Fr Bonnie's Reflections

BETWEEN ADAM AND JESUS CHRIST: WHO IS OUT OF HIS SENSES? HOMILY FOR THE 10TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Adam and Jesus prop

We consider someone to be out of his or her senses when the individual behaves in a way that falls short of what the society expects. For instance, when someone decides to walk the streets naked or pick up things from the garbage to eat, people would conclude that the individual is out of touch with reality; in other words, insane. On another note, some psychiatrists believe that we all have various degrees of insanity; hence the theory that nobody is entirely sane.

The Gospel Reading today (Mark 3:20-35) presents us with the visit of our Lord Jesus Christ to his hometown, Nazareth, after leaving home for a while and ministering around the region of Galilee. Jesus’ pastoral visit to Nazareth turns out to be a verbal attack on his nascent ministry. Two significant accusations come after him: being out of his senses and being possessed and working by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons.

The First Reading (Gen.3:9-15) tells us the story of the Fall, that is the first sin in the Garden of Eden. After eating the forbidden fruit, God called Adam and asked, “where are you?” Replying Adam says that he heard God in the garden and decides to hide because he was naked. Further inquiries about the awareness of being naked showed that Adam ate the forbidden fruit and he blames God indirectly by saying, “the woman you put here with me gave me, and I ate.” That means if God did not bring the woman the story could have been different. The woman shifts the blame on the persuasion of the serpent, and the snake could not say anything because the reason was clear, to make them disobey God and lose the grace of paradise.

This reflection tries to examine the actions of Adam in the Garden of Eden in line with the events following the ministry of Jesus Christ in Nazareth. The primary idea is to establish who is out of his senses and under the power of Beelzebub. Of course, we have lessons to learn.

  • “Where are you?”

This is a common question family, and friends ask themselves especially when they speak over the phone. People often ask the question to know how safe you are, how close you are to them and what you might be doing. When Adam gets the question from God, he could not say precisely where he was. Contrarily, Adam gives an answer that indicates what he was doing and why, “I heard you in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”

Come to think of it; God was not asking because he could not locate Adam physically (God knows everything), He was asking Adam, “where do you stand in the instruction I gave to you; where do you stand in my relationship with you?” The answer Adam gives to the question is apt as he indicates that he was naked. He lost the divine clothing, and that pushed him away from God.

If God the Father directs the same question to Jesus Christ, the answer would be, “Father, I am in Nazareth fulling my ministry, I am in Nazareth doing your will.” The liturgy of the word today is inviting every one of us to answer the same question; “where are you with God?”

  • “Who is out of his senses and under the power of Beelzebub?”

In the Garden of Eden, Adam ate the forbidden fruit through the insinuations of “Beelzebub” appearing as a serpent. Consequently, humanity disobeyed God and obeyed the devil. In Nazareth, our Lord Jesus Christ could not eat, not that he is forbidden to eat, but because of his preoccupation with spreading the good news in obedience to the will of God which also includes freeing humanity from the power of the evil one (Col 1:13).

In the estimation of the relatives of Jesus Christ, he is out of his senses because he had no time to eat. Furthermore, in the thoughts of the Scribes, he is possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of demons because he was casting out demons. Considering the narrative of the fall and the ministry of Jesus Christ in Nazareth, “who is out of his senses, Adam, or Jesus Christ?”

To be out of one’s senses, in relation to God, means disobedience. An excellent example is the story of the prodigal son. The passage in Luke (15:17-18) tells us that the prodigal son suddenly comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father. What this means is that when we operate outside our spiritual senses, we offend God and obey the devil. Adam is, therefore, the one who is out of his senses.

As we march into a new week, let us strive to become the faithful brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ by being in our right senses with God through our conscious obedience to Him. Since our Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the slavery to sin to righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18), we should always stand close to God and do His will so that when we hear His footsteps, we could run to embrace Him and not to hide from Him.

Being in our right senses with God may often lead us to our being out of our senses with the world starting with our families and relatives. Often, our family ties, values, and expectations could run into conflict with our vocation and relationship with God leaving us to choose between family and God. The tension between family expectations and divine expectations could be troubling but St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading (2 Cor.4:13-5:1) that we should not be discouraged because our inner self would be renewed day by day as the affliction is momentary but the glory is eternal.  

Have a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead and remember to be where God would want to find you when He comes into the garden of your life.

Fr. Bonnie.   

GREATNESS THROUGH “SMALLNESS” HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Greatness through smallness

During our primary school days in Nigeria years ago, the last day of the academic term is usually spectacular because “holidays are coming” as we would often sing and more significantly, teachers announce grades publicly. On such days, it is normal to see some successful children rejoicing, and one could also see others crying because they could not measure up to the tops or because they made the bottom of the class list.

The inclination to be first or more celebrated than others seems to be a significant part of our human nature and nurture. The world itself runs on competitive tracks that is why we hear about First, Second, and Third World countries. In competitive sports like the soccer world cup, only one winner emerges. In the classrooms, teachers measure intelligence through the grades they give to the students in their tests and examinations, though some people would argue that examinations may not be the ultimate tests of knowledge.

Furthermore, we attach the word BEST or GREAT to people, events, places, and things to show how exclusively important they are to us more than others. We often desire to be the first, and the most outstanding, but we often lack the requisite knowledge on how to achieve real and enduring greatness. Most motivational speakers would usually tell people to dream big and aim at the best, but only few would remind them about starting small or humble beginnings.

In the Gospel Reading today (Mark 10:35-45), the sons of Zebedee, James and John approach our Lord Jesus Christ for a very delicate and direct request. They asked if they could sit one at his right and the other at his left in his GLORY, that is after his suffering and death.

Our Lord answers by asking them if they would be able to drink the cup that he is to drink and the baptism he is to receive, and they agreed. He further tells them that though, they may be able to drink the cup and receive the baptism, the positions at his right and left are not for him to apportion as God exclusively reserved them for specific individuals.

The request of James and John infuriated the other ten apostles as they became angry with the Zebedee sons for their rapaciousness and greed. Sensing the rising tension, our Lord summons the twelve for a quick instruction. Summarily, he tells them that among the Gentiles those in authority lord it over those under them, but that should not be the case among them.

Our Lord further tells them that whoever wishes to be first among them should be the servant (slave) of all just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

The boldness of James and John in the narrative is very striking. They were looking beyond the present to the future. In their calculation, the resurrection would bring about a glorious time, and since there are twelve of them, there could be a struggle about the position of deputies to the Lord in his glory. James and John felt that it would be a smart move to sign up for those positions before they become contentious and following the rhythms of their ambitions, the right and left positions should be for them; the Zebedees.

Notice that James and John were ready to drink the cup and receive the baptism. The cup refers to suffering. We could recall that during his agony in the garden, our Lord prayed about the cup he was to drink (Matt. 26:39). The word Baptism comes from the Greek “Baptizo” which means to immerse which relates to being buried. James and John were not scared about the suffering. Instead, they were more concerned about the glory.

The Tiny Humble Steps to Greatness

The Sons of Zebedee believed that they could attain greatness via smartness but from the Lord’s instructions, greatness is attainable through “smallness” which entails service to others. In his letter to the Philippians (2:6-9), St. Paul writes the following about our Lord Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

From the above timeless description, we learn that humility goes before greatness. Furthermore, humility includes the readiness to accept suffering for the benefit of others. The First Reading (Isaiah 53:10-11) tells us about the suffering servant of God (pre-figuring our Lord Jesus Christ) whose suffering justified many.

To achieve greatness, a humble beginning is a vital key. Most great persons and establishments in the world started small. Abraham, the father of great nations, began with years of childlessness. Moses, the great leader of the people of Israel, barely survived as a baby. The savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ was born on a manger meant for young animals and bore the identity of  Nazareth where nothing good could come (John 1:46).

The first horseless carrier that brought the inspiration for motor vehicles could only travel one kilometer per hour. It is a well-known story that one of the greatest electronic companies in the world, Apple, started in a garage. In life, you need to stoop to conquer and to jump higher you need to bend lower.

Moving Forward!

In our day and age, we still have people seeking various leadership positions not for the sake of serving the need of others but for self-aggrandizement and the pleasure of their respective households. Any Leadership that does not serve the people is tyranny.

Are we not repeating and multiplying the selfish ambition of the sons of Zebedee who sought the positions in Christ’s glory as a form of victory over the other apostles? There will be a need for us to understand leadership as a humble service to others. The Centurion who approached our Lord Jesus Christ to ask for the healing of his servant (Matt 8: 5-13), remains a ponderable example of leadership through service.

As we encounter the Lord today in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember to take those tiny humble steps that would lead us to the glorious positions God has prepared for us not the ones we want. Have a great Sunday and a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

THE POVERTY OF THE RICH HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

the Rich man and Jesus

A wealthy woman in her late eighties lived by herself in a mansion next to a community with people living in abject poverty. Her closest friend was her cat, and she loved her so much and would even buy her gold necklaces. At some point, the woman became very ill, and before she passed, she bequeathed all her wealth to her cat to the amazement of everyone.

In the records, the woman directed the executor of her Will to put the cat under the care of two paid nannies. However, after one month, the cat died as she could not survive the death of her owner. After an intense deliberation between the woman’s attorney and the mayor of the city, they agreed to use her wealth to develop the poor community next to her mansion. Sad for the wealthy woman but joy for the impoverished community she neglected during her lifetime.

At the point of death, we cease to be in charge of our wealth, in fact, we become “poor” because nothing goes with us. There is a story about a couple who promised each other to fulfill their wishes at death depending on who goes first. The wife tells her husband to put her jewelry box in the coffin if she dies before him. The man on his part relates that all his money in the bank should go into the coffin if he dies before her. After some years, the man passed, and during the funeral, the wife writes a check in his name and drops it into the coffin before his internment in the cemetery.

In the Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Mark 10:17-30), we read about a rich man who runs up to Jesus as he was setting out on a journey. Catching up with our Lord he kneels and asks, “good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? Our Lord replies by first discarding the appellation good as an exclusive reserve for God and goes further to check his status with the commandments.

The rich man replies and says that he has always been obedient to the commandments from his youth. Our Lord looks at him loved him and told him, “you lack one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The rich man’s face fell at these words, and he goes away sad because he had many possessions.

We have a lot to chew from the narrative. First, let us look at the personality of the rich man. We see him running to catch up with Jesus Christ with a sense of urgency. Meeting our Lord, it is surprising to discover that he wanted an answer to a question about how to gain eternal life. We could also recall that he knelt and called Jesus good master. It is not hard in the narrative to see that the rich man in question has all the details civility, reverence of good manners but all these cannot replace love and charity to others especially the poor. Good manners may not presuppose a good soul.

On the issue of observing the commandments, the rich man was excellent; from his youth, he kept all the commandments. The narrative tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Our Lord looked beyond his face to his heart and loved it. But he lacked charity to other which is a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God. Whatever we do or fails to do to others we do or fail to do to Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:40,45).

If we pay closer attention to the narrative, we will discover that the rich man’s good manners and reverence changed when our Lord encouraged him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor and come to follow him. We learn that his face fell at those words and he walked away not only from the Lord but also from challenge to do charity, from discipleship and ultimately from inheriting the kingdom of heaven.

The reaction of the rich man to our Lord’s instruction shows that he is under the enslavement of his possessions and lacks the wisdom on the right use of material wealth. The First Reading today tells us that riches are nothing in comparison to wisdom (Wisdom 7:7-11) just as the Psalmist says that in his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beasts that are destroyed (Psalm 49:20).

You Lack One Thing!

A lack is the absence of an essential value that should be present. The rich man was apparently in lack. The void in him prompted him to run to our Lord Jesus Christ. He was aware of his lack but wanted to look for a shortcut to eternal life. Despite his wealth, he was in poverty because he lacked the wisdom to practice charity.

At this point, it would be very fitting to examine our lives to know where we are lacking. You may be lacking in charity like the rich man; it could be your inability to forgive and let go or any other kind of lack. What do you lack?

Moving Forward!

The accurate measure of wealth does not depend on how much we have but, on our readiness, to give to others. Whatever wealth we have is a gracious gift from God. St. Peter instructs that as generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, we should put our gifts at the service one another; each in the measure he or she has received (1 Pet. 4:10).

Gaur Gopal Das once said that some people are so poor that the only thing they have is money; there is more to life than money, he adds. This statement relates to the poverty of the rich which builds on the lack of charity and insensitivity to the plight of the poor.

In life, people don’t care about how much you know, but they would like to know how much you care and according to Winston Churchill, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. The rich man missed an opportunity to obtain heavenly life because he wanted to preserve his earthly living. Today, we are invited to seek the kingdom of God, and its righteousness and all other things will become ours (Matt. 6:33).

As we move out from the Church today, may we try to accomplish what the rich man failed to do due to his poverty of wisdom. Have a beautiful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. God bless you!

Fr.Bonnie.

MARRIAGE IN GOD’S ORIGINAL PLAN. HOMILY FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D..

Marriage Original plan of God

We are living in a world that shows a division between two opposing realities, namely, the original and the distorted, the authentic and the inauthentic, the real and the fake. Unfortunately, the distorted, inauthentic, and fake seem to thrive more than the original, authentic, and real because they appear cheap and attractive for, instance fake news sell more than the real news as people often believe lies more than the truth.

Today in the Gospel (Mark 10:2-16), our Lord Jesus Christ takes time to explain God’s original plan for marriage which is like differentiating the authentic from the inauthentic, the original from the distorted. Our Lord’s priceless instruction on marriage started after the Pharisees asked him (as a test) if it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife.

The question was a test because the Pharisees already know the answer as they answered correctly when our Lord inquired from them what Moses commanded. According to them, Moses permitted a man to write a bill of divorce to his wife to dismiss her for any reason at all even if it baseless. Our Lord further explains to them that Moses permitted them to do so because of the hardness of their hearts.

Going further, our Lord redirected their minds to God’s original plan before the distortion of that original plan due to their hardness of heart.  What does the hardness of heart imply?  It describes extreme disobedience to God, for instance, Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let the people of Israel leave Egypt (Exodus 8:19; 9:7). It is further a sign of being insensitive (Deut. 15:7), and St. Paul sees it as a sign of ignorance (Eph. 4:18).

The central point of the narrative and which is of great interest to this reflection is God’s original plan for marriage. While answering the Pharisees, Jesus says,

But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to the wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

The instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ above begins by saying from the beginning of creation; God made them male and female. The word “beginning” comes in here for a purpose. God is the beginning which also means the First (Rev. 1:8; 22:13; Isaiah 44:6, 48:12). Here we understand that God is the author of marriage. Furthermore, in His plan, the marital union should be between a male and a female.

At what point did God conceive the idea of marriage? If we read the first account of creation in the Book of Genesis very attentively, we will discover that God designed marriage when He decided to create humanity. Let us examine the passage (Gen. 1:26-27) for clarity:

Then God said, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let THEM have dominion…. So, God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; MALE and FEMALE He created them. God blessed them and said be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion….

From this first account of creation, we understand that when God created humankind, He had marriage in mind and to accomplish that He created male and female and ordered them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

It is also important to note that God created them in his image and likeness. The image and likeness of God we can strongly relate with to is God as Trinity. In the Trinity, we have one God but three persons, not three Gods. In marriage we have a male and female coming together to become one flesh. Our Lord made a strong emphasis when he says, “they are not two but one flesh.”

From the Second account of creation, we learn that God created Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed on him and he became a living being. However, God discovered that the man was lonely and decided to give him a SUITABLE partner; some translations would say a fitting helper and others would say a helper as his partner.

In line with the idea of making a suitable provision for the man, God formed animals from the ground and brought them to the man to see what he would call each of them, but none was SUITABLE judging from the names he was calling them. We relate to persons and things according to the names we give them, and there is power in a name.

When God saw that the man could not find a suitable helper in all the animals, He had to devise another way to help the man. God is always in the business of thinking about our needs. From the side of the man, God extracted one of the ribs and fashioned the woman. At first sight of the woman, Adam said, this ONE (among others) is, at last, the bone of my bone the flesh of my she shall be called a woman because she is from man.

Here, we see that the name the man chose for the woman indicates that they share a common origin, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” The quick lesson we learn from the episode of creating the woman out of the man is that marriage is all about sharing and when couples stop sharing they start shattering.

In God’s Original Plan

In God’s original plan, the married couple becomes one flesh because they are no longer two but one. The idea of divorce is contrary to God’s plan which intends to make the marital union inseparable as the union found in the community of the three persons in one God.

In our world today, most marriages are not running within God’s original plan as many ideologies and patterns go contrary to the divine values for marriage. Consequently, we have people jumping in and out of marriages unions as if they are boarding and disembarking from aeroplanes.

The most problems in marriage arise due to the absence of God in the union. God is the originator of marriage and to run it without Him is suicidal. The most significant lack in any marriage is the absence of God. In God’s original plan, the clause about leaving father and mother entails leaving everything of the past as father and mother represent every aspect of our lives from conception to the point of entering the marital vocation.

Moving Forward!

Marriage is not a bed of roses neither is it a landscape of thorns. Sometimes are good and other times could not be so good. Good health could face the challenges of sicknesses; death could even happen at some point. What you give in your marriage is what you receive. Adam gave his bone and flesh and got it back.

What you bring to your marriage is more important than what you expect; give your best, and the best would come to you. St. Paul explains this very well in his details about marriage best practices in his letter of the Ephesians (5: 21-33).

There is no doubt that marriage is under severe attack and the easiest way to destroy the world is to destroy marriages and families. Everyone is challenged to add value to marriage and save the family and the world. Focus on these three Ps; prayer, patience, and peace and the devil will run away from your marriage.

Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

                         

“NOT ONE OF US” MENTALITY: WHERE IS OUR INCLUSIVE CHRISTIANITY? Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D

 

inclusive xtianityOnce upon a time, a black man was entering a music concert that was strictly by invitation. The attendant at the entrance could not allow him to enter even when he showed his invitation as he needed to verify if it was the real one. Upon verification, the attendant discovers that it was not just authentic but also indicates that the man has access to the VIP which has a reservation for only six persons.

The attendant reluctantly allowed the black man in while wondering in his mind how he was able to get a special invitation for an all-white concert. Entering the concert hall and walking towards the VIP seating, people kept staring at the man and whispering to each other. At the VIP, the other five special invitees who were all white felt very uncomfortable, and one even dared to walk up to him to tell him that the stand is reserved for some special people, the man did not reply but only showed him the VIP invitation card.

Before the formal opening of the concert, the organizer, a well-known singer, comes out to make a special speech. Towards the end of the address, he remarks that the show is dedicated to a man who doubles as his music coach and foster father. The man who adopted him and brought him to North America when his parents passed in a motor accident in Europe. Pointing at the black man, he says, “here is the reason why the world knows me, he does not look like one of us, but he produced one of us.” As the black walked up to the stage, the ovation was high, and many people were in tears.

You don’t need to be Catholic like me to go to heaven and I don’t have to be like you to become relevant in life. Diversity is part of the beauty of life, and we do not choose it. Therefore, it is a gift from God. If we take a reflective look at the time of creation, we could see that God had diversity in mind as he made different living creatures. And when God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), He created another human being that is biologically different from the man following His program of diversity.

The First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) we learn that after Moses appointed seventy elders to assist him, God took some of the spirit on Moses and bestowed it on the seventy elders and they prophesied. Now, the turning point of the narrative is that two of the elders who were not in the assembly with the rest when they prophesied also prophesied in the camp. When a young man saw Eldad and Medad prophesying, he runs to tell Moses about it, and Joshua suggested that he stops them.

The passage tells us that they were seventy on the list and God had decided to share Moses’ spirit on them without conditions. From the human point of view, only those present in the assembly should receive God’s spirit and thus have the legitimacy to prophesy. The question the young man did not ask was “what prompted them to prophesy in the camp and at the exact time the others were prophesying in the gathering?” The young man seemed to be telling God that he made a mistake by reaching out to those who went out from the gathering; those who ceased to be one of them!

We see a similar situation in the Gospel Reading today (Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48) where John reports to Jesus that they saw someone driving out demons in his name and they TRIED to stop him because he was not one of them. Here we see the “not one of us” mentality playing out very profoundly. Notice that they tried to stop the man, but they could not just like Joshua in the First Reading could not get Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying in the camp. Nobody can stop whatever God has put in motion; don’t even try.

Moses and our Lord Jesus Christ give similar responses to their respective reporters. Moses says he would wish that all the people were prophets and besides he has no control over the spirit that the Lord bestowed upon them. On the other hand, our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that no one who performs mighty deed in his name can at the same time speak ill of him; hence whoever that is not against him is for him.

We live in a world that is inundated by imaginary dividing lines between those who belong and those who do not, between the insiders and the outsiders, between the rich and the poor and other trends of distinctions. There is a difference between diversity and discrimination. Diversity is a divine gift, but discrimination is a human convention borne out of ignorance, arrogance, and insecurity.

God’s invitation to us as his children is inclusive and not exclusive. Because of this premise, we are invited to discard all those things that set us up as ingroups and outgroups. That you are not like me does not make you better than me or the other way around. Christianity is an inclusive invitation to all people irrespective of culture and geography to share God love for humanity through the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Moses and our Lord Jesus anticipated inclusive Christianity following their respective responses. In another place, our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that he has other sheep which belongs to another sheepfold (John 10:16). God has the ultimate judgment, and we have no right to say who does it better than other or we run the risk of repeating the mistakes of the insensitive rich in the Second Reading today   ( James 5:1-6), who discriminate against the poor but who would experience impending miseries. As we march into this Sunday, may we continue to discard all the lines of segregation that make us feel better and more privileged than others.

Fr. Bonnie.

   

 

     

BEYOND THE TESTS AND TRIALS OF THE MOMENT. HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface N. Anusiem Ph.D.

MANY ARE THE AFFLICTIONS 2

One of the most intriguing stories ever told about an extreme experience of tests and trials is about a rich and upright man who lost his ten children, servants, houses, livestock, and all his investments in one day. In addition to all the misfortunes, he was afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife encouraged him to curse God and die while his friends persuaded him to accept his fate as a pay-back for his sins. It is important to note here that the man was going through trials to prove his uprightness, but his wife and his friends did not have such knowledge. It is wrong to judge people when we do not know their entire story.

Instead of giving up and cursing God or blaming himself for no reason, Job exclaims, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Beyond his tests and trials, the story of Job ended in praises as God restored his fortunes more than what he had before (Joh 42: 10).

There are times when people go through hard tests and trials that could be challenging and devastating. To suffer for one’s mistakes is relatable but to go through some crucibles for no crime could be disturbing, and that happens to be the background of the First Reading today (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20). The passage tells us about the plot by the wicked to beset an unnamed just one, that is the innocent person because he would not support evil. One thing that comes out very well in the plot is the plan to PUT HIM TO THE TEST and TRY HIS PATIENCE.

Somewhere I read that a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor. In life, we become what we are by going through it. Sometimes, God would allow tests and trials to come our way to gauge our faith and trust in him. God tested Abraham’s faith through a long period of childlessness even when God had promised to make him the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:4-6). God also allowed Satan to pummel  Job with several calamities to prove a point about Job’s unwavering faith and trust. This explains Paul’s statement to Timothy that anyone who wants to live a godly life would be tested (2 Tim. 3:12).

Moving Forward When Tests and Trials Come!

In life, we often face a lot of things that come around to put us to the test and try our patience. They come through various people and events in our lives. “How do you react to those tests and trials in your life?” Often, we complain and blame everyone including God and forget one crucial thing; putting our trust in Him. Even those plotting against the innocent confirmed that according to his own words, God would take care of him. Do you equally believe that God can take care of you in the tests and trials of the moment?

For every trial, we need to be patient and put our total trust in God, not on our understanding (Prov. 3:5). In the Gospel Reading today (Mark 9:30-37), our Lord Jesus Christ tells his disciples that he would be handed over to men and they will kill him, but he would rise after three days. Our Lord’s exhortation summarizes the fact that every test or trial would always come to an end, primarily if we rely on God to uphold our lives. The human persecutions and trials would eventually give way to God’s triumphant exaltation.

As we enter the new week, let us open our minds and hearts to accept the tests and trials that may confront us with the exemplary humility of a child as our Lord Jesus Christ recommended in the Gospel narrative today. With God helping us, the tests and trials in our lives will lead us to discover the best versions of ourselves. May God bless His words and presence in our hearts while granting us a renewed commitment to Him in our life’s journey. Have a beautiful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

CHRIST WITHOUT THE CROSS IS A CARICATURE. HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D..

THE SON OF MAN MUST SUFFER

Death by firing squad is a popular way of dispensing capital punishment to criminals in some countries in the world. In Indonesia, the penalty for a drug crime is by firing squad. According to the Emirate law capital punishment is only by firing squad. In the United States, death by firing squad is rare. However, Ronnie Lee Gardner, a dangerous criminal, and murderer in the mid-80s was executed by firing squad in Utah in June 2010, making it the last official death punishment with bullets within the Union.

Just as firing squad represents a way to punish criminals in our day and age, at the time of our Lord Jesus Christ crucifixion was the route for public criminals within the purview of the Roman law. We, at this point, understand why Peter, in the Gospel of today (Mark 8:27-35) could take our Lord Jesus Christ aside to rebuke him for saying that he would be arrested and killed after the manner of a criminal.

Earlier in the Gospel narrative, our Lord Jesus made an identity analysis about himself by asking his disciples who people say he is. From the answers, we discover that the people see him as a prophet by linking him with John the Baptist, Elijah and other prophets. Furthermore, he tries to know their view and Peter says, “You are the Christ.” A perfect answer indeed! The name Christ is from the Greek Christos which means anointed one, and it is the title for the Messiah whom the people have been anticipating (John 1:41).

With the revelatory identification by Simon Peter, Jesus begins to teach his disciples about the suffering he would undergo and even about his death and resurrection. Peter’s “intervention” to stop our Lord from going the way of suffering shows the limitation of his knowledge about the Christ he proclaimed earlier. He wanted Jesus to be the Christ but not to go the path of the Christ which involves suffering and death. He wanted him to be the Christ but without the cross.

Get Behind Me Satan!

The Lord’s answer to Peter, “get behind me Satan” shows that his idea was not in consonance with the plan of God. It is vital for us to note in the dialogue that Peter spoke but the reply went to Satan. It is only Satan that would encourage you to take a position and do nothing, to wish for heaven and not work for it. Do we not often accept Satan’s suggestions when we despise those little crosses that would help us to cross over to a better life?

Satan’s suggestive intervention did not stop with Peter. He is still sticking around telling us to get the crown without the cross, to answer Christians with the living the Christian life. We could also notice in the narrative that Satan comes to Jesus through one who is close to him, namely, Peter. Satan could come to us through people and events that are very close to us.  Notice also that Satan (speaking through Peter) did not comment on the glory of the resurrection but only on the suffering and death. Like our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to stand on our feet and tell Satan to go behind us because that is where he belongs

Moving Forward!

Often, we think that being a Christian relieves us from all forms of sufferings. We see the cross only as a symbol of suffering. We need to take a more reflective look at the cross. It is a plus sign that would potentially add value to our lives. The cross is also a ladder that could help us to climb over a lot of hurdles in our lives. A cross-less Christ is a caricature just like Christianity without the cross is a cartoon.

The cross is thus the symbol of our Christian life. Beyond wearing it around our necks and getting it as a tattoo, there is a need for us to make the cross real in our lives. In the First Reading (Isaiah 50:4c-9), the prophet assures us of God’s divine help when we go through the torturous moments and confrontations of life. Do not become hopeless when you go through the difficulties of life they often represent the practical demonstration of your faith as St. James tells us in the Second Reading (James 2:14-18).

As we go through life, may we like our Lord Jesus Christ accept our crosses and carry them. Your cross could be your family, your vocation, your spouse, your children, relations, friends and colleagues even yourself. Remember that without the cross, the crown would be an illusion just like the suffering of Christ brought about our salvation. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

“BE OPEN”: GOING THE EPHPHATHA WAY! HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Year B) Rev. Fr. Boniface N. Anusiem Ph.D.

 

ephphathaOnce upon a time, I was at the entrance of a Church exchanging greetings with people after the mass when an older woman walks up to me looking apologetic. While holding my hand in the manner of salutation, she tells me in a rather thunderous voice that she thought I gave a beautiful homily from her observation, but she could not hear anything because she had completely lost the ability to hear. I could not say anything to her because she would not hear me either, so I kept nodding with empathetic affirmation until she says goodbye and leaves.

Talking and hearing are very vital in our daily interactions. We cannot imagine a world without ears and mouths; that would change the whole dynamics of communication and comprehension. Hearing, talking, including seeing, and walking are so essential to life that those who do not have them are considered to have an impairment or disability. In the First Reading (Isaiah 35:4-7a), we hear the oracle of the prophet declaring God’s promise of restoration and recompense to those who are suffering from these misfortunes.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 7:31-37), our Lord Jesus Christ heals a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. The connection between the First Reading and the Gospel Reading is the same as the connection between a promise and its fulfillment. At the beginning of his ministry, we heard our Lord Jesus Christ declaring his manifesto when he says, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”, (Luke 4:18-19).

The Gospel narrative about the healing of the deaf and dumb man leaves us with a lot of lessons about openness which forms the central theme of our reflection today.

Openness to help others.

The Gospel begins with some people bringing a deaf and dumb man to Jesus and begging him to lay his hand on him. The action of the unnamed people is an indication of goodwill and charity, moreover, bringing anyone to Jesus is the noblest and precious gift we can give. The Gospel of Luke (5:17-39) presents a similar scenario where some people had to remove the roof of a house to lower down a paralyzed man to where Jesus was preaching in a crowded room so that he could heal him. Let us learn to be open to helping others.

Openness to leave the crowd.

  Responding to the people’s request, our Lord Jesus Christ takes the man away from the crowd. The crowd here stands for all the hindering spiritual, moral, even physical elements around us. The deaf and dumb man was open to the invitation to leave the crowd, and that was the first step to his healing. Many of us are still suffering from the overwhelming sway of the crowd with all the noise in the world today from both the social and conventional media. There is the need for us to be open to allow the Lord to take us away from the crowd so that we can experience that special touch that would transform us to become committed hearers and to proclaim His name.

Openness to break barriers.

When Jesus Christ accepted to heal the deaf and dumb man, he broke the unjustifiable barrier between the able and the disabled; he bridged the gap between the well and the unwell. St. James reinforces this in the Second Reading (James 2:1-5) where he instructs that there should be no partiality among us as we adhere to the faith in Jesus Christ. We need to break the social, economic, political and religious barriers that confront us.

Openness to the healing touch of the Lord.

 If we pay attention to the ritual that accompanied the healing of the deaf and dumb man we could see the man’s willingness and compliance to the healing process. In the narrative, we learn that our Lord had to put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting he touches his tongue with saliva and says ephphatha, which is, “be opened.” During this process, the man remains open and accepting. We need to be open to the healing touch of the word God to our ears and His touch on our mouths in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Openness to being open.

The call for openness has become very imperative in our day and age as people clamor for transparency and docility both in the State and in the Church. Openness to being open requires us to listen with profound charity and speak with clarity. If we pay attention to the healing process, we could see that our Lord opened the ears before the mouth. The priority that the ears received during the healing tells us about the importance of listening more than talking; that could be why God gave us two ears and one mouth. This Openness should start with our families; among couples, children, relations, and friends.

We are in the season of ephphatha as we receive the invitation be open to God who is calling us to leave the crowd and save our souls. He has set before us an open door which nobody can close (Rev. 3:8). May continue to withdraw from the crowd and move closer to our Lord Jesus whose healing fingers would evangelize our ears and our mouths. Have a beautiful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.      

FROM OBSERVANCE TO PRACTICE: EXPLORING THE BENEFITS OF OBEDIENCE TO THE COMMANDMENTS Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Boniface N. Anusiem Ph.D

Obedience our gift to God

Once upon a time, I boarded an Uber from an airport to a conference. I was surprised to see that the driver was not on her seat belt. I felt very uneasy because I could not think of driving without my seat belt. When I asked why she was not using the safety device, she tells me about her dislike for seat belts, and, in my mind, I imagined that she dislikes her life too. I was still trying to convince her about the safety benefits of using a seat belt when she starts to adjust her seat belt in haste and looking ahead I could see cops on the road flagging down cars and directing them to a detour at a road maintenance spot. She was afraid of being caught and punished for breaking a driving law, so she adjusted her seat belt.

Most people fear the law and the reason is not far-fetched because it often punishes defaulters. However, the ideal purpose of the law is not to punish but to regulate, guide, and protect those who are subject to its prescriptions. We could, therefore, define the law as a set of rules that govern the actions of those who are subject to its promulgation. There is hardly any aspect of life that is not controlled by some set of rules. Humans, animals, and plants exist by responding to both natural and conventional laws.

In the First Reading today (Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8), Moses tells the people of Israel to observe (without addition or subtraction) the statues and decrees he was giving them so that they could live and enter to possess the land that God is giving to them. Furthermore, he tells them that paying attention to the commandments would increase their worth among the nations around them.

From the instructions of Moses to the people, we understand that there are benefits that accrue from obedience to the law. The benefits include longevity and possession of the promised land insofar there is obedience to the statues and decrees without alterations. Often, we desire the destination, but we don’t want to go through the journey. In the context under review, the goal is the promised land, but the mission involves paying attention to the ordinances.

In the Second Reading (James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27), the apostle takes the matter further by instructing that action should animate the observance of the law, “be doers of the word, not hearers only.” Christianity is a way of life, not just a religion; it is a verb, not just a noun. No doubt, there are many Christians in the world but how many are practising the Christian life? I don’t mean appearing in the church on Sunday! Indeed, most us, Christians, could recite the ten commandments of by heart but how often do these commandments resonate with our daily lives? St. James is challenging us to go beyond observance and make practical applications from what we learn and know.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), our Lord Jesus Christ takes the instructions of James further by making a more explicit distinction between religious observance and spiritual life. Some detractors from among the Pharisees quizzed him about the negligence of the ritual of the washing of hands before meals by the apostles which potentially makes them unclean. Our Lord takes time to establish that it is what comes out of our hearts that could make or unmake us not the cleanliness of the physical hands nor the food we eat.

Often, we judge people by their appearances and make conclusions from what we see. Purity is not a result of how we appear or how meticulous we follow religious rites. Contrary to what most of us think, purity is a product of the inner part of us, our hearts. It is wrong for us to judge people where we met them because that may not be their destination; we should not even judge at all (Matt. 7:1-5) as the Pharisees would often do.

Moving Forward: Observe and Practice!

In the Second Reading today, St. James tells us that the religion that is pure and undefiled before God involves care for the orphans and widows in their affliction (that is charity) and keeping oneself unstained by the world (that is conscious avoidance of sin).

From the outlook of the apostle James, we understand that there is a religion that is impure and defiled which, from his analysis, would include insensitivity to the needy and relapse into sin. Now, we need to ask ourselves this question individually, “what kind of religion am I practising? As we celebrate the Holy Eucharist today,  we need to examine how our Christian life is aminated beyond ritual and traditional observances and seek to fulfil the heart of the law which is love for God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).

Have a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE POWER OF CHOICE! Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

THE POWER OF CHOICE

Once upon a time, a man was waiting to board a flight with his son when the little boy saw another child with a bar of chocolate and wanted his father to buy one for him. They had few minutes to board, and the man takes him to a nearby shop but tells him to choose the one he likes as they need to meet up with the boarding. For more than five minutes, the boy was running around picking one bar of chocolate and dropping it for another as each seems better than the others. When it was clear they were going to miss their flight if the boy continued to sway from one bar of chocolate to another, the man grabs the boy and drags him along despite his cries. The boy could not make a choice, but they had to catch their up with their flight.

The late former United Nation’s Secretary General, Kofi Annan, once said, “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”. Choice-making characterizes life. You must choose to take a chance before your life could change; failure to make a choice is even a choice itself like in the case of the boy who wanted a bar of chocolate in our opening story.

In the First Reading today (Joshua 24:1-2; 15-18), Joshua challenges the Israelites at Shechem to make a choice of whom they wish to serve. By this convocation, we understand that God did not withhold the gift of free will from us even after the colossal disobedience of Adam and Eve (Gen.3:1-18). Joshua’s declaration tells us about God’s patience with us even when we are disobedient. Joshua’s narrative here shows us that God cares about us (Psalm 27:10) and He desires our salvation and gives us the opportunity to make reliable choices.

In the passage, Joshua makes his own choice first before giving the people the opportunity to respond. We could say that Joshua led the people by a personal example, his choice reads, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). The effect of his choice is evident in the people’s response: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord, for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, out of a state of slavery”. (Joshua 24:16,18).

In the Gospel Reading today (John 6:60-69), our Lord Jesus Christ wraps up his teaching on the Eucharist by challenging his hearers to choose to accept his doctrine that leads to life or leave it for a damnable fate. Like Joshua, he takes time to explain to them why they need to make a choice and where it would lead them. As a matter of choice, many people could not accept his teaching and left him.

In the Second Reading (Eph.5:21-32), St. Paul extends the gospel of choice- making to the family. Love and submission are the choices we make, and there is no better foundation for choice-making than in our families. Marriage and family life would become what we choose to sow as seeds. When you sow love, you reap love, but if you sow hatred you reap it as a fruit and the same happens with submission. There is every truth in the saying that “you cannot eat your cake and have it.” You cannot wish for a delightful family when you cannot add positive value. A good family is a choice you make jointly as members.

Moving Forward: Choose Between The New Way and The Former Way

The same invitation to make a choice is open to us today. We hear people say, “it is a free world,” that is true. However, we are also invited to make responsible choices in the so-called free world as our choices determine our chances and the changes we experience in life. When Jesus Christ challenged the apostles to choose as the other people were leaving him and going back to their former way of life, Peter replying on behalf of others says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.

In the First Reading and the Gospel, Joshua and our Lord Jesus Christ propose new ways to their respective audiences while leaving them to choose. Change, like this reflection indicated earlier, is a consequence of choice-making. Our undue attachments to various ways of living often make it difficult for us to accept some new and helpful realities that life open for us. Albert Einstein did define insanity as doing the same thing the same way all the time and expecting a different result.

We have come to the season of responsible choice-making. There is the need for us to remember that whenever we make a choice, we also choose the consequences. There are many options in life, but we need to go for the optimal option. What choice would you be making today in your personal life, in your family, in your relationship with others, and ultimately in your Christian life journey with God? Would you like Peter, and the others make the right, and responsible choice by sticking with the Lord who has the message of eternal life and without whom no option is tenable. Have a beautiful Sunday and a pleasant week ahead as you choose wisely and responsibly.

Fr. Bonnie.

COME AND EAT! RESPONDING TO WISDOM’S INVITATION HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D

seder-plate-2

In my native community in West Africa (Nigeria), the phrase “come and eat” is a special invitation that goes beyond the immediate participation in a meal. It shows care, goodwill, charity, friendship, and communion. Anyone who eats alone would be considered selfish, uncaring, and even wicked; in fact, there is a saying that goes, “if you eat alone, you die alone.” Consequently, part of the socialization pedagogy for a child includes the instruction on how to extend invitations to others before eating even when it is evident that the invitee may not partake but would always show appreciation for the invitation.

Today in the First Reading (Prov. 9:1-6), we hear Wisdom (personalized) inviting people to her house that is set up in seven columns to come and partake in a rich table of food and wine. Looking closely at the invitation, one could see that some clauses are attached to the call, “let whoever is SIMPLE turn in here.” Further down, the invitation instructs the invitees thus, “Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

Wisdom seems to take the identity of a mother who possesses impressive culinary expertise with the dressing of food and mixing of wine. The inclusion of maidens in the narrative shows that she prepared a large banquet. A pertinent question at this point could be who this Wisdom is? The identity of Wisdom in most passages in the bible especially in the book of Proverbs has been a point of debate by scholars, but that is not the focus of this reflection.

The Gospel of today (John 6:51-58), continues and concludes the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and the people who wanted a repeat of the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish. During the interlocution, our Lord promises them another kind of bread, the living bread that came down from heaven that gives eternal life, and which is also his body.

The Jews could not accept this as they quarreled among themselves how they could become “human flesh eaters.” But that is the only route to the real life; “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53).

The unchanging observation one could make is that there is a connection between the invitation by Wisdom in the First Reading and our Lord’s invitation in the Gospel Reading to the people to partake of the living bread that came from heaven. The house of Wisdom points to the Church, and the seven columns of the house could signify the seven sacraments of the Church with the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist constituting the center and summit of the Church’s life and ministry.

Responding to the Invitation

For every invitation, two expectations are implied, a positive or a negative response. For instance, when our Lord invited the people to come and eat his body and drink his blood many of his followers could not accept the invitation and even stopped following him (John 6: 60; 66). Not every call receives a positive response; also for a positive response, the invitee needs to fulfill some preconditions.

  • Be Simple-minded. Simplicity is another way of describing purity. In the beatitudes, our Lord Jesus Christ says that blessed are the pure in heart (simple-minded) and they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Within the invitation of Wisdom in the First Reading, she says, let the simple turn in, that is, the pure in heart. Sin is the root of the complications and impurity of the soul. If you are coming to partake, do not repeat the mistake of Judas (John 13:27), come rather with a simple heart, and you will enjoy the sacred meal.

 

  • Stop the quarreling in you. The Gospel Readings tells us that the people quarreled among themselves when he mentions to them that his body is the living bread that came down from heaven. This quarreling is still happening in our minds as we often struggle with believing or not believing in the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also quarrel among ourselves and even disagree with the Lord’s invitation.

 

  • Understanding the Lord’s Will. Understanding is fundamental in every relationship. The invitation to come and eat will become more meaningful if we understand why we should eat and drink. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord explains that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood will have eternal life; this is the will of God for us. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20), encourages us to seek this understand while removing the mask of ignorance from our lives.

 

  • Extend the Invitation to Others. Part of the response to the invitation to come and eat requires that we extend the invitation to others. If we go to St. John’s account of the call of the apostles, we could recall that after Andrew responded to the call of Jesus Christ, the living bread, he invited his brother Peter to come and see the Messiah as he had seen ( John 2:39-42).

 

What is your Decision Today?

The choice you make shapes your life. The Lord is still saying to us “come and eat”! The liturgy of this Sunday is encouraging us to respond to the Lord’s invitation by our resolution to be simple-hearted, eschewing all manners of internal and external quarrelings and being docile to understand and accept the will of God.

As we reflect on the message today, may our encounter with the Lord, the living bread, bring to life all the dying elements in our spiritual life and bring that amazing transformation and renewal in our lives. “Come and eat!” The Lord is still calling make a choice today!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

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