she stooped to the ground to rest. As she was doing this, a vulture emerged and stood very close waiting for the girl to die so that it could feed on her.

As this eerie drama was going on, Kevin Carter was busy adjusting the lens of his camera in a bid to get the best shot that would give the world a dramatic idea of the magnitude of starvation and child mortality in the South Sudan of the time. In fact, it took him about twenty minutes before he could frame that shot that went viral.

When the photograph appeared in New York Times on March 26, 1993, so many attentive minds began to ask questions as to what happened to the child and her vampire visitor after the wonderful photograph that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in April 1994 was taken.

Three months after the award, precisely on the 27th of July, 1994, Carter committed suicide when he could no longer live with the guilt of not actively giving a helping hand to a dying child. In an editorial on this event at the time, the Petersburg Times Florida had this to say:  “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”.

Our reflection today has as its point of departure, the question a lawyer asked our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel Reading today (Luke 10:25-37); “who is my neighbour?” We shall attempt to answer this question individually at the end of this reflection. Notably, the lawyer in question came to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask a test-oriented question, not a knowledge-oriented question. His initial question was:”what do I do to inherit eternal life?”.

First and foremost, we need to congratulate this man for his awareness of eternal life after this temporal life which is also fecund for inheritance. In answering the question, our Lord asked him what the law prescribed and the man answered correctly that the law prescribed the love of God and one’s neighbour as oneself (Deut.6:5; Leviticus 19:18). The aptness of his answer shows that he knew the answer before asking. Nonetheless, our Lord made him give the answer anyway and advised him to do likewise to inherit eternal life. However, the lawyer who had a hidden agenda went further to ask our Lord the question that forms our point of departure in this reflection: “who is my neighbour?”

To the above question, our Lord Jesus Christ answered with a parable which we traditionally know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man left Jerusalem and was travelling to Jericho but on his way, he got into the hands of armed robbers and he was beaten and dispossessed of all his belongings.

After the ill-fated experience, the man was left half dead by the side of the highway. A Priest passed by but could not help him as he took the other side of the road, the same with a Levite. It was a Samaritan man that stopped and helped him to an inn and paid for his treatment. After the parable, our Lord asked the lawyer who among the three proved to be a neighbour to the victim and he said the Samaritan and our Lord asked him to go and do likewise.

The lawyer knew the law but was lacking in the practice of the prerequisites of the law. This explains why our Lord instructed him to go and do likewise. It is one thing to know what the law says and another to put those things into action. It is on account of this that the apostle James said that faith without good works is dead.

Looking at the narrative closely, we can see that the traveller left Jerusalem  and was on his way to Jericho when he was attacked. Jerusalem actually means the city of peace. Here there is an indication of the fact the traveller left the place of peace which is the abode of God. In Ephesians (2:14) St. Paul stated clearly that God is our Peace. When we depart from the presence of God that brings peace we fall into trouble and turbulence. This was the experience of this man.

Now outside Jerusalem, he got into the trap of robbers. Spiritually this is a clear demonstration of the robbery that is mastered by the devil. John (10:10) made us understand that the enemy (the devil) has come to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY. And he is always prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet.5:8), especially those who have left the Jerusalem of God.

The man lost everything he had but his life was spared because God willed it. You may lose everything but if you are still breathing with life in you, there is a reason for you to believe that there are a future and a hope for you. (Jer.29:11). When God has not permitted your death you shall not die but live (Psalm 118:17).

Beaten, dispossessed, and helpless the man was left by the side of the road to die just like the little South Sudanese girl in our opening story. After a moment, a Priest and a Levite came along and seeing the man they took to the other side of the road. They were actually coming from the temple. Maybe the Priest would have preached the need to help the needy but now seeing the needy he took to the other side. He could give the excuse that he is not permitted to touch the dead like the Carter the journalist later said that they were asked not to touch the victims in South Sudan to avoid infection. The Levite who happens to be a helper to the Priest followed the example of his master and took to the other side of the road.

Often we give excuses as to why we should not care or give a helping hand. Often we tend to take the other side of the road to avoid being the Godsent, that hand, and that voice. On the other way however when we are in need, we would want the whole world to stand still and wait on us.

The game changer in the entire narrative was the Samaritan to whom today we add the adjective “good” to his name. His name was not mentioned but his geographical identity was mentioned. While the traveller, the Priest, and the Levite could have been Jews, this man was an outsider. He was not only different from the others by geography but also by his attitude towards the robbery victim.

In this Samaritan, we discover the person and mission of Jesus Christ who came so that we can have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10b). He came and took us from the roadside where the devil left us bitten and beaten and went ahead to dress our wounds. He took up our burden upon himself and healed our wounds (Isaiah 53:4-5). He went ahead to bring us into a place of restoration; the inn which represents the Church and gave two denarii which represent the word and the sacraments. He also promised to come again to check us out.

The question comes up here once more: “who is my neighbour?”. My neighbour is not just my roommate, my neighbour is not just my relation or friend, my neighbour is not just my housemate, my neighbour is not just the person next door. My neighbour goes beyond these. My neighbour is anyone who crosses my path in life. My neighbour is anyone who needs my support even as little as a smile. My neighbour is that person that is lying helplessly by the side of the road and who needs my supportive attention.

Often times most of us create unjustifiable barriers between ourselves and others on the basis of some differences. Often we consider others as poor and so unlike us. Sometimes we consider others as uneducated and so unlike us. Sometimes we consider others as unrelated to us by blood and social class. Any human being you meet irrespective of class, culture, and religion remains your neighbour. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God, humbled himself to the point of being human like all us and in fact our first born as St. Paul indicated in the First Reading (Col.1:15-20).

If Kevin Carter the photojournalist had understood the fact that the little skinny and frail child was his neighbour he would have dropped his camera to come to the immediate aid of the dying child who needed just a little food to live. Imagine the quantity of food that most of us throw away into the waste bin every day while millions of people go to bed every day without a meal, but these are our neighbours.

Today we are called upon to undertake an active review of our neighbourliness and how we handle it. There is a need for us to discard the attitude of selfishness and adopt selflessness towards our neighbour. The love for our neighbour is not an option but a commandment as the First Reading (Deut.30:1-14) indicated. We are also encouraged by the First Reading to pay attention to the voice of God and keep this commandment which is not mysterious or far away from us.

As we enter into the new week. let us continue to pay attention to the needs of others especially those who are lying there by the roadside of life and are in dire need of our attention. Let us end with this traditional hymn:

Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me!

  1. When I was hungry you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty you gave me to drink. Now enter into the home of my father.
  2. When I was tired you helped me find rest. When I was worried you calmed all my fears. Now enter into the home of my Father.
  3. When I was lonely, to me you did speak. When I was troubled you listened to me. Now enter into the home of my Father.
  4. When I was homeless you opened the door When I was naked you gave me your coat Now enter into the home of your Father.

Have a great week ahead and may your blessings increase as you attend to that neighbour.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

THE PLENTIFUL HARVEST VS THE FEW LABORERS (MISSION AND MISSIONARY ACCESSORIES) HOMILY FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C)

Harvest1

 

It is indeed regrettable that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. There is no shortage of people to hear the Good news. What is missing are (the right) people to spread it!”….Pope Gregory the Great.

Have you wondered why most companies and government establishments spend a lot of resources advertising for job vacancies? They also expend more resources to set up written tests and oral interviews for the few that are eventually shortlisted. All these are done by the employers in view of getting the right people to do the various jobs. Another instance could be in most families where house-helps and childminders are engaged though there could be people already there. When you have the right people working, efficiency is assured and productivity is increased. This is apropos to mission as we shall see in this reflection.

Last Sunday we heard about the call to the mission of Christ. Today we are going to be looking at the nature and nurture of that mission. Most significantly, our Lord Jesus Christ, on this day, sent out Seventy others after sending out the Twelve Apostle (Luke 9:1-6) to the places he was to go.

The number Seventy would remind us of the seventy Elders who were appointed to help Moses in the work of leading the people of Israel on their long trek to the promised land (Numbers 11:16-17). It is also very significant to note that he sent them out two by two. This is an indication to the fact that nobody does it alone like in the trinitarian union there is a need for community in functionality. Fellowship is therefore very crucial and important for every mission.

There are indeed many elements (missionary accessories) that are involved in this mission. A closer and more focused reflection on them will be very helpful to us for deeper understanding.

The Plentiful Harvest Vs The Few Laborers: When we were in the major seminary there was one of our priest formators who was known for his rare, deep and magnetic thoughts. One day while preaching this gospel he said, in the native Igbo language, “madu no madu ako“. That means that there are people yet people are lacking. Today, I can add to that by saying that though there are people, the right ones are lacking or to be more precise, as our Lord mentioned, they are few. In a similar episode in the Gospel of Matthew (10:1-11), we are told that our Lord saw a multitude of people looking like sheep without a shepherd and he said that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. He went ahead to send the Twelve (the right people) to minister to them.

The simple analysis from the foregoing is that our Lord saw a lot of people who were helpless and rudderless and he went ahead to send the right helpers and leaders to them. Like St. Gregory the Great mentioned many years ago, the challenge is not on the scarcity of those who should hear the word of God but the fewness of the right people who should preach the word to them. It is not about the dearth of consumers but the little number of serious and committed suppliers.

The emphasis on the right laborers is very important here. This is mostly because many people have not only called themselves to the mission, they are also operating it as a business venture. This is not only an aberration, it is at the same time destructive to the spiritual life of the believers who are consequently disoriented.

To make the matter clearer, a lot of people are out there in the harvest but only a few of them are laborers. The word laborer rings a bell. By definition, a laborer is an unskilled worker. In our context here, however, the laborer is one whose strength and skill come from God. The laborer is one whose help comes from God (Psalm 121:1-2) and not from some deceptive antics.

Before anyone is officially engaged in any work at all, the individual is usually given a defined work description. This was actually what our Lord Jesus Christ did today in the Gospel as he took the time to give the Seventy missionaries some detailed missionary description as well the desirable expectations. An insightful look at these will be most fitting.

  • You will be like lambs in the midst of wolves (But God will be your protection-Psalm 91:1).
  • Carry no Provisions. (God will provide-Gen.22:14)
  • Salute no one on the road. (Do not be distracted-1 Cor. 7:35)
  • Pray Peace upon them. (Peace is foundational to the mission -John 20:21-22)
  • Do not perambulate from house to house (Be steady and focused-Col.3:2)
  • Eat whatever that is set before you (Do not worry about food- Matt. 6:31)
  • Heal the sick and announce the coming of the kingdom. (The world needs both physical and spiritual healing and the kingdom of God is the goal of the mission-Matt.6:10).

After their missionary activity, the seventy came back rejoicing on account of the success they recorded. The true joy of the mission is not on the material returns or the fame that is recorded. The true joy ought to be based on the fact that souls are saved and the devil is defeated. Furthermore, the joy of the mission is also relevant for the salvation of the one carrying out the mission. It will be preposterous, pitiable, and eternally painful to save other souls while leaving one’s soul unsaved (Mark 8:36).

It is very evident that the names of the Seventy that were sent after the Twelve were not mentioned. This is a clear indication that those Seventy represent all of us who by virtue of our baptism are called to mission. Wherever you find yourself, be it in or outside your home, you are a missionary. Hence, we are all missionaries because we carry Christ in us and we ought to be conformed to him. Like St. Paul mentioned in the Second Reading today (Gal.6:14-18), the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to be in us. We bear the marks of Christ as missionaries which are not only joyful, luminous, and glorious but also sorrowful.

As we march into the new week, let us be conscious of the fact that our words and actions could add or remove from the essence of the mission of Jesus Christ to which we are called. Furthermore, let us pay particular attention to the missionary work descriptions.

Finally, let us pray, as the Lord challenged us, for more commitment to the mission especially in our world that is increasingly becoming secular with most young people who are supposed to be in mission showing so much disinterest.

Have a great week and a blissful Sunday.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

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