Fr Bonnie's Reflections

THE GOSPEL OF LOST AND FOUND HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

lostandfound

Have you ever lost anything that is very precious to you; just anything? There are some legendary stories about lost items that were found after so many years. A Georgian resident, Burton Maugans lost his wallet while water-skiing and the same wallet was found after twenty-four years by the shore in North Carolina with his driver’s license and other ids intact. Years ago, a professor ordered an old book, and it turned out to be the same book he lost four years earlier.

There are other stories of people who got missing and were found after many years when their families and friends had presumed that they were dead. The experience of losing our possessions probably starts from childhood. You could remember those times you misplace your toys or other tiny properties, and you cry and want the entire world to stand still until you find them. The joy of finding lost things often transcends the pain of losing them.

To sin is to Get Lost

One of the destructive effects of sin is that it cuts us away from God (Isaiah 59:2). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel of John that when we are cut off from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). The First Reading (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14), narrates the dialogue between Moses and God on Mount Sinai where God tells Moses about His displeasure over the sins of the people and His plan to blot them out entirely and raise another nation through him.

God was telling Moses that the people strayed from Him due to their evil mind and obduracy. To stray is another way of saying that they got lost by following the desires of their hearts, namely, making a molten calf and worshipping it. Reacting to God’s decision to wipe away the people, Moses pleads and reminds Him of His oath of abundant blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord reacts to the complaint of the Pharisees and the Scribes about his closeness to tax collectors and sinners; in fact, they said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Typical of our Lord Jesus Christ, he appeals to the power of parables to give them a great answer, in this case, he rolls out three interconnected parables that dwell on the theme of lost and found.

The first parable talks about a single sheep straying from a fold of a hundred sheep and how the shepherd left the ninety-nine in the desert to look for the lost one. The story can only make sense to us when we see it as a parable, not a real event because leaving ninety-nine sheep in the desert to look for one strayed one appears preposterous. From the illustrative point of view, what is essential is the lost sheep that needs rescue.

In the second parable, our Lord talks about a woman with ten coins losing one and how she would light a lamp and search the house carefully until she finds it. The more exciting part of it is that calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her over the lost and found coin.

The woman could be a widow and childless as there were no indications of husband and children. Furthermore, the money appears to be very important to her as she couldn’t wait till dawn to look for it. Finding it, she could not keep quiet; in fact, her neighbors and friends had to lose some sleep to rejoice with her. Our Lord’s concluded this parable by linking the event to how heavens rejoice when the lost (sinner) is found.

While the first two parables talk about an animal and an inanimate object, respectively, the third parable talks about a lost human being. While in the first two parables the owners go in search for them, in the parable of the lost son (also known as the prodigal son), the lost person comes back on his own and makes himself available to be found after coming to his senses.

We are like the Lost Sons

For the everyday reader of third parable in Gospel today, there seems to be one lost son, but an active reading would show that the parable is also about the older son who became lost when his brother was found.

The parable tells us that the younger son comes to his father to ask for his share of his estate. His father was not dead, and he could only have a share if it appears on the father’s will. The younger son’s request was totally out of order. Contrary to everyone’s expectation, the father did not resist; he divided all he had into two and gave him one part and getting his things together; he travels to a distant country.

The country is called distant or far (as some other translations would say) because it represents a disconnection with the father. To be in a distant country is to be lost and nothings subsist in a distant country. The Book of Proverbs (21:16) says that a man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead. The latter explains the plight of the younger son as the distant country goes into recession, famine, and hunger.

The turning point was when the younger son comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father and apologize for his mistakes and misdeeds. It was on his way back that his father sighted him and runs to welcome him back to his house and goes further to restore his lost status and privileges.

However, the flip side of the narrative shows that the older son was not happy that his lost brother was found, so he decides to stay away from the return-party in honor of his missing brother that was found. At this point the older son switched places with his brother; the lost was found, and the one who was not missing got lost.

Moving Forward!

The parables point to the fact that sin takes us away from God; we become lost when we make wrong decisions and choices that disconnect us from God and take us to a “distant country.” They also tell us that God is continuously in search for us as He does not take pleasure in the death of the lost (Ezekiel 33:11).

The second point of the third parable is that we could sin not only by outright commission like the younger son but also by some prideful attitudes like that of the older son. If we take a closer look at the words and actions of the elder son, we will discover that he already judged and condemned his younger his brother. The last thing he would like to hear is that his lost brother is found alive and would regain what he lost by his disconnection from the father.

As we march into the new week we are invited to come to our senses like the younger son and to find our way back towards the Father as He would receive us to Himself and restore all we have lost by straying away. Furthermore, we are invited to pay attention to our attitude to others whom we tag as unrighteous. Often our disposition in our so-called righteousness could make us worse than those we label as sinners.

God bless you and have a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

CO-TRAVELING WITH JESUS VS FOLLOWING HIM HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

following-jesus

On one occasion while in the seminary, I was traveling from Owerri southeast Nigeria to visit one of my sisters in Abuja, northcentral Nigeria. Arriving at the bus terminal, I met a lady with two young boys clad in their school uniforms. The lady coming to me asked if I was traveling on the bus that was about to depart, and I answered in affirmation. Then she said, “can I ask for a favor?” I nodded, and she asked if I could kindly keep an eye on the two boys (her kids) as they were traveling back to school for the first time by themselves and she felt like handing them over to someone, and she thought I could help.

Fast forwarding, I accepted the lady’s request, and she was overjoyed when I introduced myself as a catholic seminarian, and the kids were returning to Loyola College, a catholic school in Abuja. One thing that touched me and doubled as the reason for this story was her final words to her kids before kissing them goodbye. She said to them, “follow him (that is me) and do whatever he tells you throughout the journey.” Like a typical Nigerian mother, she repeated the instruction three times while pulling the lower part of her ears with both hands for emphasis.

Reflecting on that event in the context of the Gospel Reading today (Luke 14:25-33), it strikes me that the greats crowds were merely traveling with Jesus and not committing to becoming followers of the Lord. For the latter reason, our Lord turns to them and says, “if anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Co-travellers Vs. Disciples

Each time we travel, we meet other people traveling on the same route as us. Often, the only relationship we have with them is that of being on the same bus, car, ship, airline, etc. At the end of that journey, we may not meet most of them again. On the contrary, when we have family, friends, or colleagues with us, we tend to share a relationship of support and dependence during the duration of the journey.

In the opening story of this reflection, one would observe that the two young students had many co-travelers in the bus, but through the counsel of their mom, they could look up to me and follow my instructions throughout the journey. On the way to Jerusalem, our Lord had lots of co-travelers or crowds, but he insists on making it clear that there is something more precious than being a co-traveler.

Discipleship is all about Detachment and Commitment to the Lord

It is most regrettable that some Christians are mere co-travelers instead of committed disciples. Our Lord made it clear that anyone who wants to follow him must go through a process which involves detachment from self and close relations (1 Cor. 7:29-31), carrying one’s cross, building up oneself (Jude 1:20), and being battle-ready (Eph. 6:11-17).

When our Lord says, one should hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and one’s own life he meant that we should love them less compared to our love for God which should be more. Our Lord’s message is very appropriate for us in our day and age, where most of us prefer the things of the world to heavenly values. St. James would advise us that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).

Carrying our cross every day to follow the Lord calls for commitment and consistency in our Christian life. Christianity is not just a religion; it is a way of life and living the Christian life without the cross is like making a caricature of the redemptive event of the Lord at Calvary. The cross is not a conclusion of our life but the gateway to our glorious crown in heaven. St. Paul tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).

As we march into a new week, let us remember that it is not enough to travel with the Lord amid the vast crowd. He wants us to identify ourselves as committed disciples by our avowed detachment, the conscientious building of our faith in love and the courage to fight the battle with the confidence that He who started a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

THE WINNING POWER OF HUMILITY HOMILY FOR THE 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

 

be thou humble or humbled

Humility is central to all the virtues, just as pride is the heartbeat of all vices. To be humble means to be modest in all things by keeping to one’s position and not seeing oneself as better than others. According to C.S, Lewis humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.

Richard Paul Evans, in his book “The Tower,” tells the story of a young man who wanted to become the greatest in his community. To achieve his intention, he builds a wooden tower reaching towards the skies and sitting there; he would be looking down on everyone. One day a bird comes around to tell him that there is an older woman in the community who is higher than him and everyone is going to see her.

The young man descends from his wooden tower and sets out to search for the older woman only to see that what she does is to feed a flock of birds and people come all over to see her. The woman later tells the young man that greatness is not about being above others but by lifting them. Jesse Jackson would support this in his statement that says, “never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” Mother Teresa did not achieve greatness through some prideful performances but her humble service to the poorest in the slums of Calcutta.

Humility: Keeping to your God-given Position

The First Reading today (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29) begins with the instruction to conduct our affairs with humility much as God favors the humble. Humility, according to the passage, restricts us from seeking after things that are beyond us.

Furthermore, in the Gospel Reading today (Luke 14:1, 7-14), our Lord Jesus Christ reinforces the discourse on humility with the parable of a wedding banquet where people scramble for places of honor. The irony is that those who aspire to rise to places of honor would face the humiliation of demotion to lower seat while those who sought for lowly positions would be upgraded to higher positions, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted”  (Luke 14:11). St. Paul tells us that through humility our Lord Jesus Christ was exalted and given the name above every name such that every knee bends and every tongue confesses at the mention of his name (Phil. 2:6-11).

The back story to the parable is our Lord’s careful observance of how people were scrambling for positions of honor at a dinner in the home of one of the leading Pharisees. People who struggle for positions have one common thing in mind, and that is the desire to be above others and lead the parade; in other words, it is the struggle for supremacy which intimately connects to pride.

Pride takes us away from God, but humility brings us closer to Him. St. James makes it more explicit, quoting the Book of Proverbs (3:34) when he says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). True worshippers of God are typically humble because one needs to bend very low to jump higher.

Moving Forward: There is no Spiritual Growth without Humility

The Book of Genesis tells us that God created the man from the soil of the earth and breathed upon him, and he became a living being (Genesis 2: 7). The Latin root of the word soil is “humus,” and from that root, we have the word “human” as well as the word “humility.” Looking at this etymology very carefully, we understand that God not only created us from the soil but also wants us to keep our lives as lowly as the soil base.

Notice again that after fashioning the man from the soil, he was lifeless until God breathed on him. Here, we understand that our lives amount to nothing without God. For the fact that we depend on God’s provision of the air, we continuously need for survival should be enough to move us to humble submission to Him.

Humility is key to our communication and connection with God; it is the quickest route to the heart of God. If pride goes before a fall, then upliftment comes after humility. The liturgy of the word today invites us to reappraise our humility quotient. There is a critical need to think about ourselves less. We need to restrain ourselves from the undue projection of ourselves while degrading others.

Life is not just about us and what we want. Humility is priceless and godly. It helps us to pray well, love more profoundly, and to serve with joy. The best thing you can do for yourself today is to resolve to pull down the walls of pride and to follow the route of humility though it may not be as rosy and secure as the lofty but destructive steps of pride.

May we end this reflection with St. Paul’s instruction to the Philippians (2:3), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourself.” Have a glorious Sunday and a graceful week ahead.

Fr.Bonnie.

    

 

THE SAVING POWER OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Divine Discipline

Why are some people more successful in life than others? Some people may say it takes determination, others would talk about hard work, and still, others would mention thinking and acting outside the box. These are beautiful answers. However, Al Tomsik would say that success involves tons of discipline. What then, is discipline?

Discipline as a verb refers to the way of training people to observe some rules and codes of conduct. It could sometimes involve using punishment to correct someone, but that is not the goal. The purpose of discipline is to make someone to comply with rules and regulations which would potentially benefit the life of the individual.

Without discipline, life would be a harvest of chaos as it involves the right ordering of persons. Discipline could be self-dependant when it requires a conscious personal effort to live one’s life in compliance with some social and moral norms. In his First Letter to the Corinthians (9:27), St. Paul mentions that he disciplines his body to keep it under control.

Discipline could also come from parents and teachers. The Book of Proverbs (13:24), says that those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them. St. Paul advises the fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instructions of the Lord. Teachers and coaches apply discipline by making their students do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want in life.

Divine Discipline at the Service of Salvation

At this point, our attention turns to divine discipline; in other words, the correction and training that comes from God. The Second Reading today (Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13) quoting the Book of Proverbs (3:11-12) tells us that we should not disdain the discipline of the Lord because He disciplines whom he loves. We encounter the same statement from the Books Revelation (3:19) where the Lord speaking in the first person says, “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”

From the Lord’s statement above we begin to understand the saving power of divine discipline. Divine discipline refines us as raw gold gets refinement after passing through fire. The First Reading today (Isaiah 66: 18-21) tells us that God knows our works and our thoughts. Through God’s pervading knowledge and refinement, he sets apart some of us to come into His service as priests and Levites.

In the Gospel Reading (Luke 13:22-30), an unnamed person on our Lord’s route to Jerusalem asked if only a few people would be saved. Our Lord’s answer to this question has everything to do with discipline, “strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”  Why? To enter through a narrow gate would require that one repackages oneself; otherwise, the entrance would be difficult. Repackaging, in this sense, means openness to both self and divine discipline.

Moving Forward: The Disciplined shall Enter!  

A closer look at the later part of the Gospel shows that those who refrain from the needful divine discipline would not gain entrance into the heavenly banquet after the master of the house (the Lord) rises to lock the door. Here we notice that God gives us time to enter through the narrow gate; in fact, He sits and waits for us to repackage ourselves for entrance.

When the door closes, the narrative tells us that those who are excluded would knock and beg using familiarity with the Lord as an argument to gain entrance. Contrary to their expectation, the Lord would deny knowing them nor where they come from; in fact, he would even call them evildoers.

We learn from the Gospel passage today that those who would enter God’s abode would be those who strive to go through the route of discipline by entering through the narrow gate. Entrance through the narrow gate would entail humility because those who humbly themselves would be exalted (Matt. 23:12b).

Those times when you go through episodes of sickness, loss of a job, relationship breakdown, and other forms of afflictions could translate to your season of divine discipline. At those moments of disappointments, instability and weakness do not give up. Remember God’s consoling words to St. Paul at the prime of his session of divine discipline, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

As we march into a new week, may we strive to be docile to the Lord’s discipline by walking with him wherever he leads us. The road and gate may be narrow, but the destination would be eternally comforting. Have a blessed Sunday and a glorious week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

UNDERSTANDING THE LORD’S FIRE OF DIVISION HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

 

I CAME NOT TO BRING PEACE

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

There lived in an ancient Chinese kingdom wise and amiable king. As he was getting old and sickly, he started to worry about who would succeed him as he had no child. One day, he invites a select group of young men from various locations in the kingdom to the palace.  Giving each of them a peculiar seed, he tells them to return to the palace after one year so that he could evaluate who groomed the best plant from his seed and who would succeed him as the king.

After three months Wei, who happens to be among the group, could not see any sign of life from the seed as kept watering it and exposing the plant container to sunlight. Checking on the other young men, he observed that their seeds were growing into magnificent plants, and some were even developing bright flowers.

Wei thought about giving up, but his mon tells him to keep up with watering the seed and hope for the best. Ten months after, Wei did not see any sign of growth, but he would not give up as he continued to water the seed and doing all he could to provide the best conditions for possible germination.

Soon it was the twelfth month and the day of the king’s assessment dawns. Wei stood at a hidden side of the palace watching as other young men arrive with their colorful plants. The king later arrives at the venue and begins to inspect the plants. Coming to Wei, he sees an empty pot and inquires from him what happened. Replying, Wei, almost in tears, tells the king that he did all he could to water the seed and expose it to sunlight, but no success.

After listening to him, the king turns to everyone and pointing to Wei; he says, “Behold your new king. I gave all of you boiled seeds to plant, but he is the only one that planted it, the rest of you exchanged theirs with other seeds. Wei is the only one that qualifies to rule the kingdom after me for his honesty and integrity”.

According to Thomas Jefferson, honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. Honesty is a virtue that often functions in provoking the minds of the dishonest. In the First Reading (Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10), the prophet Jeremiah faces push backs from the princes of the kingdom because of his distinguishable honesty and integrity with the word of God. He preferred to die than to conform to the pattern of the time, which involves hiding the truth and telling king Zedekiah all he needed to hear.

The Lord’s Version of Peace vs. the Peace of the World

The Gospel today (Luke 12:49-53) presents a very worrisome situation as our Lord Jesus Christ declares, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” In another place he says, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…”

One would marvel at these statements as they seem to contradict the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth. The prophecy of Isaiah (9:6) tells us, among other things that Jesus Christ, who is the subject of the oracle, is the Prince of peace. At his birth, the nativity angels sang, “Glory to God on high and peace to people on earth” (Luke 2:14). Rising from the dead and visiting the apostles behind locked doors, the risen Lord greeting says to them twice, “peace be with” (John 20:19-21).

On a more profound reflection, one would discover that there is no contradiction in what our Lord said in the Gospel today compared to the passages on peace we have above. We find the key to understanding the Lord’s version of peace in the Gospel of John (14:27b), “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 discover that the peace our Lord Jesus Christ gives is different from that of the world. The peace of the world is all about conformity to what people want and political correctness. The peace of the world is a respecter of ranks and positions like the one the princes wish to Jeremiah to profess.

Moving Forward: Receiving the Lord’s Fire of Division

Lord’s fire will bring division between those who would accept the message and values of the kingdom of God and those who would refrain from receiving them. Our Lord starts his reflection on the potential division arising from the message of the Gospel beginning in the family, which is the basic unit of the society.

The Gospel today invites us to be intentional about where we need to stand like Jeremiah, who took a stand despite the threat to his life. The book of Sirach (2:1) tells us that every decision to serve the Lord would come with readiness for an ordeal. In the Second Reading today (Heb. 12:1-4), the writer tells us to persevere in the race keeping our eyes fixed on our Lord Jesus Christ and like Jeremiah, he can send an Ebed-Melech to rescue us from the pit of destruction.

Like Wei in our opening story, we need to have an honest grip on the truth even when our position is contrary to the rest of the people. Our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us today that we need to swim against the current, and that was what he accomplished for us on the cross. Our faith in God should be able to challenge both family and societal norms. And we always need to make our stand clear.

May God’s supportive grace be with you always as you stand the test of your faith like Jeremiah. Have a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

UNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS OF FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Have-faith-but-don’t-forget-to-be-faithful

Let me tell you the story of the empty chair. A priest comes to see a very sick senior man after receiving a call from his daughter for a visit. Entering the room, the priest sees an empty chair beside the man’s bed, and he says, “Oh, you know about my visit, and you even have a chair ready for me?” Replying, the sick man tells the priest to close the door and come closer.

Leaning forward, the sick man tells the priest that the chair is not for him but God’s chair. He explains saying that he has always doubted the power of prayer until one of his friends tells him that he should pray with faith believing that God is as close as someone sitting beside him and listening.

The sick man concludes by saying that he has come to believe not just that his friend said it because he feels the presence of God on that chair each time he prays to Him. He further adds that he is always careful not to be laud when he talks to God on the chair because his daughter would think that his sickness is getting to his head.

The priest could hardly say anything in response to the man’s overwhelming narrative about the empty chair, in his mind, he thought, “I think I should do more about my faith.”

After that, the priest said the prayer for the sick over him and encouraged him to continue his interaction with God on the empty chair. Two days after, the daughter calls the priest to tell him that his dad passed, but one thing she could not understand was why he chose to die leaning on that chair in his room. But the priest could tell!

Today, the readings draw our attention to the virtues of faith and faithfulness. For a very long time, most Christian teachers, Bible scholars, and theologians confuse these interrelated terms by ascribing the same meaning to them. Faith is not the same as faithfulness, but they complement each other to form a perfect Christian life.

Faith is not Faithfulness

The eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews serves as one of the significant resources for the explanation of faith in the Bible. The Second Reading today (Heb. 11:1-2,8-19) begins by giving us a beautiful definition, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” The passage describes what faith entails with Abraham, who followed God, not knowing the final destination. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that faith is a gift from God; a supernatural virtue infused by him (CCC. 153). When we have faith, we believe before we understand not the other way.

Faithfulness, on the other hand, is our faith response to God in obedience. It means adherence to God’s direction. If we should go back to Abraham, we understand that he believed God when He asked him to leave his father’s house to a place God would show him though he did not know the location. (Genesis 12:1 ff). Going further, Abraham accepts God’s directive to sacrifice his son Issac; at this point, Abraham shows his faithfulness; in other words, he expressed in concrete action the faith he has in God.

Furthermore, faithfulness relates closely to doing the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing. The Book of Deuteronomy (32:4) says that God is faithful and does no wrong.

Moving from Faith to Faithfulness

If we liken faith to the computer software, faithfulness should be the hardware, and both are essential for optimal functioning. We have already mentioned that faith is a supernatural gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Faithfulness, on the other hand, is the fruit the Holy Spirit in our lives building on the faith we have (Galatian 5:22). God wants us to move from faith to faithfulness because He is faithful (1 Cor.1:9). Put in another way; God wants us to make our faith actionable.

While the Second Reading makes references to the faith of Abraham and the other patriarchs, in the Gospel Reading (Luke 12:32-48), our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about faithfulness using the analogy of servants who await their master’s return from a wedding and ready to open the door when he knocks. Explaining the parable further after the question of Peter, our Lord makes it clear that the faithful servant is the one whom the master finds active when he returns; the one who adheres and obeys.

From our Lord’s instruction, we understand that our faithfulness confirms our faith. It is not enough to answer a Christian; it is also essential for us to practice the Christian life. We often profess faith in God, but when we face critical times, we lose the consciousness of our faithfulness to him. St. Paul says, “ If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful for He cannot deny himself.”  (2 Tim. 2:13).

Moving Forward!

The parable of the servants waiting for the return of master helps us to understand that our titles and positions would become irrelevant if we do not respond to the call to be faithful. It is clear from the narrative that our faith should go beyond our emotional exclamations and show itself in how we respond to God. St. James was right when he mentions that faith without good works is dead (James 2:14-26). We could also say that faith without faithfulness is inadequate in the Christian life.

As we march into a new week, let us continue to look forward to the grace of God to assist us in the constant growth in our faith and faithfulness to God. God is still searching for faithful men and women (Psalm 12:1; Prov. 20:6). May God bless you and grant you abundant blessings in the week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.    

THE TWO MISTAKES OF THE RICH FOOL HOMILY FOR THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

 

THE RICH FOOLOne of the weirdest and scariest pieces of belonging I have seen in someone’s home is a gorgeous coffin. When I asked why he has a coffin in that part of his house that leads to his bedroom, he says to me, “Father, that coffin is for my funeral. It reminds me daily that it would be the only property in this house that would go with me to the grave. I see it when I go out and when I come back to my bedroom, and it also reminds me that nothing matters on earth!”

Unlike the man in the opening of our reflection, we often think less of the end of earthly life as we allow many things to overwhelm us in our struggle for material success. In the First Reading today (Eccles. 1:2; 2:21-23), the Preacher tells us that all things (physical struggles) are reducible to vanity as people labor till death only to leave their wealth for others who did not work for them.

The Gospel Reading (Luke 12:13-21) would form the base of our reflection. The narrative tells us that an unnamed man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” It would be helpful for us to look back at what our Lord Jesus Christ was saying to the crowd before this startling question.

At the beginning of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke when the crowd gathered by their thousands, our Lord speaks first to his disciples and warns them to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He further points out that everything hidden would come to light. The next teaching talks about being fearless in the face of persecutions and being able to defend one’s faith against all the odds. He ends by encouraging boldness and reliance on the help of the Holy Spirit.

Looking at the topics preceding the question from the man in the crowd, one would wonder what was going on in his mind. It could be that his brother was a disciple of Jesus or someone in that crowd. The man may have thought that he has the best opportunity to confront his elder brother leveraging the presence of our Lord at that location. In another way, the man was telling Jesus to abuse his power as a spiritual teacher to arbitrate over family property. His request has nothing to do with our Lord’s teaching, so, he brings up an unconnected topic which turns out to be an opportunity for our Lord to confront his inner struggles and to instruct everyone else.

Answering the man, our Lord starts by telling him that he is neither the judge nor the arbitrator of their property; in order words, his question has no eternal or salvific value. Going further, he says to the crowd, which includes the man, “take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Our Lord’s answer shows us that the man in the crowd was struggling with an obsession with material wealth, and the parable that follows confirms this assertion.

In the parable, our Lord talks about a farmer who had a bountiful harvest which outran his storage facility and he asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”. Here we have a simple question but let us examine the answer he gives. “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” There I shall store all my grain and other goods, and I shall say to myself.  Now, as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry”.

From the monologue of the prosperous farmer, we see the wisdom of his question as well as the foolishness of his answer, which became his final decision. Often in life, we ask this question, “what shall I do” however, like this rich man we become foolish by our choice of answer and what we do afterward. We shall examine the three defaults of the rich man that made him a fool in the estimation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His Greedy Attitude

The word greed also means covetousness, and it refers to an excessive and unsatisfying desire for material wealth or gain. The powerhouse of greed is selfishness or self-centredness. It is often easy to dictate selfish people when they speak because of their constant reference to self. In the short monologue, we could see the rich fool making references to self about fifteen times. Notice that he did not think about his family, neighbors, friends, and those who are not as successful him. It was all about what he wants, feels, and what would give him happiness.

Selfishness, which is the same as self-seeking is contrary to the word of God. St. Paul tells the Corinthians in his First Letter that no one should seek their good, but the good of others (1 Cor. 10:24). St. John makes it more practical in his First Letter when he asks how the love of God could subsist in anyone who has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them. Finally, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans says that there will be anger and wrath against the selfish (Romans 2:8).

The attitude of Ingratitude to God

There is a clear-cut attitude of thanklessness in the life of the rich fool in the Gospel today. The rich man could have been wise enough to ask, like David, “How can I repay the Lord for His goodness to me” (Psalm 116:12). Instead of focusing on the Lord God who provides the seed for sowing (2 Cor.9:10) and the rain (Matt. 5:45), he turns to himself believing that it is all about his efforts; the size of his barn and not the size of God’s providence.

In the story of the rich fool, we cannot identify any instance of gratitude to God; rather, he has fantasies about himself being at ease and having lifetime merriment. How could he be at ease without the endorsement of his creator? Often, we think we own ourselves, and we forget that someone knows our end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

The rich fool could not remember or did not know that thanksgiving should follow every experience of divine multiplication. The attitude of gratitude is what God demands from us. Psalm (50:14) says, “Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High. In the Gospel of Luke (17:13-18), our Lord Jesus Christ praises the Samaritan among the Ten Lepers for the simple fact of coming back to say, “thank you.” St. Paul tells the Ephesians (5:20) to give thanks to God in all things.

Moving Forward: Going Beyond Riches and Reaching Out

The rich man was foolish because he could not reach out beyond himself. Nothing matters so much in this world that should make us lose our eternal gains. In one of his outstanding teachings, our Lord asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Life is not all about how much we are making or how much we have saved. The question should be how grateful we are for what we have and how do we reach out to God and humanity. We are living in a wealthy world where 1 in 9 people, that is about 795 million people, go to bed daily without food, yet tons of food items go into the garbage. The rich man in the Gospel didn’t need to pull down his barns because he already had enough, and the excess would have been for others. St. Paul says when we have more than enough, we should abound in good works (2 Cor. 9:8). The book of Proverbs (11:25) says that a generous person would be enriched, whoever waters others would be watered.

As we march into the new week, let us keep in mind that the coffin could be the only property of ours that would accompany us to the grave and that all we have would no longer be ours when we die. May we then strive to store up eternal treasure not earthly barns by reaching out to others and God in gratitude for His unfathomable blessings. God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

THE TRUE PRAYER IS PERSISTENT HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

 

PERSISTENT PRAYER 2

Two kids visiting with their grandfather during the summer vacation decides to pray before bedtime as they usually do in their home. The first kid starts by asking God to help him be a good kid. Immediately after, the second child takes over, “God, please make grandpa to buy me a bicycle.” He repeats the same prayer several times and in a loud voice. Then the first kid says to him, “Hey, Jason you don’t need to shout, God is not deaf” but he replies and says to him in a low tone, “Tim, God may not be deaf, but grandpa is hard of hearing, and he needs to hear this prayer.”. You know what? The second kid got his bicycle gift the next day; their grandpa would not like to go another night with that kind of prayer that kept him awake.

Some time ago, someone approached me to decry her challenges in life. She had been praying about something for a long time, and it appeared that God would not answer her. She concluded by saying that she is tired of praying. By this assertion, the lady was implying that every prayer should have a certain quantity and degree to elicit an answer. Our reflection today would explore the power of persistence in prayer using the instances in the First Reading and the Gospel.

The First Reading (Genesis 18:20-32) tells us about Abraham’s intercessory prayer on behalf of the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abrahams makes a case for the innocent souls living in the city with a persistent supplication keeping in mind the safety of his nephew and his family, though without mentioning them. The Gospel Reading (Matt. 13:1-9) tells us about the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ on prayer, which also contains the Lord’s Prayer. We shall look at some of the highpoints of the readings and how they relate to the theme of our reflection.

Prayer is a dialogue with our Father

Prayer is essentially a dialogue between humanity and divinity. We have an example with the cordial discourse between Abraham and God about the sin and impending destruction of the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. One could notice the fluidity of their interaction and how Abraham could express himself to God with faith, trust, and hope. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that prayer is an engagement with our Father.

There is a significant difference between the communicative interaction one could have with a loving father and the one with a stranger. By asking us to call God our Father, our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to change the dynamics of our relationship with God by reaching out to Him in a more intimate and involving manner. Jesus Christ refers to God as Father (John 17:1; Luke 23:34). The Father, in turn, calls Jesus Christ His Son (Mark 9:7; Matt. 3:17).

God is not only our Lord but also our Father. The Father attribute is one of the characteristics that differentiates Him from other gods. Through prayer, we have a great privilege that gives us access to God. Furthermore, relating with Him as a Father gives us an enormous privilege which shows how close He is to us. The book of Deuteronomy (4:7) supported this idea when it asked, “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him?”

Prayer is incomplete without persistence!

In the First Reading, we could see Abraham reaching out to God with unrelenting persistence as he pleads not only for his nephew and his family of three but also for some probable sinless folks in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pushes God beyond limit in his prayers. However, God could not even find ten individuals without sin in the city.

In Lord’s Prayer, we read the following among others, “give us this day our daily bread.” Many scripture scholars and theologians have various interpretations for this section of the Lord’s prayer. However, for this reflection, it means that we should have a daily commitment to prayers; put in another way, it invites us to pray persistently every day.

In the Gospel today, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us the story about someone who goes to ask a friend for a favor at night and who would not give up asking even when the friend refuses to oblige with the excuse that it was very late. He concludes by instructing his disciples to continue asking, seeking, and knocking, and they would receive, find, and have an open door which nobody can close (Acts 3:8).

From the story of Abraham’s dialogue with God and our Lord’s instruction, we could understand that God is delighted when we persistently bother Him with our prayers. St. Paul writing to the Ephesians (6:18) says, “with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”  In the First Letter to the Colossians (4:2) St. Paul says, be persistent in prayer, and keep alert as you pray, giving thanks to God.

Moving Forward: Keep Praying!

You start perishing when you stop praying, so don’t give up. There are times in our lives when we have so many reasons to give up because things fail to turn up the way we want. Think about those moments when you have more questions than answers, moments when things get worse than better. If that man in the parable gave up when his friend said “no” for the first time it would have been a failed mission. We often fail in life because we give up asking when we should hold on.

The liturgy of the word of this Sunday is encouraging us to keep the candle of prayer burning from dawn to dust; in fact, prayer should become for us a way of life and constant exercise, as it is our veritable line of communication with God.  Let us keep in mind that prayer has no time limit; it instead involves steadfast patience. David says, “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

Have a beautiful day, and may God bless you more!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

ARE YOU CHOOSING ONE THING AND THE BETTER PART? HOMILY FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Mary and Martha pic

A building engineer was about to retire from his job after thirty-five years of excellent service to his company. Just as he was completing the papers for his retirement, the CEO of the company calls his attention to one last building project he wanted him to execute which would be a private residence in a choice area of the township. The builder was not expecting another assignment, he reluctantly agrees to take up the project, but he would not put in his best with the feeling that the idea of a new project amounts to encroachment into his retirement time.

After the project, the CEO comes to the site, and after a brief inspection, he tells the building engineer that the company is happy to give him the new residence as a gift for his exceptional services all those years. The builder could not contain the news as he breaks down in tears, not because of the surprise gift, but because he chose to do a quick and shoddy job not knowing that he was building his house.

Our Choices Could Help or Hinder us

Life is a sum of all your choices, says, Albert Camus. A marriage which brings about a family is the fruit of the decisions a couple. The lifestyle you lead today is the summary of the choices of your “yesterdays.” Your friends, job, food, and even your faith are products of your choices at one time or the other in the past.

In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose what to eat among all the trees in the Garden, but they had to choose wisely because the tree at the middle of the Garden would have negative consequences if they go for it (Gen. 2:16-17). In the First Reading today (Gen. 18:1-10a), Abraham chooses to invite three strangers into his house without the prescience that he is opening his doors for God

Coming to the Gospel Reading (Luke 10:38-42), we see Martha making a good choice by inviting Jesus into their home and preparing a meal for him and those with him. The story would have ended with Martha’s hospitality, but our Lord Jesus Christ steps in to share the Word of God, which is life (John 6:63). In the course of sharing the Word of God in their home, Martha goes about cooking and setting out the table for a meal while her sister sits by the feet of Jesus Christ as a disciple would do, listening to the Word God.

Afterward, Martha begins to feel the burdening impact of the cooking and serving and decides to complain to Jesus, Lord do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me. In reply, Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her”.

Martha’s Burden of Distraction

In most reflections on this passage, people wrongfully try to fault Martha for focusing on hospitality to Jesus instead of listening to him. Fair enough, Martha made a good choice from the time she welcomed Jesus into their home to the periods of cooking and serving the meal. However, Mary’s choice of sitting by the feet of the Lord to listen to him remains the better one.

It was not the cooking and serving that degraded Martha in the narrative, but her choice to allow the domestic activities to burden and distract her from the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cooking, serving, and listening to people is a usual practice among the womenfolk, so why was Martha’s case different? Our Lord answers this question by remarking that Martha is anxious and worried about many things.

Martha’s Anxiety and Worry about Many Things

We are often like Martha with our overwhelming loads of anxiety and worry about many and unnecessary things. One could see Martha in the light of a perfectionist. The type that would want all the plates and cups to sit in a manner that they align at some angles. She could be the type that would like the table covers to match with the curtains and the dishes to be at some exact spots.

Our Lord knows how to read the mind of people, and his response captures the situation. Martha could be telling Mary in other words to vacate that spot she was sitting at the feet of the Lord so that he could have enough space to stretch while eating; she could be saying “Mary stand up from there and make way for the soup.”

Like Martha, we often burden ourselves with so many unnecessary details that we lose the essential thing. Often, we think that our anxiety and worry could change anything; they wouldn’t. In the Gospel of Matthew (6:27) our Lord asked, And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

Moving Forward: Choosing Mary’s One Thing and the Better Part

In April 2013, Gary Keller with Jay Papasan published a book through Bard Publishers Texas with the title, “The one thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results.” In the non-fiction and no.1 WSJ bestseller, the authors argue that we could achieve maximum success in life by doing “one thing” at a time. In life, many things contest for our attention and whatever we give our attention takes us.

Most things we do are good, but some others are better and more desirable. For instance, hanging out with friends and having a good time is good, but spending time with God in prayer is a better choice if one must choose between the two. The Book of Psalms (84:10) says that one day in God’s house is more than a thousand elsewhere.

We are the new Martha and Mary. Like them, we often face a lot of things seeking our attention in various ways. Like in their situation, only one is most important amid others; are we choosing the better part?

As we continue to reflect on the narrative of choices of Abraham, Martha, and Mary, let us keep in mind that the good things around us should not distract you from better things. We should also aim at the best beyond the better part, which would be our final union with God in heaven after our pilgrimage on earth. God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

NEIGHBORHOOD WITHOUT BROTHERHOOD! HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

NEIGHBORLESS IN A NEIGHBORHOOD

“Who is my neighbor?” This question from a scholar of the law which produced the narrative of the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37) is as relevant to us today as it was during the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word neighbor comes from the Old English neahgebur, which is a combination of two words, neah, which means “near” (close) and gebur, which means “dweller” or inhabitant.  Put together; a neighbor refers to someone who stays near another person. A direct opposite of a neighbor would be a stranger, which means a foreigner. This reflection would, however, understand neighbor from a broader perspective.

In the Gospel narrative, the lawyer comes to Jesus to ask a question for the sole purpose of faulting him. His query goes like this, “teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here, we have a fundamental question that requires deep reflection. Our Lord answers the question by prodding the lawyer on what the law says and he answers correctly, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Deut. 6:4-5; Lev.19:18).

Our Lord congratulates him for a perfect answer and encourages him to act accordingly, but he Would not give up. Trying to justify himself, he comes with the question, “who is my neighbor?” To this, our Lord answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan which is about a man who narrowly escapes death in the hands of robbers while on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.

While lying almost dead by the roadside a Priest passes by, sees him and goes away by the other side of the road. A Levite does the same. But a Samaritan comes along, sees him, and with compassion pours oil and wine on his wounds and takes him to an inn using his animal. He stays with him till the next day, and before leaving, he gives two silver coins to the innkeeper for the welfare of the wounded man with the promise of paying for extra expenses. At the end of the parable, the lawyer confirms to our Lord that the Samaritan who is socially and religiously a foreigner to the traveler proved to be a neighbor to him than the Priest and the Levite.

The Neighbors and The Foreigner

The major actors in the parable include three Jews, namely, the traveler, the Priest, and the Levite and one foreigner; that is the Samaritan who would later get the title “good.”  We shall reflect on these individuals paying attention to their characteristics and responses to the need of a neighbor.

The Traveler

The traveler has no name and could represent anyone all of us on the journey of life. Coming from Jerusalem, he could have been in the temple for religious devotion or trade. He was also traveling by himself, and this could mean a lot. Often in our life’s journey, we think we can succeed alone often we feel that we don’t need any human or divine support. The Book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-11) says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 

The traveler runs into robbers who use the vulnerability of his aloneness to dispossess him of everything he had and leave him half-dead after physical torture. In the first place, traveler was not a good neighbor to himself as he could not make provision for his safety while traveling through a notorious landscape. The parable shows that the traveler had no support system and that alone could attract robbers.

The Priest and Levite

The Priest stands as a person with high moral and spiritual values. A first-time reader of the parable would expect the Priest to stop and give a helping hand to the dying man or at least call for help. Surprisingly he walks away by the other side of the road without committing to help in any form. Coming after the Priest, the Levite who assists the Priest in the temple follows the example of the Priest. Often our bad choices snowball into the lives of other people who look up to us. The Book of Proverbs (27:17) says that iron sharpens iron.

In one of his great sermons, Martin Luther King Jnr says that the Priest and the Levite had one thought in their minds, “If I help this man what would happen to me?” They had concerns about ritual uncleanliness that anyone in their status could attract by touching a dead person. For them, it would be safer to leave the traveler to die and remain clean than to help him and become unclean. Summarily they have excuses for not showing neighborliness to their neighbor.

The Samaritan

The Samaritan brings a change in the pattern by stopping to help the wounded traveler. Socially, culturally, and even religiously, he had no obligation to assist a Jew who would consider him a foreigner. But something moved him, and the parable calls it compassion. According to Martin Luther King Jnr, he could be thinking, “if I don’t help this man what would happen to him?”

The Samaritan did not only give the wounded traveler a curative first aid on the spot, but also takes him to an inn, stays the night with him, and pays the cost of his restoration with a promise of doing more if there would be a need in the future. Summarily put, the Samaritan gains the admiration and appraisal of the narrative as the Good Samaritan and by all standards, the real neighbor to the wounded traveler.

Moving Forward: Building Brotherhood in our Neighborhood and Beyond

Your neighbor is not only the person next door, but anyone who deserves your smile, care, attention, and help at any time and any place; sameness of location alone would not make a neighbor. God created us to become neighbors to one another irrespective of our differences in culture, color, religion, social status, and other differentiating attributes.

Being neighbors to each other is about building selfless relationships, that would serve the needs of other people. One of the enduring hallmarks of Christianity is being at the service of others. While talking about nature of the final judgment our Lord Jesus Christ states that whatever we do to others we do to him (Matt. 25:45).

Often, we think that Christian identity is enough without Christian action. Being born in a Christian home is not enough to make one a true Christian, just like being born in a garage would not make one a car. In the parable, we notice that the Priest and the Levite could not demonstrate their respective identities at a needful time.

One thing we could notice in the parable is that all the major actors are on a journey on the same road. This road represents the route of our Christian pilgrimage. When we travel alone without divine security, we fall into the hands of the evil one. Wounded and defeated our Lord Jesus Christ picks us up even when the best around us abandon us (Psalm 27:10). He pays the price for us and takes us to the inn, the Church. where we are nourished with the word and the sacraments until he comes again for us. Until he comes, let us continue to be neighbors to each other. God bless you and have a wonderful week.

Fr. Bonnie.

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