Fr Bonnie's Reflections

THE UNTAPPED POWER OF UNITY Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-200) was the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950. Among her numerous writings, she made this instructive comment on the concept of unity, “we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” What Gwendolyn was saying is that we excel by uniting with others.

Unity is the basic springboard of progress, and it involves the harmonious functioning of the different parts of a given reality. If we do a critical study, we will discover that nothing moves in life by itself. That means there is always a proximate or immediate synergy for every record of success.

In the Second Reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (1 Cor. 12:12-30), St. Paul was very ingenious in the way he used the human body to describe unity in the foreground of diversity. According to him, though the human body is made up of many parts, it is still one body because they assist each other to achieve the excellence of the body.

St. Paul used the analogy of the human body to express how all Christians who in one Spirit are baptized into one body should achieve harmony irrespective of nationality and social status. In other words, St. Paul was making an enduring statement about unity in the Church.

Unity in Ministry of Jesus Christ

Our belief in the Trinity tells us that God is a community of Three Divine Persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If we take it further, we understand that each Person of the Trinity cannot function without the others. So, the Father, when creating, would say, “let us make man in our image after our likeness (Genesis 1:26). Furthermore, the Son would ask the Father to send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16).

The more definitive statement Jesus made about unity is within his long prayer to the Father before his passion and death. Among other things, Jesus prayed: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Applying the Three Elements to Unity

We often take many things for granted, believing that we know how to achieve them. For instance, as kids, we receive many instructions about things we need to do and not to do, but nobody takes the time to teach us how to achieve them.

We constantly preach and recommend unity, but how to achieve it has not been practically explored and understood. So, it is important to examine some of the essential elements that necessitate the practical realization of unity.

Love: Nothing good and godly happens without love. (By the way, not all good things by the world’s standard are godly). If you check the progression of St. Paul’s exhortation, he treated the phenomenon of love in the chapter following the instruction on unity.

Simply put, love is the glue that binds the different parts together for optimal functioning. Our Lord Jesus demonstrated that love is what unites him to the Father when he said, “As the Father loved me, so I loved you; remain in my love”. (John 15:9). In another place, he says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciple if you love one another” (John 13:35).  

Humility: Humility is a potent spiritual arsenal, and it always wins every battle. Significantly, our Lord Jesus Christ won the battle of the cross using the weapon of humility, and that is why he would tell us to learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart (Matt. 11:29).

Humility helps us not to oversize ourselves; that is being prideful. St. Paul made a connection between humility and unity when writing to the Romans thus: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited”.

Acceptance: The opposite of acceptance is rejection which could happen when the parts fail to achieve harmony.

Rejection has been a problem among believers dating back to the early Christian community when the Hellenists complained about the rejection of their widows in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1). St. Paul would thus advise the Romans (15:7), “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, to bring praise to God.”

Moving Forward: Life is Difficult without Unity

If the source of our being, the Godhead, is an eternal expression of unity, there is every ponderable reason for us to pursue, attain, and sustain unity. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to court the presence of God is to be united.

We live in a world torn apart by disunity, which is one of the destructive weapons of the devil. It is difficult to imagine the number of families and communities torn apart by strife as individuals and groups struggle to be more relevant than others.

The Church should be a sustainable example of unity following the earnest prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us also remember that “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. (Matt. 12:25). God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

THE MIRACLE OF OBEDIENCE AT CANA IN GALILEE? Reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Weddings are not easy to plan, which explains why wedding planning is a huge business around the world. The purpose is to help the couple focus on a few things while the planner would then do most of the essentials, including the food and drink aspects of the ceremony. A wedding without wine is unimaginable, but surprisingly it happened at the first recorded wedding Jesus attended with his mother at Cana in Galilee.

The familiar story we know about the event at Cana in Galilee is that Jesus made water to become wine; that is a fact but not all that happened. The wedding and the consequent running out of wine was part of a divine plan to lunch the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of the narrative, John would call it a sign and not a miracle, so there is more to the fact that “they had no wine.” We shall find out.

The Wedding Invitation

Weddings often have guests who are duly invited by the intending couple. Some people are invited as family and friends, while others can perform special assignments like music or other activities. Often, whoever you invite determines what you get.  

The Gospel of John (2:1-11) tells us that the wedding at Cana in Galilee had the mother of Jesus in attendance, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited. The presence of Mary and Jesus at the wedding seems to indicate that one of the couples could be a close friend or relation of the family of Jesus. 

The “Uninvited” Guest Vs. the Invited Guest

An uninvited guest showed up during the wedding feast, namely, scarcity! In short, the wine ran out. Naturally, this was going to be an embarrassment and shame for the host, who at that point didn’t know what was happening at the bar area. However, one of the invited guests, Mary, the mother of Jesus, sensed the situation and intervened.

So, coming to Jesus, Mary said to him, “they have no wine!” Jesus was never in the business of selling wine; in fact, he said, “how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come”. Jesus was saying, “I know you know what I can do, but it is not yet time to start”.

Do Whatever He Tells You: The next thing Mary said to the attendants was, “Do whatever he tells you.” Those words were not only for the attendants but also for Jesus. By saying that, she was also telling Jesus, “I know it is not yet your hour, but you can still start here, and now there is a need!” When Mary said, “do whatever he tells you,” Expectedly, the attendants focused on Jesus waiting for the next line of action.

Fill the Jars with Water: Jesus had no option but to ask the attendants to do something as his mother had predicted. There were six stone water jars at the location, and Jesus asked them to fill them up with water, and they filled them to the brim. Next, he asked them to take some to the headwaiter, and they did, and the headwaiter tested fresh wine.

Obedience brings Miracle

Evidently, the entire jars of water (thirty gallons each) turned into wine. We did not hear Jesus pray; he only gave instructions, and the water turned into wine. So, what happened? It was nothing but a domino effect of obedience. Yes, it was a miracle of obedience. But how?

The first was the couple’s obedience to the thought of inviting Mary and Jesus. Next is the obedience of the Mother and Son to respond in charity to the invitation to the wedding. Next is the obedience of Mary in compassion to respond to the challenge of the “uninvited” guest, the scarcity of wine. Furthermore, Jesus was obedient to respond to the suggestive statement of his mother, “they have no wine!”

Finally, the attendants obediently responded to the instruction of Jesus to fill the jars to the brim with water and to draw out the content and present to the headwaiter and tasted the content and confirmed that it was fresh wine. Thus, we dare to conclude that the miracle happened because there was steadfast obedience on the part of all who were involved in the narrative.

Obedience in the Way Forward

We have seen that John did not call the event at Cana in Galilee a miracle. The concluding part of the narrative says, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee.” From what we have seen so far, we can say that this was a sign of obedience.

Obedience is a way maker before God, but disobedience is a road blocker. Recall that Saul’s rejection as a king was on account of disobedience (2 Samuel 15). On the other hand, our Lord Jesus Christ excelled in obedience unto death to redeem (Phil. 2:8).

Today’s simple message is that we need to keep obedience ahead of us if we need miracles in our lives, beginning with our individual lives, our families, and the larger society. We are all invited to pay attention to God’s invitation in total obedience and submission even in the face of abject scarcity and need in our lives. God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

BEYOND THE JORDAN EVENT Reflection for the Baptism of the Lord    Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.                           

The religious ritual of baptism which John popularized has no clear mention in the Old Testament. However, St. Peter helps us understand that Noah’s event was suggestive of baptism, where eight people were saved through water. He further says: “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

During the ministry of John, baptism served as the ritual indication of repentance from sin for those who were touched and transformed by his preaching. Consequently, many people were coming to him to receive baptism.

Significantly, John was not expecting Jesus to show up for baptism. Remember John already said that though he is baptizing with water, one greater is coming after him whose sandals he is not worthy to untie. So again, he identified him as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:24-29).

We should be as curious as John as to why Jesus, the sinless one (Hebrew 4:15), came to John to receive the baptism of repentance. The following are some of the significant reasons:

Identifying with sinners: Recall that Jesus, the lamb of God, came for the remission of the sinof the world, and John’s baptism was that of repentance from sin. It follows then that our Lord had to identify with sinners in the Jordan river, not that he was sinful, but because he would become sin for our sake so that we can become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Sanctifying the water of baptism: As soon as the sinless one stepped into the Jordan River, the water of baptism for all time was sanctified; in other words, made holy. We can attest to the hallowing of the baptismal water through the declarative voice of God the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.  

The baptism of the Baptist: The encounter John had with Jesus in the Jordan brought about the baptism of John upon the fact that he wanted to have Jesus baptize him instead (Matt. 3:14). Under that desire, John was baptized as he baptized Jesus; he received what he gave (see Luke 6:38).

Demonstrating the necessity of baptism: If the trinity showed up at the baptism of the Lord, there would be every reason to believe that baptism is very necessary for the cleansing of both original sin and personal sins. While sending the disciples out in the great commission, our Lord said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

Moving Forward: Sustaining the Benefits of Baptism

We can understand so far in this reflection that the baptism of the Lord was as necessary as his redemptive mission on earth. So, moving forward, we need to make inquiries to know and sustain the benefits of the Lord’s baptism to us.

We are renewed: Renewal is the process of updating or bringing some freshness to reality from the state of expiration or dilapidation. We are conversant with the renewal of some personal documents and identifications. The shadow of sin darkened our souls, but we are renewed and reinvigorated through baptism. We can sustain the revival from our baptism by our daily commitment to reject sin, and Satan, including his works and empty promises.

Renewed access to heaven: Heaven had remained shut since after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). However, the baptism of the Lord and his prayer afterward reopened the gate of heaven followed by the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (Luke 3:21).

Renewed Conscience: According to the testimony of St. Peter, baptism saves us not just the washing away the dirt but also from the appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21).

Some thinkers believe that the right and certain conscience represents the voice of God inside of our being, which reveals to us what is good and gives us the courage to do it as opposed to what is evil and wrong. So, through baptism, we receive an effective moral platform that aids and sustains our actions.

Membership in the community of faith: Baptism gives us a common identity that puts us together as a community. All Christians share in common, although the doctrinal difference evident in various denominations is baptism which formally brings an individual into the faith community. So, without baptism, membership is incomplete.

As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we need to do an in-depth personal assessment as to how far we can live baptismal life and sustain the same. We are thus invited to allow to stand firm on the path of righteousness as the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who received baptism and sanctified it for our sake.

Have a renewing celebration of the Lord’s baptism, and may the benefits of the sacrament enrich your life always.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

BEYOND THE JORDAN EVENT Reflection for the Baptism of the Lord       Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.                            

What Is Baptism of the Holy Spirit? Its Meaning and Importance in Scripture

The religious ritual of baptism which John popularized has no clear mention in the Old Testament. However, St. Peter helps us understand that Noah’s event suggests baptism, where eight people were saved through water. He further says: “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

During the ministry of John, baptism served as the ritual indication of repentance from sin for those who were touched and transformed by his preaching. Consequently, many people were coming to him to receive baptism.

Significantly, John was not expecting Jesus to show up for baptism. Remember John already said that though he is baptizing with water, one greater is coming after him whose sandals he is not worthy to untie. So again, he identified him as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:24-29).

We should be as curious as John as to why Jesus, the sinless one (Hebrew 4:15), came to John to receive the baptism of repentance. The following are some of the significant reasons:

Identifying with sinners: Recall that Jesus, the lamb of God, came for the remission of the sin the world, and John’s baptism was that of repentance from sin. It follows then that our Lord had to identify with sinners in the Jordan river, not that he was sinful, but because he would become sin for our sake so that we can become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Sanctifying the water of baptism: As soon as the sinless one stepped into the Jordan River, the water of baptism for all time was sanctified; in other words, made holy. We can attest to the hallowing of the baptismal water through the declarative voice of God the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.  

The baptism of the Baptist: The encounter John had with Jesus in the Jordan brought about the baptism of John upon the fact that he wanted to have Jesus baptize him instead (Matt. 3:14). Under that desire, John was baptized as he baptized Jesus; he received what he gave (see Luke 6:38).

Demonstrating the necessity of baptism: If the trinity showed up at the baptism of the Lord, there would be every reason to believe that baptism is very necessary for the cleansing of both original sin and personal sins. While sending the disciples out in the great commission, our Lord said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

Moving Forward: Sustaining the Benefits of Baptism

We can understand so far in this reflection that the baptism of the Lord was as necessary as his redemptive mission on earth. So, moving forward, we need to make inquiries to know and sustain the benefits of the Lord’s baptism to us.

We are renewed: Renewal is the process of updating or bringing some freshness to reality from the state of expiration or dilapidation. We are conversant with the renewal of some personal documents and identifications. The shadow of sin darkened our souls, but we are renewed and reinvigorated through baptism. We can sustain the revival from our baptism by our daily commitment to reject sin, and Satan, including his works and empty promises.

Renewed access to heaven: Heaven had remained shut since after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). However, the baptism of the Lord and his prayer afterward reopened the gate of heaven followed by the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (Luke 3:21).

Renewed Conscience: According to the testimony of St. Peter, baptism saves us not just the washing away the dirt but also from the appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21).

Some thinkers believe that the right and certain conscience represents the voice of God inside of our being, which reveals to us what is good and gives us the courage to do it as opposed to what is evil and wrong. So, through baptism, we receive an effective moral platform that aids and sustains our actions.

Membership in the community of faith: Baptism gives us a common identity that puts us together as a community. All Christians share in common, although the doctrinal difference evident in various denominations is baptism which formally brings an individual into the faith community. So, without baptism, membership is incomplete.

As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we need to do an in-depth personal assessment as to how far we can live baptismal life and sustain the same. We are thus invited to allow to stand firm on the path of righteousness as the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who received baptism and sanctified it for our sake.

Have a renewing celebration of the Lord’s baptism, and may the benefits of the sacrament enrich your life always.

Fr. Bonnie.

KEEP SEARCHING DILIGENTLY AND YOU SHALL FIND! REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.                                   

This story would crack you up. A woman is busy searching for something in her living room when her mobile phone rings. She picks and without looking at the caller she says, rather rudely, “can I call you back? I am searching for my mobile phone”. The caller responds immediately, “common mom! That is your mobile phone that I am calling”. So, the point is that the woman held her mobile phone in her hand while still searching for it! 

Most of us are not different from the woman in the short story. There is hardly any day we do not search for things, including unnecessary ones. We constantly search for phones, wallets, remote, keys, documents, and other things. Writing in the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz maintains that, on average, we spend six solid months of our lives searching for things around us.

Another dimension of searching has to do with the things that are external to us. For example, people search for directions to locations, events, jobs, entertainment, friendship, businesses, and other items, including our daily internet searches.

The Magi and the Newborn King

Today we reflect on one of the most significant search adventures in the scriptures; the search for the newborn King by the magi (wise men) from the east. The Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12) tells us that soon after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, magi (wise men) came from the east searching to see the infant and to do him homage.

They had seen his star rising from their location and followed the direction. But coming closer, the star disappeared. They sought to inquire from Herod, presuming he could know what they saw from a long distance, but Herod had no clue. So, Herod consulted the chief priest and scribes to discover the scripture about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.

Herod was not pleased with the news and had a secret plan to kill the child, but God knows the secrets in our hearts (Psalm 44:21). So, Herod sent the magi with an instruction that would serve as the point of departure for our reflection: “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage”.

The Diligent Search for Christ

It would be very easy to notice the wickedness of Herod and his secret plan to kill the newborn King. Still, from an insightful perspective, we can see that Herod’s instruction (not his intention) encouraged the magi to continue searching for Christ. Significantly, this could be a great instruction for us in our day and age, especially at the dawn of the New Year.

The narrative tells us that the magi continued the search for the messiah upon that Herod’s instruction. Consequently, the star they saw earlier reappeared and led them to the birthplace where they did him homage (adored) and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh from their treasures.

Herod had a secret plan to kill the newborn King, but he also has a great message for us from that instruction to the magi to search diligently for Christ. The truth is that God can still speak to us through anyone, even the most wicked and godless like Herod.

Moving Forward: Diligent Search and Gracious Finding

Nobody fails to find while searching for the Lord with the full commitment of the heart (Jeremiah 29:13). After their diligent search, the magi saw the child and the parents, which could have been over a long time. The reappearance of the magnificent star was evidence of the strength of their ultimate search.

The message to search for Christ diligently comes to us at the most needful time, the dawn of a New Year! The search for excellence and various levels of achievement in the coming year without a corresponding search for Christ may lead us to a colossal crisis.

How do we search for Christ in our day and age? The magi sought to see the Lord in Bethlehem, and they found him using the star as the radar. Nobody expects us to head to Bethlehem today to search for the Lord. However, it is a lot easy for us now. We can search for the Lord by following his ordinances and statues in our hearts and souls (Deuteronomy 26:16). 

We search for the Lord in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, where he is really and substantially present. Even the Lord encouraged us to seek him constantly at the table of the eucharist when he said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). 

We also search for the Lord in the scriptures, which stands as the manual of the Christian life. So, St. Paul writing to Timothy, says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The word of God remains our light and enlightenment (Psalm 119:130).

What do we give to the Lord when we find him? The magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The only thing the Lord requires us to give is love. Specifically, loving Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

The epiphany of the Lord celebrates his manifestation to all nations represented by the wise men from the east. The important lesson here is that the Lord is manifested to those who come searching for him. That means there would never be a divine manifestation without intentional human locomotion. Those who seek the Lord shall find, and they are wise who do so!

God bless you and have a blessed New Year.

Fr. Bonnie.  

IF YOU DON’T GET IT, YOU WILL MISS CHRISTMAS! A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Did you know that it is possible to “miss Christmas” while still being healthy and alive during the season? We could easily describe missing something as failing to access a reality. But another angle sees the verb “to miss” as failing to appreciate or understand something. You may recall your middle or high school teacher saying, “you are missing the point,” as a response to your answer to a question. When you don’t get it, you miss it!

As a child, I understood Christmas more from the prevalent opinions of my socializing environment. Then we knew Christmas was approaching through the television, radio, and print media adverts and jingles that serve to persuade people to start shopping for Christmas even as early as late October.

From the standpoint of the Church, I learned that Christmas celebrates the historical event of the birth of Jesus Christ. But I didn’t get to know the significance of the nativity with the shepherds and the wise men surrounding Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus strategically placed as the nativity cynosure. Of course, the Christmas decorations and singing were heart-warming. But did I miss Christmas then? Well, I didn’t get it, so I missed it!

What Christmas is not and what it is!

Christmas has suffered a lot of damage for a long time running. One of the degrading descriptions of Christmas sees it as a “holiday,” but it is not; it is rather a “Holy Day,” and the period around it is called “Holy Season.”

Christmas is not about the colorful lights and lofty decorations. Christmas is all about the coming of the real light into the world. St. John’s introduction tells us that it is about the true light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9). It is not also about exotic red and green color decorations; it is about decorating our hearts with the colors of righteousness.

Christmas is not all about giving and receiving cards and gifts items. Don’t get me wrong. It is beautiful to give and receive at Christmas; I stand at both ends. However, on the platform of the ideal nature of Christmas, the first gift is from God to us: His Son, Jesus Christ. And the second gift should come from us to God, and that is our hearts where Jesus is to be born at Christmas.

Christmas is not about Father Christmas (aka Santa Claus), the jolly good fellow with a sack of gifts. Instead, Christmas is more about the Father of Christmas; God the Father who graciously gave His only Son (John 3:16), the greatest of all gifts that came not in a sack but a holy vessel, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let’s Get it and not Miss Christmas

A family gathered at the Christmas tree on the eve of Christmas to open their gifts. Everyone was excited as they opened their presents and exchanged hugs, but not the baby of the house, Ben, who looked very sad.

“Ben, what’s the matter with you; you don’t like your gifts?” The dad inquired. “I love them!” Ben replied. “So why are you looking so sad? Do you want to spoil our Christmas, do you?” Ben’s mom asked. Walking away and turning around, Ben shocked everyone by saying, “Christmas cannot be any worse than it is now; there is no gift for baby Jesus; it is his birthday!”

As anyone may conclude, Ben’s statements are not childish; instead, they are reasonable. Christmas is not about us; it is about Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent to become one of us.

Now, there is nothing new in the life of God except the incarnation. So, the Word becoming flesh was an exceptional event in the eternal structure of God. On this day, the heavens stood still. Angels were in awe as God took the humblest decision to be borne by a woman. A creature becomes the mother of the one through whom all things made were made (John 1:3).

When we go back to the narrative of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we discover that it was all about God; Word that became flesh (John 1:14). The angels sang a new song “glory to God in the highest and peace to men of goodwill (Luke 2:14). The shepherd and the wise men from the east journeyed to see the newborn child.

So, do we get it now? Of course, we should get it now and not miss it. Significantly Christmas is not about us; it is all about the newborn King and his eternal mission of our redemption.

Finally, go and take a closer look at the nativity scene whenever you can. You will discover that all the individuals, even the animals, kept their eyes on the Holy One lying in the manger. So, let’s get it now! Keep your eyes on Jesus at Christmas, or you miss Christmas.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

THE VISITATION OF PEACE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT REFLECTION Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

The last Sunday of the month was usually the best of the days during my middle and high school days in minor seminary boarding school. It used to be the visiting day when family and friends were allowed to come to see us for the whole of the day until 6 pm.

Everyone would dress up in their immaculate white shirts and pants and wait patiently to be invited to see their visitors. Of course, it was a huge disappointment if you had nobody visiting. But, on the other hand, if you had a visitor, you would be sure of receiving lots of things in addition to the joy of seeing family and friends again after a whole month or even more.

The Gospel of Luke (1:39-45) tells us the story of the unexpected but powerful visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Notice that the visit followed a prior visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, who brought the good news about God’s choice of her to become the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High God.

The Spirit-filled Visit

The heavenly visit of the angel Gabriel activated the earthly visit of Mary to Elizabeth. We could recall that the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month with a child towards the end of the visit. Consequently, Mary immediately set out to see Elizabeth share the joyful news.

It may be easier to say that Mary set out on her own to visit Elizabeth than to understand the prompting behind Mary’s long foot journey (about 90 miles) from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea (Luke 1::39).  

Recall that when the angel told Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, her initial reaction was, “how can this happen since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The angel responds and says to her, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Put together, and we understand that the Holy Spirit was responsible for Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. When Mary said yes to God’s proposal, the Holy Spirit came down on her and never left her. So, when Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, the child in her womb (John) leaped for joy.

Filled with the same Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice, saying: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”. There was no way Elizabeth could have known about Mary’s encounter except through the Holy Spirit.

The Visit of Peace

Every visitor comes with something significant. We often expect good things from our visitors during our minor seminary days, and we got them. However, there are some instances when the visitors come with bad news of sickness or death in the family, leaving the visited seminarian heartbroken and sad.

A visit can be positively or negatively charged. In the case of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, we see the fruit of peace, which is the message of this Fourth Sunday of Advent following the theme of joy in the Third Sunday of Advent.

The oracle of the Prophet Micha (5:1-4a) tells us about the Great One who would arise from Bethlehem but would rule Israel as a steadfast shepherd by the strength of the Lord. The oracle also says that his greatness shall reach the ends of the and he shall be peace! Consider  the prophecy of Isaiah about the birth of the messiah refers to him as the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6b)

The night of the birth of Jesus will feature the theme of peace again from the nativity angels who would sing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to people of goodwill” (Luke 2:14).

Moving Forward: Seek Peace

Peace is not just the absence of war; it is a spiritual facility that indicates first and foremost the reassuring presence of God that brings inner and expressive tranquillity. The Priestly blessings of Aaron, among other things, says: “may the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace” (Numbers 26:6).

Real peace comes from God and not from people or material possessions. You could recall that our Lord Jesus Christ speaking to his disciples towards the end of his earthly mission, said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Furthermore, his first words to the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection was, “peace be with you” (John 91:18; 21)

Most people go after so many things in life for various reasons, but the greatest thing you need to seek in life is peace, and to seek peace is to find God. Remember that peace is first and foremost the reassuring presence of God. The Letter to the Hebrews (12:14) says: “make effort to live in peace with everyone.”

Many odd things in our world today could congregate to frustrate our peace if we allow them. Like the virtue of joy, peace comes from within and is not dependent on the absence of tribulations. It is possible to have peace even in the face of troubles.

Be the peacemaker and dispenser this season and always. In life, what you give is what you get. Remember that the peacemakers are the real children of God (Matt. 5:9). God is visiting us with peace through Jesus Christ His Son, May that peace of God reign in our hearts until the coming visitation of the Lord!

Fr. Bonnie!

JOYFUL EXPECTATION! REFLECTION FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

GoNoodle | Find Joy

Can you recall the most joyful moment in your life? Before you rush to answer, there may be the need to understand the difference between joy and happiness because most of the feelings we describe as joyful are merely happy moments. 

The major difference between joy and happiness is that joy is internally generated and does not depend on a prevailing circumstance. On the other hand, happiness is external and depends on a dominant situation. Joy endures, while happiness is temporary. You can take away someone’s happiness, but you cannot do the same with joy; it is a spiritual facility.

Waiting and Rejoicing! Why?

The Liturgy of the Third Sunday of Advent invites us to rejoice as we wait for the coming of the Savior. The invitation seems like a disconnection from the core message of the Advent period that puts us in the solemn mood of hopeful preparation, with the call to fill the valleys. Level the mountains and hills and smoothen the rough and winding ways. 

The call to rejoice has everything to do with the anticipation of what the Savior is coming to do. So the Prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18a) recommends shouting for joy and singing joyfully because the Lord has removed the judgment, turned away the enemies, and He is amid His people, and there would be no reason to fear.

Note that the projects above are what the Lord would do in the future, so the Prophet encourages the people to rejoice beforehand. Despite the ungodliness and depravity at the time, the Prophet saw the restorative plan of God that would come upon the people. That means they were still facing challenges when the Prophet asked them to sing joyfully.

Writing to the Philippians, St. Paul makes the same statement of rejoicing like the Prophet Zephaniah; in fact, he places a lot of emphasis on it as he urges: “ Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Notice that the Apostle Paul recommends that the rejoicing be “always,” which means it should not depend on any “favorable” situation; hence in everything. 

St. Paul goes further to mention the closest bedfellow of joy that makes it more profound, especially in the face of challenges, and that is peace. “The peace of God the surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What should we do? 

Earlier in the Third Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist preached to the heart of the people who came to hear him in the desert. In the Gospel of this Sunday, the people responded by asking a very important question: “what should we do?” To ask that question would mean that someone has come to a point where nothing seems to make sense, that hopeless and helpless point. 

Suddenly, the people discovered that they lacked joy in themselves. They came asking questions as a crowd and in the foreground of their professional engagements. That means what you do in life can be a barrier to your spiritual growth. The same situation is valid today. If your profession does not profess God, you are in the wrong place, and you need to do something.

To the crowds, John encouraged them to excel in charity by sharing their excess. We often hear that there is joy in sharing; it is true, and especially when the giver is cheerful in giving (2 Cor.9:7).

What John was saying to the people collectively as a crowd and as groups in various professions is that they should seek joy through righteous dealing with others, and through that avenue, they would find God because whoever finds God finds joy.

Moving Forward: Finding Joy!

You may be reading or hearing this message at a time when you feel that joy is miles away from you because of what you are passing through in life. The good news is that you are passing through, and you will pass through all of them, and you will not get stuck.

 The Psalmist says: “tears may endure through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). So speaking to the Apostles towards the end of his mission on earth, our Lord said: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

We are gradually approaching the morning of joy after the night of tears, so we need to activate the dynamo of joy in us. But, unfortunately, we often fail to recognize that joy is not a close-ended facility; it is rather a highly productive spiritual arsenal, renewable divine energy. 

Nehemiah (8:10) would tell us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Here we understand that we have strength because the joy of the Lord is within us; if you have God, you will have joy, and if you have joy, you will have the strength that will never fail (Isaiah 40:31).

Remember to follow the path of rejoicing in everything situation closely. So, we follow the Psalmist to cry out with joy and gladness for the Holy One of Israel, who we await is indeed among us, bringing liberation and salvation to us.

God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

PREPARATION: AN ADVENT ATTITUDE REFLECTION FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Did you know that when God created us in His image and likeness, He was thinking of reproducing Himself? Being made in God’s image and likeness means that we share some basic qualities with God, and one of them is the ability to plan, and another is an aptitude of preparation. Note that the Fall of Adam did not destroy these facilities.

The beginning of the Book of Genesis tells us the story of creation proves that God is a master planner. Little wonder the Book of Proverbs (16:3) would ask us to commit whatever we do to God, and He will establish our plans. Recall also that God plans good for us (Jeremiah 29:11).

When we go further in the First Chapter of the Book of Genesis, we see that God prepared the firmaments before fixing the heavenly bodies; God also prepared habitations before making the plants and animals (Gen.1:7-9). Finally, before forming man, the crown of His creation, God prepared the garden of Eden (Genesi 2:8).

Life runs on preparation; without preparation, failure becomes imminent. To this end, the liturgy of the Word of the Second Sunday of Advent challenges us to enter the mood of preparation following the call for Hope in the First Sunday of Advent; significantly, hope helps us to plan and prepare.

The Voice of Preparation

The Gospel of Luke (3:1-6) tells us about the ministry and message of John the Baptist, a cousin to Jesus Christ as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah. John was born to announce the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and prepare the people for it with the message of repentance.

At the inception of his ministry, the Jew of Jerusalem sent some Priests and Levites to John to ascertain his identity. John made it clear that he is not Christ. Rather, he relates that he is the Voice crying out in the desert, “make straight the way of the Lord. (John 1:19-23).

Significantly, the Voice has one message, namely, preparation for the coming of the salvation of God. We discover here that the reaffirmation of the need to prepare. Recall that God does nothing with humans without preparation; preparation is a consistent divine pattern.

The Steps to Holy Preparation

Preparation as an action and a process of getting ready before an event appears to be a very broad subject. Hence, the Voice in the desert takes time to reveal what we need to do every step of the way, as the Prophet Baruch (5:1-9) would also confirm as a command from God.

Preparing the Way of the Lord: The Way of the Lord is not like the usual roads we know that lead us to certain places of interest like malls, work, and other areas. There are many ways in the world, but the right Way is the Way of the Lord that is within us; it is a spiritual highway that leads to life. Recall that David would pray, “Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8).

Every Valley Shall be Filled

The prophecy of Baruch gives us a more descriptive picture of the valley as the “age-old depths and gorges.” Here we see that so many values could have been missing for a very long time to the degree that there are heinous depths and gorges. 

Significantly, the valley represents missing things in our relationship with God, especially the virtues of faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor. 13:13). Filling the valley would entail returning the lost virtues to their rightful places.

Every Mountain and Hill shall be made Low.

The Prophet Baruch refers to the uplands as a “lofty mountain,” and this description is very instructive. The word “lofty” here refers to our pride that often rises as a mountain of obstacles. Recall that a mountain is often used in the scriptures to describe something that appears as a great challenge that could move by divine intervention (Zechariah 4:7; Mark 11:23). 

Pride is a vice that kills the virtue of humility. The word of God tells us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). The humble person never gets it wrong because humility is a key that opens uncommon doors. Jesus remains the epitome of humility. He was humble even unto death on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

Straightening the Winding Road and Smoothening the Rough Ways

Other qualities of goods road apart from not having gorges and gullies are that they are straight and smooth. Winding or overly curved roads are often death traps because visibility is affected. The same applies to rough ways that deter mobility and speed.

The Voice in the desert calls for the straightening of the curves and rough edges in our spiritual lives. In turn, the curves and rough edges refer to the various instances of instability in our spiritual life. We are often inconsistent and unstable like a winding or rough way; often, we are hot today and cold, which is repulsive to God.   

Moving Forward: Adopting the Preparation Key

We began the Advent season with hope, which functions with vigilance, prayers, love, and holiness. The Second Sunday of Advent invites us to the attitude of preparation by reconstructing a formidable highway for the Lord in our hearts. We need to develop and retain discipline as a superstructure to achieve this spiritual function.

As we continue this Advent journey, we need to realize that proper preparation prevents poor performance. The ideal Christmas is not the award for being alive to see the 25th day of December; it is rather a reward for making adequate preparation for the coming of the Lord. May God’s unfailing grace help us focus on preparing our hearts, not just our homes and other externalities. God bless you.  

Fr. Bonnie.

EXPECTANT HOPE IN HOPELESS TIMES REFLECTION FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR C)   Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

The rise and rapid spread of the covid-19 virus was a massive attack on the virtue of hope beyond its siege on health and physical well-being. As a result, we now live in one of the most uncertain periods in our contemporary history. Some of the people we know are no more, and life as we knew it had also been altered whether we realize it or not.

Recently, I had to join a brother priest and his siblings to mourn the demise of his parents, who passed away a few days apart; it has been a very unsettling period for the family. But looking at them during the memorial ceremony appearing strong and bright, I could only think of hope. Yes, they are expectant of a better future; they believe, like in the words of the prophet Nahum, “affliction shall not rise a second time” (Nahum 1:9).

Life without hope is a disaster. St. Paul names hope as one of the three things that endure together with faith and love (1 Cor. 13:13).  Our choice of words and disposition at some moments show that life is hope dependant. This way, hope is our support system through the corridors of life.

Furthermore, the virtue of hope functions in sustaining our ride through life’s expectations. In fact, our expectations would be senseless without the leverage of hope. The Advent period is significantly a period of expectation; in fact, it discloses a season of “Great Expectation” of an unusual event in the life of God, namely, divinity becoming human, an event that would change our life forever and for good.

The Days Are Coming

The prophecy of Jeremiah (33:14-16) tells us that the days are coming when God will fulfill the promises He made to the house of Israel and Judah. The promise involves raising a righteous and just shoot from David to bring safety and security for the people.

The prophet addressed a troubled society that is not different from ours in terms of uncertainty, insecurity, and the rampant rise of anarchy and disturbances. Yet, the good news is that beyond the troubling days, glorious days are coming.

Our Lord Jesus Christ presented a more disturbing picture of the days that would precede the coming days of the Son of man in the Gospel of Luke (21:25-28,34-36) when the powers of heaven would be shaken, leading many to fear and dissipation.

Steps to Expectant Hope Activation

Beyond the troubles that confront us now, we focus on the hope that sustains the expectation of great days that are coming. However, hope is an active virtue, so it challenges us to do some things within the timeframe of our expectation, and they include the following:

Prayer and Vigilance: Our Lord Jesus Christ did not just disclose the disruptive nature of the difficult days; he also provided the survival strategy of prayer and vigilance, which would potentially sustain people’s hope in the face of those disastrous times.

We often hear that prayer is the key; that is not wrong, but we may not have heard that prayer is life, in fact, the foundation of Christian life because it provides the platform for the connection we have with God. We are created in God’s image, which means we have access to the divine through prayer.

The life of Jesus Christ on earth was a prayer narrative. He started with prayer and concluded with prayer on the cross. He not only instructed his disciples to pray always (Luke 18:1), they saw him pray (Luke 9:18), and he also taught them how to pray effectively (Luke 11:1).

While prayer is essential, vigilance makes it more effective. Vigilance translates as watchfulness, and it is all about being sensitive in the spirit and especially being careful about the distraction of the evil one.

 Jesus told the disciples, “watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation” (Matt. 26:41 ). Likewise, St. Paul would advise us not to be ignorant of the devices of the evil one so that he does not take advantage of us ( 2 Cor. 2:11). St. Peter makes it clearer when he says: “be sober but vigilant for your adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Love and Holiness

Paul, writing to the Church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3: 12-4:2), prays that they increase and abound in love for one another; why? So, that their hearts would be strengthened to be blameless in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

From the instruction of St. Paul, we could reaffirm our understanding of the centrality of love. Here we understand that love is the condition without which nothing can happen because God is love (1 John 4:8,17). St. Paul would add that whoever loves fulfills the law (Romans 13:8).

Moving Forward: Sustaining the attitude of Expectant Hope

Hope is not just a virtue; it is also a positive attitude that has the innate capacity to transform our expectations into real celebrations. If we put our hope, for instance, in our navigation systems like google maps to successfully take us from one point to another with perfect timing, how much more we should rely on God to grant us access to the objects of our expectations.

Our hope will not disappoint us even when it does not look like it; let us keep the flame of hope burning. It is not about how it takes but how well it comes. As long as God is within the equation, our hope shall bear fruits. Yes, the Days are coming, and we shall remain HOPEFUL!

God bless you, and have a transforming advent season.

Fr. Bonnie!

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