Fr Bonnie's Reflections

HOW TO BE TRULY GREAT

Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

                                                        Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

The Precursor to Greatness - Matt Report

Why do people engage in competitions? There could be many answers, but at the base of all the possible reasons is the desire to establish greatness in contrast to others. There seems to be something in our defective human nature that pushes us to display greatness over others. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes would call it the “war of all against all” (Bellum omnium contra omnes).

Earlier in the Gospel of Mark (9:34-36), the twelve apostles were shamefully struggling over the greatest status among them. Instructing them on their senseless struggle, Jesus brought a child in their midst and said: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me but the One who sent Me.”

It seemed that the apostles did not understand the significance of welcoming Jesus in the manner of receiving a child in his name. So, in the Gospel of Mark (10:35-45), we see the two brothers, James and John coming to Jesus to make an ambitious request: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

The problem with the request of James and John

We need to acknowledge James and John for their desire to experience the glory of the Lord beyond his suffering and death. However, their approach to the glory was faulty. They thought that sharing in the Lord’s glory would happen by struggling to get visible positions at his sides. In other words, they were seeking access to the Lord’s glory through political appointment.

Responding to their bold request, Jesus made it clear in the first place that they did not know what they were asking. Therefore, we pause here to ask ourselves if we also understand some of the requests we make to God, especially when we become desperate to receive certain things; “thy will be done” remains the best petition you can make to God after the manner of Jesus (Luke 22:42).

Furthermore, the acceptance of the two brothers to drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism of the Lord could have been a hasty one. Often, we become too excited about an end that we do not take time to reflect on the process. The word of God says that whoever wants to serve the Lord must prepare for an ordeal (Sirach 2:1).

Our Lord’s response to the main question of sitting on his right and left sides is very instructive. He says that the allotment of the positions is the sole function of God. In order words, promotion comes from God, not from the east or the west. God alone brings down one and exalts another (Psalm 75:6-7).

How to be truly great

On the theme of greatness, our Lord says that whoever wants to be great should be the SERVANT, and anyone who wants to be first must be the SLAVE OF ALL.

Our Lord’s teaching appears to be unrealizable at face value. How would a servant turn around to become great, and how would a slave transform to get the first position? Before and after the time of Jesus, servanthood and slavery were the lowest levels of engagement, so great people were served not the other way.

The disciples would later get a clearer picture of what Jesus was saying during the last supper when he stooped to wash their feet and later encouraged them to wash each other feet as he did (John 13:5 &14).

From the narrative, Jesus indicated that true greatness does not come from ideological struggle, as we see in our society today with the strategies of politicians. Instead, in the divine structure, you rise by helping others through committed and selfless service.

We can connect with the servant-slave disposition to our Lord Jesus Christ, who took the form of a slave and served by giving his life as an offering for sin. And through his service, he justified many and bore their guilt (Isaiah 53:10-11).

Moving Forward!

True greatness is not measurable by your position but by the strength and extent of your selfless service to others. If you are too ashamed to serve, then you may not have the true ability to sustain greatness, which could be why you are not rising.

Humility remains the essential key to the foreground of selfless service, which leads to divinely orchestrated greatness. Mother Theresa remains an outstanding contemporary example of excellence through humble service. When she was crisscrossing the length and breadth of Calcutta, Mother Theresa was not thinking of sitting at high positions; she only wanted to sit the poor in the positions of support.

Do not aspire to be great for the sake of visibility , rather serve with intentional humility and commitment, and God will surely create a dependable position for you. Any position that comes from the struggle to outsmart others would also vanish the way it showed up. So instead of competing for positions, work to be the best version of yourself, and good positions will look for you.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

MAKING HEAVEN WITH “ONE THING”! REFLECTION FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)                                                Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Christ and the Rich Young Man - John Hilton III

One of the easiest questions you could ask that would also produce a predictable answer is, “who wants to go to heaven?” But, of course, everyone would want to end up in heaven even without thinking about it.

Many people believe that heaven is a divine facility available to everyone after the journey of life, which is okay. Indeed, a consolatory way of referring to the dead is to say that the individual has gone to be with the Lord.

Beyond the sentiments about heaven as our eternal home, we need to ask this question, “are all the dead we know in heaven?” Could there be some people we know who have been excluded? This could be hard to imagine but necessary for our reflection because heaven is not an award one gets after a beautiful funeral. Instead, it is an eternal reward for our obedience to God while on earth.

In the Gospel of Mark (10:17-30), we read about an unnamed man who ran up to Jesus and, kneeling before him, asked an amazing question “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” His posture and the urgency of approach to Jesus showed that he was concerned.

Answering, Jesus inquired about his status with the commandments regarding killing, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, defrauding, and honoring one’s parents, and he was in good standing.

But something happened. Jesus looked intently at him with love as if he was searching for something within him, and then he said to him, “you lack one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me”. At this statement, the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

When the man left, Jesus used the incident as an instructive platform for his disciples. He says, “how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

The Sins of the Rich Man

On the face value, we may presume that the man’s problem was his wealth or riches; no! The rich can also be pious and go to heaven. We have instances of very rich men who were lovers of God like Abraham, David, Job, and others. The man’s problem was his relationship with his riches; his possessions possessed him to a choking point.

On a closer look at the narrative, we could see that the man had lots of missteps. He refused to share with others (charity), and he turned down the invitation to follow Jesus (discipleship). Finally, he walks away from the presence of Jesus, which amounts to walking away from the source of sustenance. Remember that Jesus said, “cut off from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The “One Thing”

I enjoyed reading the book “The One Thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results” by Garry Keller with Jay Papasan. The book’s basic intent is to demonstrate that success requires just one thing, and successful people are those able to discover their “one thing!”

We have seen the many pitfalls of the rich man, but we can put it all together as one thing, “the inability to let go.” It would be surprising to notice that the rich man observed all the major commandments, yet something was missing; “inability to give to others.” He was not offending anyone, but he was not helping anyone either.

Immediately, we must make a distinction between religious observance and spiritual practice. St. James was referring to this disposition when he insisted that faith without good works is dead. This way, James raised a challenge, “show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you, my faith” (James 2:17-18).

The narrative says that man’s face fell at the words of the Lord instructing him to go and sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. We understand here that the man’s major problem is that he lacks the courage to let go because that was what Jesus asked him to do.

One would imagine that the man knew that he had that problem in his life; maybe he has been struggling with it for a long time; in fact, the way and manner he ran up to Jesus shows the disquiet in him. Perhaps he wanted Jesus to exclude charity from the preconditions for inheriting the kingdom of heaven, but he was mistaken!

Moving Forward!

Like the rich man in the parable, most of us could be excellent in many things with our religious observances, but we could be lacking one important and decisive thing.

So, at this point, we need to be intentional to ask ourselves this personal question, “what is my one thing?” It may be that you need to let go of that hurt, forgive, and make peace. Could it be that you need to be humble and let go of your pride?

There could still be some representations of the rich religious man with tiny spirituality among us with the attitude of failing to share what we have with others. Winston Churchill is famous for saying, “you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”

Can we challenge ourselves today to do what the rich man could not do by reaching out to at least one person that needs our help this time? Just like in the case of the rich man, your failure to let go and give could be a disadvantage to someone who may need your support.

Beyond the numerous things you may be doing well in life, there could be “one thing” you need to make your way to heaven; discover and focus on your “one thing!”

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

MARRIAGE: A CHRISTOCENTRIC TOUCH REFLECTION FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Silhouettes Of Man And Woman Dancing On Free Stock Photo and Image

Can you guess what stands as the primary cause of marriage problems and disintegration in our day and age? To make the question easier for you, it is not infidelity, neither it is money nor property issues.

Marriages fail because of the absence of God in the marital equation. It takes the profound presence of God to love for the interest of those who may argue that marriages crumple because there is no love. True love cannot exist without God. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Marriage is a divine institution, so it cannot have sustenance outside of God, the author of marriage. Marriage exists as the crowning of creation, as we can see from two important instances in the Book of Genesis.

The first instance (Gen. 1:27-28) tells us that God created humanity (male and female) in His image, the image of Three Persons in One God. Furthermore, God pronounced the blessings of fruitfulness and increase on them, which we did not see when God created the other creatures.

The second instance (Gen.2:18-24) details the creation of marital union in the creative process. We learn here that God said: “it is not good for the man to be alone.” Hence, His decision to make a suitable partner (helper) for the man. However, there was none suitable among the animals God brought to the man to name

Consequently, God made the man sleep and taking one of his ribs, God fashioned a woman, and when the man saw the new creature, he said: “this one, at last, is the bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.

The account ended with an important note that shows God’s basic intent for marriage: “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”

In the Gospel of Mark (10:2-16), we see the Pharisees coming to Jesus to put him on the spot with a divorce question, “is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife.” They referred to the law of Moses that permitted a bill of divorce and dismissal to state that it is allowed.

Answering, Jesus takes them to God’s original plan for marriage before the law of Moses, which came because of their hardness of heart. Thankfully, Jesus quotes the first marriage instruction: “God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Returning to God’s Original Plan

There is little doubt that marriage as a divine institution faces many challenges both from within and outside the marital walls. For example, the Institute for Family Studies reports that for every 1,000 marriages, there are up to 14.9 divorce cases. While this finding of 2019 shows a decline from previous years, there is a corresponding finding that the rate of marriage engagements also declined, so it is significant.

On a deeper analysis, any marriage that fails to recognize and celebrate the presence of God would eventually run into deep waters. When God has no stable place in the marital union, people become unfaithful, selfish, dishonest, hostile, and even wicked and brutal.

Going back to God’s original plan about marriage should be the most potent way to overcome the distractions and distortions that confront the marriage institution in our society.

In the original divine plan, marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. So, any diversion from that foreground would amount to normalizing immorality to use the words of Matthew Kelly in the Book, “The world is messy.” Therefore, revamping the marriage institution we need to do the following:

Prayer:  Notice that the first time the word “bless” was mentioned in the bible was over the man and the woman; in other words, over marriage; “And God blessed them” (Gen. 1:28). This idea tells us that marriage needs constant blessings, and this can only happen through prayer.

Love, as a sacrifice, not as feeling:  One of the misfortunes of our day is the misunderstanding we have about love. Love is not how you feel but what you do selflessly for another person. Love is sacrificial giving. St. Paul would tell us (1 Cor.13:4-8) that love endures all things because it does not seek for its good, and love never ends as feelings do.

Moving Forward!

Marriage is a vocation and a precious divine gift that expresses the unity of the trinity Persons in one God. Therefore, the excitement in marriage should go beyond the external beauty and comfort to the awareness of the presence of God through prayer and sacrificial love.

Undoubtedly, our world will stand or fall on the strength of the quality of the relationships that exist in marriages. However, we would need to understand that marriage is not a bed of roses. That is why couples pledge to remain committed in good times and in bad times. Trials in marriage should not be a reason to quit; it could be an invitation to pray and love more.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.  

Conquering the “stop them” and “not one of us” Attitudes! Reflection for the 26th Sunday in ordinary time (year B). Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

US VERSUS THEM - As Of Right Now

We live in a world that is broadly segmented into groups. Psychologists would take the idea further to what they refer to as “us vs. them” mentality, which refers to the notion of perceiving oneself as a member of a group that is better than an alternate group based on some distinguishing factors like religion, gender, culture, nationality, ideology, and others.

The creation story in the Book of Genesis (1:26-27) tells us that God created humankind, in other words, one human race and not races as we have fragmented our world today. Furthermore, God gave man dominion over all he created, which means stewardship, but man turned it into domination, that is, forceful control.

We see the manifestation of forceful control in the way we handle our environment and the hostility we show to each other in our living spaces. We see this happening with the growing barriers we set against ourselves in the foregrounds of our natural differences like color, culture, and geographical location  

“Stop them” Attitude

The Book of Numbers (11:25-29) tells us an interesting story. Earlier, God had asked Moses to appoint seventy elders to assist him as officers (Numbers 11:16). Then, on the inauguration day, God took some spirit from Moses and put it on the seventy elders, and they started to prophesy.

Two men who were in the list of the seventy elders, Eldad and Medad, could not show up for the meeting for undisclosed reasons, but they were seen prophesying at the same time as the sixty-eight who were present at the tent of meeting.

An unnamed young man reported the episode to Moses, immediately Joshua, who happens to be Moses’ aide, suggested that Moses stop them. But Moses cautioned Joshua not to be jealous of him and added that he wished that all the people were prophets.

Both the young man who reported the event and Joshua felt that the physical exclusion of the two elders from the group should be a disadvantage for them to gain access to the divine facility of prophecy. For that reason, they needed to be stopped.

Sometimes, we attempt to think for God or even tell God what to think when it should be the other way—stopping the elders from prophesying amounts to redirecting the work of God or telling God how to function.

We are often not far from the “stop them attitude” when we erroneously presume that we have exclusive access to God’s mind than anyone else. Some people would even support their preconceived rights over God’s plans by quoting the scripture that says: “Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7).

“Not one of us” Attitude

The Gospel of Mark (9:38-43,45,47-48), among other things, tells us about the “not one of us” Attitude of the disciples of Jesus against someone they saw driving out demons using the name of Jesus Christ. They had tried to stop the individual, but Jesus rebuked them, saying that whoever is using his name would not be again him.

In the narrative, we see the disciples exhibiting the “us vs. them” mentality, which creates unjustifiable barriers between insiders and outsiders. They wanted to have an exclusive right to use the name of Jesus Christ to pray in the region and beyond.

Sometimes we falsely think that we would lose our relevance when people reflect on what we do in the name of God. Jesus did not bring a gospel that would be managed just by a select few. The disciples would soon discover their folly when Jesus will ask them to make disciples of all nations and be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria but also to the ends of the world (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).

One of the greatest discoveries we could make in our day and age is to realize that “each of us” is “one of us.” Therefore, the name of Jesus Christ should bring us together and not divide us. It is unfortunate that in our day and age, people are still trying to stop others from using the name of Jesus Christ through some attitudes that send people running away from the faith.  

Moving Forward: Attitude Change

Moving forward, one truth we should learn and accept is that we all share one basic substance: our humanness. Other distinguishing characteristics we raise among ourselves are mere accidents. At birth, we are born the same way. Did you notice that there are no differences in the sound of babies’ cries all over the world? Likewise, death is the same all over the world.

It makes no sense to set up barriers and hindering others because our human judgment tells us that they are not one of us. Remember that God is not interested in how we look but what we say and do, and He can use anyone, anytime, and anywhere.

Notice that the person who saw the two elders prophesying did not report the content of their prophecy, but he is more concerned about their presence in the group. The disciples were not worried by demons that the individual expelled by using the name of Jesus, but they were interested in who was using the name of Jesus to expel demons.

Finally, we need an attitude change in the way we relate to others, especially in our service of God; in fact, the attitude of excluding other shows our ignorance. We are all servants of God, so there is no need to act like God takes orders from us. So, as our Lord Jesus Christ instructed in the Gospel narrative, we need to cut away anything that would cause us to stop others or prevent them from having access to God.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

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.

%d bloggers like this: