Fr Bonnie's Reflections

WIN THROUGH THE TRIALS OF LIFE! Reflection for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

There are moments in life when we have more questions than answers about the things that confront us. Have you been at that point when certain conflagrating situations force you to ask that depressing question, “who did I offend?”

Indeed, as you go through life, you will soon discover that you don’t have to offend anyone before some tough trials come your way. For example, imagine the story of the man born blind in the Gospel of John (9:1-3). Jesus made it clear that the man’s blindness was not because of his sins nor those of the parents but a manifestation of the works of God. So, could it be that some of your trials are manifesting the works of God?

Trials vs. Tests

The Book of Wisdom (2:12, 17-20) tells us the reasons behind the trials of the innocent person, also described as the just one. Here, we see that the wicked go all out to frustrate the just one because his choices and actions expose their evil ways of life.

From the narrative, we understand that the wicked are out to put the just one to the test. So let’s hear the evil again, “Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him.” The quick lesson here is that some trials come to test the authenticity of what we profess and how we would react to the difficulties that come our way; in other words, our faith and patience are tried.

At this point, it would be pertinent for us to field some relevant questions, “am I true to my words to the Lord?” “Can I prove that I will be steadfast and consistent in my faith when I am passing through trials?

Steps to Overcome the Trials of Life

What are the best ways to handle the trials that come to us? Sometimes we complain; at other times, we blame people and even God. However, these approaches would not solve the problems; rather, they get us more confused. So, what can we do when trials come after us?

Trust in God

The attack on the just is because of their dedication and trust in God. Notice that the wicked mentioned that the just had said that God would take care of him. Consequently, it would be foolish to lose trust in God when trials come. The Book of Proverbs (3:5) tells us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our understanding.

Trust, which is faith in action, turns our trail to triumph. Abraham shows us what it means to have trust in God when tested by trials. We could recall that he had to endure a period of twenty-five years before God fulfilled the promise of a son from his wife, Sarah. He further had to demonstrate his trust in God when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1-18)

Be Patient

Trials come as seasons in our lives, and the only way to get through any season is to wait till it passes, but it takes patience to wait. For instance, the Book of Psalms (37:7) says, “be patient and wait for God to act.” The instruction is pertinent because there is no victory without patience, and it takes patience to receive blessings from God.

Recall that some trials come to test our patience with God, ourselves, and the world around us. When we are impatient, we lose hope and give up. However, patience helps us remain steadfast in our journey through trials knowing that God will take us to the next level.  

Be in Humble in Service

To be patient in our trials, we need to be humble in our service to God. Humility is a unique key that could open any conceivable door in our lives. In the Gospel of Mark (9:30-37), our Lord Jesus Christ teaches that the easiest access to greatness is through service while instructing his disciples after their fight over the greatest among them.

Did you know that you can offer your trials as a service to God after the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ who did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself to the point of being a servant in other to pay for our sins on the cross?

If you consider yourself a servant of God like the patriarch, judges, and the prophets, then you need to serve. Of course, a servant is a designation, and service is a function. But service without humility amounts to a show-off display.

Moving Forward: Focusing on the goal!

There is an end to every trial we face in life. Victory can only come when we get to the end of our trial. Focusing on the goal would be a better way to outlive the trials of the moment.

When Jesus said that he would suffer and die but would rise again in glory on the third day, Peter saw a disaster and darkness, but James and John saw an opportunity and started making plans to sit at the right and the left hand of the Lord because they were looking beyond the trials to the glorious resurrection (Mark 10:35-37).

Do not pray against trials because they would surely come, and you don’t even need to ask for them. Instead, ask for the grace to win through the trials that may confront you. By the way, the same words of the Lord to St. Paul applies to you, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made manifest in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9)

God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

THE POWER OF IDENTITY REFLECTION FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Identity test: Explore your identity - PsychMechanics

There is one facility you have which you can never share with anyone! Guess? It is your fingerprint. Among the 7.79 billion people in the world, no two individuals share the same fingerprint even the most identical twins in the world who share the same husband, Lucy, and Anna Decinque, have contrasting fingerprints.

We often go through life identifying ourselves and being identified. We all need some form of identification to function effectively in our contemporary world. Before you board an airplane, for instance, you need to present identification. You also need a valid license to identify yourself as a driver regardless of your years of driving.

You may not have access to certain places and things without some form of identification. Notice that your computer sometimes asks you to prove that you are human and not a robot through the captcha, especially when completing sensitive forms.

In the Gospel of Mark (8:27-35), we see our Lord Jesus Christ conducting field research about his identity while using his disciples as respondents. “Who do people say I am” was the question. The disciples responded by giving some popular opinions about Jesus that see him as John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.

Bringing the question home to the apostles, Jesus asked disciples, “who do say I am?” Peter responding says, “You are the Christ.” From the account of Matthew (17:17), Jesus would commend Peter for the response but would ascribe it to divine revelation.

The Christ Identity

Peter’s answer was apt. There were many “Jesuses” before, after and during the earthly life of the Son of Mary, but only one is and can only be the Christ. The realization of this characterization prods us to want to know the significance of Christ’s identity!

Christ (chrīstós) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah which means “the anointed one.” Now the Messiah (anointed one) is the one that would bring divine salvation (Daniel 9:25-27); so, he is the savior, which aligns with the Hebrew Yeshu’a rendered in Greek as Jesus.

After Peter confessed the identity of Christ, Jesus began to teach them openly about the fate of Christ, which includes severe suffering and death but not excluding resurrection on the third day.

Peter, who had earlier confessed the identity of the Christ, reacted to the teaching of Christ by rebuking him privately for talking about suffering and death. However, he did not mention the resurrection on the third day.  Jesus responded again openly by saying, “Get behind me, Satan, you think not as God does, but as human beings do.”

We have so much to learn from the episode. Jesus was teaching publicly about the mission of Christ; the devil comes privately to discourage him. This is our story. We often make public promises and declarations, but in the privacy of our minds, the enemy comes to discourage us from keeping them.

Peter declared Jesus the Christ but, the devil working through the same individual, Peter, tries to stop Jesus from accomplishing the mission of the Christ. So the quick lesson for us here is that the devil could speak from even the best of us.

We need to be as discerning as Jesus to know when “Peter” speaks and when Satan is manipulating. Furthermore, receiving revelation from God today would not stop Satan from coming to us tomorrow with suggestions. St. Paul says, “if you think you are standing, watch out lest you fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

Moving Forward: Identifying with the Christ!

In the communication that followed, our Lord Jesus Christ took the time to explain what it means to be a follower of His. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” This is not a suggestion but a meaningful obligation.

The cross is our Christian identity as well as our instrument of victory. Though it may be discomforting and weighty now, there is a crown waiting at the end of the journey of the cross. So, see the cross you are carrying now as your way of identifying with Christ, who went the way of the cross to save us.

Do not reject the cross that comes your way; they don’t come to stay; rather, they come only for a season. Indeed, God cannot give you the cross you cannot carry; they will not break you, but rather they would remake you. Therefore, Christianity without the cross is a child’s play.

Note finally that one way of making our faith actionable, according to the instruction of St. James (2:14-18), is to take up our cross after our Lord Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to be like Christ. Isaiah (50:4c-9a) says, among other things, that help would come from the Lord after trials that we face. Therefore, let us always live by our Christian identity.

God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

THE EPHPHATHA PROJECT: OVERCOMING THE CROWD LIMITATIONSHOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Our mobile phones give us an instant connection to our family, friends, and associates, especially voice calls. But when it comes to placing or receiving a call, one would need a noiseless ambient to hear and be heard. With this description in mind, it would be a great task to entertain a call in a noisy crowd.

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 7:31-37), we see our Lord Jesus attending to a deaf and mute at the request of some people amid a noisy crowd. It would have been like opening the eye of the blind in a dark room. So, we see Jesus doing the needful, which is taking the man away from the crowd. That singular act leaves us with so many lessons.

The Crowd Effect

It would be important for us to take a closer look at the crowd phenomenon generally and in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. By definition, a crowd is a large collection of people in a particular place. Often there are no personal spaces between individuals, and that makes a crowd disorganized and uncontrollable.

The ministry of Jesus has series of appearances of the crowd often referred to as a multitude. The crowd often followed him (Mark 3:7), he taught the crowd many things (Mark 4:1ff), and he healed many people in the crowd (Matthew 15:30-31).

However, the crowd could also be an entity of limitation and distraction to progress. The woman with the issue of blood had to struggle through the crowd before she could touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. (Luke 8:42b-48).

Recall that the blind Bartimaeus was hushed by the crowd while trying to get the attention of Jesus for healing (Mark 10:46-52). Zacchaeus could not see Jesus because of the crowd, so he ran ahead to a sycamore tree where Jesus eventually met him (Luke 19:1-6).

Breaking the Limitation of the Crowd

From the Gospel narrative, we see that Jesus had to take the deaf and mute man away from the crowd before engaging in the process of healing that involved putting his finger into his ears and spitting and touching his tongue. Notice that Jesus could still have performed the miracle in the crowd, but it would be of little benefit to the man because he would be struggling to hear and to be heard.

From a more reflective angle, the crowd could be anything or anyone that challenges our access to the transforming power of the Lord in our lives. You can also be a crowd unto yourself through the choices and decisions you make for yourself. Like we established, the crowd stands for distraction and limitation.

Taking a walk from the crowd, Jesus said to the deaf and mute “ephphatha,” a Greek word that means “be opened.” Indeed, the crowd would not have allowed the opening to happen because it would be closing in every inch on the way.

Imagine if the deaf and mute man refused to follow Jesus to get away from the crowd; he would have gone home the same! Is that not the case with us? Unfortunately, we often get so attached to some “crowds” that we do not recognize the presence of the Lord and his healing mission in our lives.

Of course, God’s hands are not too short to save and his ears not too dull to hear, but the crowds in our lives separate us from God’s protecting hands. The prophet Isaiah (35:4-7a) reminds us of God’s promised healing mission in our lives. God does not want us to be frightened but to be strong as He comes to restore hearing to the deaf and the speech to the mute.

Moving Forward: The Ephphatha Project!   

Upon a closer introspection, there is more to that command of our Lord Jesus Christ that says Ephphatha. God is inviting us to be open to accept the invitation to leave the noisy crowd around us that is stopping us from hearing and speaking the word of God. We live in a world filled with so many distracting crowds, especially the one we have in our hands called mobile phones. There would be the need for us sometimes to drop that crowd to hear the Lord.

Furthermore, Ephphatha is an invitation for us to open the door of our hearts to the Lord, who knocks insistently, waiting for our response (Rev. 3:20). Ephphatha is an invitation to step out of our comfort zone and be open to a new way of living. Ephphatha is a challenge to give the Lord access to our ears and mouth like the deaf and mute.  

As we continue our Christian faith journey, may we continue to renew our resolve to answer the Lord who is still calling us to disconnect from the limitations of the crowd and to align ourselves to the saving remedies He has prepared for us.

God bless you, and a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF OBEDIENCE Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

If someone asked you to mention just one thing you think God needs from everything He created, both humans and other creatures, what would you say? The answer is obedience. Yes, even the winds and the seas obey God (Matt. 8:27), and all creation praise the Lord, which is an act of obedience (Psalm 148).

We prefer to relate closely with those who obey us and refrain from the people who don’t. A more significant reason many people like to keep dogs as pets is that they are more obedient and friendly than other domestic animals.

Now, if God’s highest demand from us is obedience, it means that disobedience is the last thing He would wish to get from us. But unfortunately, disobedience has been the destructive line in our relationship with God, starting from the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Our struggle with disobedience has not ended.

Disobedience is the unwillingness to submit to the direction of divine authority. We see a typical instance when God asked Saul to destroy the Amalekites, both human and animals, but the king was unwilling to destroy everything and spared the king Agag and the best of the animals and other good things (1 Samuel 15:9).

The Benefits of Obedience to the Law

In the Book of Deuteronomy (4:1-2,6-8), we see Moses giving the people of Israel instructions from God as they prepare to enter the promised land. In the body of the narrative, we see the word “observe” mentioned several times. 

To observe in this context does not mean watching but acting; in fact, it means following a defined path, in other words, to obey. We see the correlation between observance and obedience clearer in the Book of Joshua (1:7), where God admonished Joshua to be careful to obey (or observe) all the laws that Moses gave to him, not turning away to the right or the left.

When we are asked to obey certain rules and regulations, we often think that they would make us lose our freedom of will. On the contrary, the purpose of any rule is first to assist the person who observes the rule. For instance, the seatbelt rule is primarily for the safety of the driver and passengers. 

Obedience gives life: Every instance of obedience is a step towards life, just as disobedience opens the door to death in the spiritual sense. Recall that God asked Adam to freely eat the trees in the garden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And God added, “the day you shall eat of it, you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17). God’s statement here means that disobedience would bring death which means also means disconnection from God. 

Obedience gives access: We gain divine access when we are obedient. For example, in the passage, Moses asked the people to observe the statutes and decrees to live and enter in and take possession of the land that the Lord God is giving to them.

Obedience precedes divine access and nearness. Recall that the generation that disobeyed God during the journey could not enter the promised land, including Moses (Deuteronomy 32:51–52). The implication for us here is that heaven is only accessible through obedience.

Obedience shows wisdom: Wisdom belongs to the realm of the divine, and it has to do with the ability to make the right choice in the face of contending options. The Book of Job (28:28) says that the fear of the Lord is wisdom and to depart from evil is understanding.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses challenged the people to give evidence of their wisdom by choosing the careful observance of the commandments. The quick lesson here is that we become foolish when we choose to disobey God.

Moving Forward: Becoming Action-minded Christians

The world is divided into two foregrounds with “sayers” on the one hand and “doers” on the other. Our Lord Jesus Christ weighs in on this distinction in the Gospel of Mark (7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) while addressing the Pharisees and some Scribes who faulted his disciples for eating with unwashed hands against the tradition of the elders.

Our Lord Jesus replies to the faultfinders by pointing out the words of the prophet Isaiah that decried how the people honor God with their lips but their hears are from Him. They also worship in vain by teaching human precepts as doctrines (Isaiah 29:13). 

Do we not often neglect our obedience to the basic commandments of God while occupying ourselves with some frivolous religious dramas that do not add an inch to our spiritual growth and advancement. 

God is not interested in how physically clean your hands are, as He is interested in how clean your heart is. Did David not say that the one that would climb the mountain of the Lord should have not just clean hands but also a pure heart (Psalm 24:4).

There would be the need for us to make our Christian life intentional and action-minded. In the letter of St. James (1:17-18, 21b-22, 27), we get some helpful aids. First, the epistle challenges us to welcome the saving word of God that is planted in us with unquestioning humility. Furthermore, and more importantly, St. James challenges us to be doers of the word and not just hearers, thereby deluding ourselves. 

As we receive the word of God today, we treasure it in our hearts, and may we come to a more renewed commitment towards the careful obedience to the divine directives that would lead us to eternal life.

God bless you, and have a fruitful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

HOW TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES IN LIFE Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

The power of choice

There are two important gifts God gave to human beings from creation: the gift of life and the freedom of choice. We go through life making choices between alternatives; even the failure to choose between options is itself a choice. Notice that the fall of man was the tragedy of a bad choice which crystallized as the sin of disobedience.

The Book of Joshua (24:1-2; 15-18) gives us a classic instance of the freedom of choice. After a long period of instability in their fidelity to God, Joshua challenged the Israelites at Shechem to choose whom they wish to serve. However, he declared his choice in agreement with his household by saying: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15).

On their part, the people responded by saying,” 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 the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. Therefore, we will also serve the Lord for He is our God.” How far the people sustained their choice to serve the Lord God would be an entirely new topic for discussion.

Marriage is a choice  

St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) instructs that those who choose to enter marriage and build a family must be ready to accept and sustain some consequent obligations, including mutual submission and love.   

When a man and a woman plan to spend the rest of their lives together as husband and wife, they are making a choice that would generate a long chain of consequences as every choice comes with a consequence(s). It is thus very important that people choose to enter the marriage covenant freely and without coercion or simulation.

Union with Christ is a choice

Beyond the union of a man and a woman, which is open to the procreation of children, marriage points to the union Christ shares with us, the Church. St. Paul was using the idea of the wife submitting to the husband to demonstrate how we should freely submit to our Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). This analogy does not give the woman a lower status in the married life because the man and woman are equal before God (Gal.3:28).

The Gospel of John (6:60-69) concludes the drama that started early in that Chapter after the multiplication of the five barley loaves and two fish. Recall that the crowd sought Jesus after the miraculous lunch, but when they found him, he made it clear that they seek him not because they saw the sign but because they had all the bread they needed.

Moving further, Jesus instructed them not to work for the food that perishes but for the living bread that would give them lasting satisfaction. When they asked for that bread, Jesus made it clear to them that his body, the living bread that came down from heaven and whoever eats, shall have eternal life.

The people felt insulted that the son of Joseph had asked them to eat his body and to drink his blood, so many of them walked away and stopped following him. Now Jesus asked the Twelve if they too would choose to leave? Replying, Simon Peter makes a powerful declaration, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

Notice here that Jesus did not force the crowd nor the Twelve to stay and accept his words, rather he allowed them to choose, and as we can see, many of them chose to walk away just as the Twelve chose to stay with the Lord and his words of eternal life.

How to Make the Right Choices in Life

The life you have now is the consequence of a choice made in the past. Life is all about choices, and we are as good or as bad as the choices we make. After Jesus had engaged the crowd in a long discourse on the source of eternal life, many chose to walk away, and the reason is that they lacked the knowledge of how to make the right choices in life, which is what we shall explore briefly.

Focus on the long-term value: For every choice, there are long-term values and short-term benefits. Unfortunately, many people are so short-sighted that they can only see the short-term benefits and instantly go for them. For the crowd who engaged with Jesus, the most needed was the physical bread for the belly, not the eternal bread for the soul.

Do we not so often run after material satisfaction in our daily hustle in life? Do we not seek first the other things and neglecting the kingdom of God and His righteousness and so reversing the Lord’s instruction in the Gospel of Matthew (6:33)? Would you rather eat today and starve forever or starve today and live forever? The choice is yours!

Be mindful of the consequences: Making a choice presupposes choosing the consequences. We may not run away from the consequences of our choices, so it is highly recommended that we consider and weigh the consequences before making a choice.

Most people are either suffering or celebrating the outcome of the choices they made earlier. Therefore, there would be the need to constantly take the time to reflect on the alternatives before validating a choice.

Make a sustainable choice: Making a choice is one thing, and it is another thing to make it sustainable. Sustainable choices are those that stand the test of time. Recall that the people of Israel chose the manner of Joshua and his household to worship the Lord God and serve him alone. But the unfortunate thing is that they could not sustain this choice as they relapsed to the idolatrous ways of the nations around them.

Moving Forward: Heaven is a Choice  

If life is a foreground of choices, then that afterlife would be the consequence of our choices on earth; heaven is, therefore, a choice just like hell. God loves us so much and would want us to spend eternity with Him, but we would never force us. Revelation (3:20) says he is at the door knocking, but the choice is ours to open or not. Essentially, we freely choose to be eternal with God or be damned forever. It is all yours to choose, choose right. It is all yours to choose, but choose right.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE AMAZING GRACE STORY OF GOD’S MOTHER! Reflection for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Homily of Archbishop Neary for The Feast of The Assumption 15th August 2017  | Archdiocese of Tuam

According to the divine plan, every human being ought to have a mother; in fact, it is impossible to be human without the biological foreground of a mother. We also see this reality reflected in other living organisms around us.

When God decided to take up the project of redeeming humanity long after the sin of Adam and Eve, he comes through a human mother. This means that even God had to follow the human reproductive protocols he designed to achieve His salvific plan. In simple terms, God became man to save humanity.

How did God become man? Through the incarnation, which stands for the process of God who is Spirit becoming flesh. The Gospel of John (1:14) says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

A further question would be, “where did the Word take flesh?” The answer is, “in the womb of a human mother, a Jewish virgin called Mary betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David. However, before Joseph could bring her into his home as a wife, something strange happened.

God sent an angel to Mary with an unusual greeting and uncommon proposal that was never heard nor imagined. “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). But, of course, Mary was afraid and perplexed about the greeting, so the angel added, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30).

The rest of the message was the proposal that she would become the mother of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Most High God, who would rule in the stead of his Father David, and his kingdom would have no end.

Mother of God, Full of Grace

The story of Mary, the Mother of God, started with grace and ended with grace. That is the real meaning of the phrase “full of grace” or highly favored.” The apostle Matthew (1:23) reminds us that the prophet Isaiah (7:14) had declared that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and will call him Immanuel (God with us).”

If Mary is full of grace, it could have been from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb, not just at the time of the angel’s visit. Furthermore, the same grace of God was with her throughout her life.

Was it not grace that preserved Mary from all forms of defilements until the angel comes with the message? Yes, it was grace that kept her from the stain of original sin and made it possible for her to conceive of her Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same grace made it possible for her to be led by the Holy Spirit to visit Elizabeth and for the unborn child, John the Baptist, to jump in her mother’s womb when she heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:39-44).

Grace led Mary to discover that the wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee was spent. Grace led her to tell her Son that they had no wine. Grace made her give the attendants and all of us an understanding of how to obtain blessings from God when she said: “do whatever he tells you!” The Blessed Virgin Mary was Grace-Filled, and everything about her was Grace-Full!

The Blessed Virgin Mary: God’s Special Vessel, Preserved and Taken.

In the words of St. Paul to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:21), a house may contain many vessels, but some are for more honorable use while others are for common use. We could see how this relates to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom God chose as an honorable vessel to become His Mother. God also filled her with special favors not for her merit but because of whom she would carry; Jesus Christ, God the Son.

Now let me ask you this question, “what would you do with a precious thing you have when you are moving to another location?”  From my experience, people give out or discard things that are no longer useful to them, but they keep the most valuable items; nobody in the right senses would leave without a great treasure.

If the Blessed Virgin Mary was chosen by God even before she was born and full of grace (the favored one); if she was conceived without a stain of original sin because she would become the mother of the sinless one; then she qualifies to be preserved and taken by God after the end of her life here on earth. Remember that the word that took flesh did not experience decay but rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.

Mary would not be the only biblical character that God took. God took Enoch after living for 365 years (Genesis 5:23-24). Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). Of course, we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven as the disciples watch (Acts 1:9).

Moving Forward

The assumption of Mary, the Mother of God, to heaven assures us that God will neither forget nor forsake His own (Deuteronomy 31:6). Some people argue that we cannot find the assumption in the bible, but that does not limit the fact that God graciously preserved his mother from earthly corruption and had her assumed to heaven where she sits by her eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

With the assumption of Mary, we keep alive the hope that when our earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven (2 Cor. 51). Today we are invited to reflect on that eternal home our Lord promised to prepare for us (John 14:1). Like Mary, we are invited to cooperate with the grace of God, which is constantly available to us as an aid on our journey to God.

Like Mary, we need to be open to accepting God’s will for our lives with submission and humility. However, we should also allow the grace of God to guide our choices and actions, and God will never forsake us.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

RECEIVING STRENGTH FOR THE JOURNEY OF LIFE REFLECTION FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Podcast] I Am The Bread of Life – Steve Dusek

It is easy to judge people who commit suicide as impatient and fragile. But have you ever found yourself in that place in life where you are broken, anxious, and hopeless? Have you ever been in the middle of two extreme conditions that seem to push you to the point of wishing to die? By the way you don’t have to die because of your troubles; they should rather die away because your life is more important!

The prophet Elijah was in that dark place as we see in the First Book of Kings (19:4-8). Elijah was running from queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab who swore to kill him after defeating and killing the prophets of baal who served under the wicked queen.

Elijah had set out to meet God at mount Horeb through the desert, but one day into his journey he found himself at a dead-end fainting, and even prayed for death to take him. We hear him say: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers”.

Contrary to Elijah’s wish to die, God had a revitalizing plan for him as he sends an angel to provide him with cake (bread) and water and these words, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you”. Twice he ate the miraculous lunch, and he was strengthened by the food to walk the forty days and nights journey to mount Horeb.

In the Gospel of John (6:41-51), we see the crowd who followed Jesus and wanted more bread murmuring when Jesus declared that he is the bread that came down from heaven. The crowd was abusive and judging as they started profiling Jesus’ humble family background. However, what they did not understand is that there is something about Jesus Christ that is beyond his earthly family; he is the life-giving bread from heaven.

Strength for the Journey of Life

Oliver Goldsmith says that life is a journey that must be travelled no matter how bad the roads and the accommodations. Elijah and the crowd searching for Jesus had one thing in common; they were on a journey, and they needed some sustenance. Furthermore, the sustenance they needed was not just physical diet but spiritual strength for the journey.

Notice that Elijah could not survive a day without food, but the two square mealtimes sustained him for a period of forty days in the desert. No wonder the angel said to him, “eat else the journey will be too long for you”. The quick lesson here is that when we are not filled in by God the journey of life becomes long and tedious, but when God is in the equation things get better and smoother.

On the other hand, the crowd searching for Jesus were also in the journey of life. Unknown to them however, they needed the food that would give them eternal sustenance not just overnight satisfaction like the five loaves and two fish.

Responding to their desperate search for perishable bread, our Lord Jesus Christ says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”.

Moving Forward: Receiving the Strength for the Journey of Life

The narratives of Elijah and the crowd remind us of the importance of the food from heaven in the journey of life. Pause a while and reflect on those words of our Lord Jesus Christ; “whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Our Lord was not just making a statement, but he was stating a helpful fact.

In another place he says, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you will not have life within you” (John 6:53). Remember also that he says in the Gospel (John 15:5), “cut off from me you can do nothing”.

Are you intentional about partaking of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ? When was your last worthy participation in this meal? God gave us His Son our Lord Jesus Christ not only for the expiate of our sins but also for our spiritual sustenance and strength as we walk through the journey of life; Jesus is our viaticum.

So, as you journey through the desert of life, and running from some destructive Jezebels, remember that your strength may fail you but if the Lord is with you and in you, your strength will never fail.

Five things you must keep in mind when you find yourself in that dark place like Elijah:

  • You are never, ever alone; God is with you!
  • Nothing takes God by surprise, not even the dark place
  • When you are weak like Elijah, God is always strong for you.
  • There is always a new beginning for you.
  • God’s love will never give up on you.

God bless you and have blessed weekend.

Fr. Bonnie.

ARE YOU SATISFIED? Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Made Known in the Breaking of the Bread - Pleasant Grove United Methodist  Church

During my minor seminary days, one of my classmates was so attached to food that we call him “cibus,” which is the Latin word for food; but that is one part of the story. The other side is that he was never satisfied no matter the quantity of food you give him.

Generally, there seems to be something about our human disposition that makes us insatiable and desire to have more. Oliver Goldsmith says, “People seek within a short span of life to satisfy a thousand desires, each of which is insatiable.” Is there any way we can truly have enough in life; are you satisfied? Keep this question in your mind as we go!

The Gospel of John (6:1-15) tells us how our Lord Jesus Christ fed five the thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish; consequently, they had enough with leftovers that filled twelve wicker baskets. In the Gospel of John (6:24-35), we hear what happened the day after the miracle of the multiplication. The people searched for Jesus and his disciples across the sea to Capernaum; you can guess why they searched for him.

When they saw Jesus, they marveled at when and how he came to that side of the sea because he did not enter the boat with his disciples after the miraculous meal. Of course, they did not know that he walked on the lake in the night. Anyway, Jesus understood why they were searching for him; So, he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw the signs but because you ate the loaves and you were filled.”

Our Lord goes further to instruct them not to work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which he gives. As the conversation continued, the people asked for a sign to enable them to believe him; in fact, they asked him, “what can you do?” They pretend to have forgotten the miracle of the loaves and fish.

Do we not often ask God the same question, “what can you do?” in our desperate search for answers. Or like the people of Israel murmuring and complaining about a temporary need when God had save them from greater predicament (Ex. 16:24, 12-15).

The people were heading somewhere, so they referred to the meal of manna their ancestors had in the desert through Moses. But Moses did not give them the bread Jesus corrected; rather, it is the Father that shows the true bread that gives life from heaven. So, instantly, they asked Jesus to provide them with the bread always. But he replies and says: “I am the true bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  

The Sign and the Signified: Notice that Jesus did not call the feeding of the five thousand a miracle; rather, he calls it a sign that functionally points to a reality other than itself. So, the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish was not a close-ended event but a pointer to another reality, and that is Jesus Christ, the true bread that is broken and shared to feed a multitude, that is, every one of us.

Temporary Satisfaction Vs. Eternal Satisfaction: In the narrative, Jesus gave an important instruction that we should take seriously. He says, “do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life. So the quick lesson here is that food can have temporary or lasting satisfying capacity.

The greater focus of our daily struggle in life indeed is to make ends meet. That explains why people work “nine to five” and beyond to satisfy their physical needs. Jesus is trying to tell us that we may be so consumed by the desire to work for our bodily wants that we forget our spiritual needs. We see this happening in the disposition of the crowd. They spent the entire day searching for Jesus to have more bread to satisfy their physical desire neglecting the more important component.

Carnality Vs. Spirituality

This brings us to the distinction between carnality and spirituality. The carnal nature pertains to the flesh, and its desires are overwhelming. Therefore, St. Paul warned the Galatians: “live by the Spirit and do not gratify the desire of the flesh” (Gal.5:16). Writing to the Romans, St. Paul further says that those who live according to the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8).

One discovery about the desire of the flesh is that it is never satisfied. Here we see the baseline of greed and avarice in life. The carnally minded individual will never get enough. In contrast, Jesus tells us that they are blessed who hunger and thirst for righteousness as they would be satisfied (Matt. 5:6).

The five loaves of bread and two fish came from a generous child in the crowd, but the true bread comes from our gracious Father in heaven. The people ate and had enough for that day, but the next day, they were hungry. In contrast, the bread of heaven gives eternal satisfaction. The multitude ate the food for the stomach, but Jesus promises the food that nourishes the soul.

Moving Forward: Are You Satisfied?

What you seek after in life determines the level of satisfaction you get. Many people go through life depressed and frustrated because they run after things that would never give them enough. It could be a job that pays money but pulls away joy. It could be a relationship that turns out to be toxic; and it could also be a worldly standard that makes you lose your worthwhile standing with God.

What are you seeking after in life, and what satisfying value would you get from it? Jesus asked in the Gospel of Mark (8:36), “what would it profit a man to have gained to the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul.” For this reason, he encourages us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and other things would become ours (Matt. 6:33).

As we continue our faith journey, let us continually remind ourselves in our daily struggle for daily bread that man shall not live by bread alone because it will never satisfy us. Rather, let us open our hearts to God, whose unfailing word and presence would satisfy our longing soul and fill us with good things (Ps. 107:9).

Fr. Bonnie.

THE SECRETS OF DIVINE MULTIPLICATION Reflection for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Breaking Bread and Keeping the Sabbath | Sabbath Truth

Once upon a time, a beggar comes to a certain monastery every week to beg for leftover food. Each time, the monk at the gate would joyfully welcome him and give him something to eat. Unknown to the beggar however, there were no leftovers; the monk simply shared his portion of food with him. 

One day, the beggar visited, not to beg but to give a basket of fresh tomatoes he received from a farmer to the monk at the gate for his kindness. Of course, the monk was not expecting the gift, but all the same, he received it with thanks. 

When the beggar left, the monk thought about one of the monks who fed only on vegetables and decided to give him the tomatoes. The veggie monk was incredibly happy for the gift and thanked the gate monk. But when the monk left, the veggie monk thought about the old priest in the monastery who loves tomatoes and instantly decided to give him the tomatoes.

The old priest was joyful that the veggie monk was kind enough to give out the tomatoes. But he thought about the gardener and decided to surprise him with the basket of tomatoes. Getting the fresh tomatoes, the gardener thought about the monk at that gate, “he is there all the time by himself; let me appreciate him with these”. When the monk at the gate received the tomatoes, he could not hold the tears of joy.

The Power of Good Thoughts

One important trend throughout the story is the progression of the good thought to share with others. The Second Book of Kings (2 Kings 4:42-44) tells us about a certain man from Baal-Shalishah who thought about visiting the man of God Elisha and comes with twenty barley loaves that was miraculously multiplied by the prayer of the prophet to feed a hundred people.

In the Gospel of John (6:1-15), we hear about Jesus feeding about five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish which was a little boy’s lunch that he thoughtfully gave out and was miraculously multiplied to feed the crowd.

From the two narratives, we understand that every good thought produces good results. The Book of Jeremiah (29:11) tells us that God has good thoughts for us, and St. Paul tells us to renew our minds to think what is good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2).

The Steps to Divine Multiplication

Miracles are not far from us; in fact, they could happen more if we discover the secrets. Recall that Jesus had asked Philip where they could buy enough food for the hungry crowd. However, this was a test because Jesus knew exactly what to do. God knows the end from the beginning, including our difficult situations and their solutions (Isaiah 46:10).

Philip indicated that they do not have sufficient funds to buy enough food. Andrew, who may have been privy to the conversation, remarked that a boy has five barley loaves and two fish though insufficient for the crowd. Jesus asked the people to recline, blessed the loaves and the fish, and asked the disciples to distribute to the crowd, and everyone had as much they wanted, and the leftover filled twelve wicker baskets.

Bring Something: The only time God made something out of nothing was in the narrative of creation in the Book of Genesis (1:3ff) with those “let there be” statements. The first human person came out of the already created reality; dust and the breathing of God.

The law of multiplication demands that there must be two or more variables on the foregrounds of the calculation. Notice that if you try to multiply any number with nothing, you will get nothing, for instance, 1000 x 0 = 0. 

To feed the multitude, Jesus demanded that the disciples give them something. Andrew seems to have a little idea of the divine multiplication secret when he presented the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish. However, he thought it was small compared to the crowd.

God can use small things to do great things. The crowd could eat something and have more than enough because someone brought something. Now the numbers five and two have greater significance to us, and they show what we need to bring to God. We see the two fish as representing MY and the five loaves representing FAITH. So, in your situation, the math goes this way THE SITUATION + MY FAITH X JESUS = ABUNDANCE.

Be Close Enough: The boy with the five loaves and two fish was not the only person in the crowd with lunch, but he was near enough to be discovered. You cannot expect divine multiplication when you are so far away from the Lord. 

James (4:8a) says, “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Likewise, the letter to the Hebrews encourages us to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace in time of need (Hebrew 4:16).

Share: A careful reading of the event of the multiplication shows that Jesus simply prayed and asked the disciples to share the loaves and fish. The miracle of multiplication happened during the sharing of the lunch. You may have heard that there is joy in sharing, as our opening story indicated with the chain sharing of the basket of fresh tomatoes.

Moving Forward: Our Lord is still in the business of bringing multiplication to various aspects of our lives. But, unfortunately, we often miss the chance of experiencing divine multiplication because we stay very far from the Lord, come without our faith, or step down from sharing with others.

Do not be discouraged when the problems around you appear to be overwhelming. You don’t need to have so much to overcome; you only need to bring the little you have, and the Lord will bring out so much from so little. Remember: The situation +MY Faith X Jesus = Abundance!

God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.    

THE “AMAZIAH” SYNDROME VS. THE “AMOS” MANDATE! Reflection for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

7/12/2015

One thing that all politicians have in common is the intense desire for supporters. In fact, supporters keep them in the political game, which explains why most people who aspire to leadership positions spend resources lobbying for supporters and retaining them.

There seems to be something in our human nature that urges us to relate more with the people who tell us “what we want to hear” than those who tell us “what we need to hear.” But, unfortunately, those who say what we need to hear often speak the truth, and most people would rather believe lies than hear the truth.

In the Book of the Prophet Amos (7:12-15), we read about the attack of the priest Amaziah on the Prophet Amos who was on a mission from the South (Judah) of the divided Kingdom to the North (Israel) during the wicked reign of King Jeroboam II (See 2 Kings 14:23-24).

King Jeroboam appointed Amaziah to function as a priest in the national temple. However, the appointment was political, not divine. So, the only way he could remain in office as the Kingdom priest was to tell the king what he wanted to hear, everything that would make him feel good and satisfied, including false oracles.

The “Amaziah” Syndrome

When the Prophet Amos showed up with the authentic word of God for the Northern Kingdom, Amaziah could not hold his peace. He saw Amos as a competition and bitterly rebuked him, saying:

Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.

Amos gives a very modest reply by attesting that he is just a shepherd and a part-time fruit farmer called by God to the prophetic vocation. He comes to speak God’s words to the people about the things that would happen in the Kingdom, including the destruction of the people and the high places and a siege in the household of Jeroboam (Amos 7: 8-9).

From the priest’s attitude toward Amos the prophet, we could see that the Amaziah syndrome pays attention to man instead of God. It is about working for the pay and not for the passion for the Lord. The Amaziah syndrome focuses on what would make the people relax in sin, not what would release them from sin. It is all about the fight for royal favors instead of the advancement of divine fraternity and fellowship.

The Amaziah syndrome takes what belongs to God and turns it into a mundane possession. Notice from the words of the priest Amaziah, Bethel, which should be the House of God, became the king’s sanctuary and the royal temple. The temple is not hallowed by the king’s usage but by the divine presence.

Responding to the “Amos” Mandate

The flip side of the Amaziah syndrome is what we shall understand here as the “Amos” mandate. We realize that Amos was called directly by God and sent to fulfill the prophetic vocation from the narrative.

In the Gospel of Mark (6:7-13), Jesus summoned the twelve apostles he had called earlier and sent them out in pairs to preach repentance and gave them authority over unclean spirits. However, he also charged them to go only with a walking stick and a sandal, stay wherever they are welcomed, and depart where they are not accepted.

The Amos mandate involves an effective response to the divine invitation to become a helpful instrument in advancing the Kingdom of God. Thus, the Amos mandate is not a political construct like that of Amaziah sponsored by a self-aggrandizing leader.

It is a task for the Lord that does not pay attention to what one could gain. Remember that Jesus instructed the twelve to take nothing for the journey. It also means that they should not be concerned about material benefits. Notice that he required them to give by preaching repentance and exercising authority over unclean spirits.

They are not to worry about material provisions because they have comprehensive divine coverage. In fact, St. Paul made it more eloquent in his letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), where among other things, he says that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens and in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.

The Amos mandate leaves us with another lesson which is fellowship in the work of God. Notice again that Jesus did not send them out individually but in pairs, unlike the Amaziah syndrome that seeks to be a lone voice and sees competition in any other individual. Ecclesiastes (4:9-10) says:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. If they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.

Moving Forward!

The Amos mandate is open to all the baptized who share in the prophetic office of Christ. We are expected to spread the Good News far and near leveraging one of the departure instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15).

While spreading the Good News, we are expected to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Hence, we should, like Amos, speak the truth regardless of whom it hurts. We cannot afford to please the “Jeroboams” around us while displeasing the almighty God and creator of all things.

God bless you as you continue to respond to the Amos mandate!

Fr. Bonnie.     

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