Fr Bonnie's Reflections

FOCUSING ON THE EVERLASTING LIFE HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

ETERNAL LIFE PIC

Walking along the ocean shore in Barbados during the summertime and enjoying the beautiful scenery with the warm tropical sun, I learned some life lessons that would live with me for a long time. One of my major takeaways is from the rushing ocean current that often comes with so much force and speed as it heads towards the shore, but suddenly it dies down, and there is calmness.

The intermittent ocean current tells me that nothing is permanent in this earthly existence. Beauty is just for a moment; it would soon fade or become obsolete. The physical strength you have would wane with time. Wealth and riches dwindle as time progresses. What about human life? The Book of Psalms (103:15-16) answers this when it says:

As for man, his days are like grass; it flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Furthermore, the Book of Job (14:1-2), adds, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.

Life is precious, and we all tend to do all in our power to preserve life to the optimal level. I was once at the 96th birthday of a matriarch, and when she was responding to the guests at the surprise birthday set up by her great-grandchildren, she started by asking God to keep her alive to celebrate more years. That was not a bad prayer; however, we expected words of thanksgiving to God for the life and health so far.

One of the best things you can wish anyone is a long life; in fact, it is the most famous prayers in the world, followed by prosperity. On the other hand, the worst thing you can wish anyone is a death wish.

An armed man once entered a church in the middle of the service and facing the congregation; he asked those who are ready to die for Jesus Christ to stand and raise their hands while those who wouldn’t wish to die for the Lord should run away from the Church. The entire congregation moved except the minister, and a few elderly ones and the armed man turns and says to the minister, “preach on sir, these are the real Christians!”

Dying to Live

The First Reading today (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14), tells us about the seven brothers and their mother. They were arrested and tortured to death successively following the orders of the pagan king, Antiochus, who wanted them to denounce their faith in God by eating swine flesh. The spectacular thing about their death was their mother’s encouragement and their unwavering faith in God’s saving power that would lead them to everlasting life.

The narrative shows that their faith in God’s promise of life after the earthly life helped them to remain steadfast in their resolve to give up their lives. Before his gruesome death, the second brother says this to the King, “you accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us to LIVE AGAIN forever. It is for his law that we are dying”. The fourth brother on his part says that it is his choice to die at the hands of men with the HOPE of being raised by God.

In the Gospel Reading (Luke 20:27-38), some Sadducees come to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask his opinion about resurrection using a weird story about seven brothers who died successively but were married to the same woman. They wanted to know whose wife she would become at the time of resurrection.

Our Lord answers them by first indicating that at the time of the resurrection, people do not engage in marriage; neither do they die because they become like angels. Here our Lord Jesus Christ gives us an idea about life after the earthly life. The first thing we learn is that worldly concerns like marriage and death do not have relevance. Next, he indicates that the resurrected souls would become like angels and would be children of God. The basic fact about angels is that they are spiritual beings, and they exist only to do the will of God.

Moving Forward: The Best Life is Beyond the Earth 

What is the best form of life? Life without stress and setbacks? Sure, nobody likes to go through stress and setbacks; however, they are part of our life on earth. The beauty of life is living in accordance with the will of God and not about having the best of the material comforts of the world.

On the first day of November, we celebrated the solemnity of All the Saints, which means all our departed brothers and sisters who are now enjoying life after this earthly life. If we go by the description of our Lord Jesus Christ, they are now like angels and have become eternally, the children of God.

The life after this earthly existence is not a right we have as Christians; it is a reward for our steadfast love for God, especially as we strive to defend our faith in God. Often when people die, we mourn and cry because we would miss them. However, we often do not consider if they would receive the reward of rising to life following their faith and faithfulness to God.

At the graveside of Lazarus, our Lord Jesus Christ responding to Martha says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). It is our faith that life is not ended at death but transformed. For this reason, St. Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:1) that when our earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building not made by human hand in heaven.

The liturgy of the word today invites us to focus on life beyond earthly life. To achieve this, there would be a need for us to be open to the Lord’s strengthening in everything like St. Paul said in the Second Reading (2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5). The divine strengthening would, in turn, assist us in resisting sin and evil like the seven Maccabean brothers and their mother even at the cost of our earthly lives.

As we continue our journey of faith, let us keep our eye on the glorious life that would never end or be destroyed by anything. Have a beautiful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

OVERCOMING SELF-LIMITATIONS AND THE CROWD EFFECT HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Zacchaeus and the crowd

Stories are powerful teaching tools. Any attentive reader of the Gospels would notice that our Lord Jesus Christ would often use stories in the form of parables to convey essential messages because they are easy to recall. When you remember a story, you would not forget the message. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. An ideal storyline has a hero (or protagonist), who might start as a victim of the circumstances created by a villain who appears to dominate at first but ends up badly.

We are beginning this reflection by referring to the power of stories because the life of every one of us is a story, and we are co-authors with God. While God sets the scene of the story, which we cannot control, we make the choices about the characters that would play the lead role in the various stages in the story. So, we primarily write our story leveraging the choices we make in life. Everyday constitutes a new page, and each year represents a chapter. The last chapter concludes our existence on earth.

The Gospel Reading today (Luke 19:1-10) tells us about a significant scene in the story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector who shows up when our Lord Jesus Christ was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. He appears for one reason; To See Jesus. He could have heard about the revolutionary religious teacher in the region, and he wanted to see him. He could be wondering how Jesus was able to convince his colleague, Matthew, to leave the lucrative tax business (Matt. 9:9).

However, two obstacles stand on his way. One is personal to him; his smallness and the other is external, the large crowd. Did he give up? Nope. He heads towards a sycamore along the way Jesus Christ would pass, and sitting on that spot, our Lord Jesus meets him and graciously requests to be his guest. We shall be looking at the two obstacles on the way of Zacchaeus as he strives To See Jesus.

Zacchaeus’ Self-Limitation

The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was short in stature. The latter description shows that Zacchaeus possesses an attribute that is fundamentally limiting. It would be beneficial to our reflection to understand this shortness beyond the physical. Often, we carry with us attitudes and dispositions that limit our view and perception of the essential values we need in our lives, including God. Hence, we have moral, mental, and spiritual shortness in addition to the physical.

Most times, you may turn out to be your worst enemy. Those times when you feel that you are too small to get to a certain point. Those moments when all you see is failure instead of success, and when you believe in “I can’t” more than “I can.” The highest imprisonment is the one you give yourselves. These go back to the mindset. The choices you make in life determine how you direct the story of your life either as a victim or a hero.

The Crowd Effect

The highest gathering of people so far in history has been in the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India, which features more than 120  million people in two months. The crowd stands as a great limitation to seeing, moving, and hearing. There are numerous instances in the bible were the crowd constituted a hindrance.

God prohibits following the crowd to do wrong (Ex. 23:2). John the Baptist called the crowds brood of vipers (Luke 3:7). The crowd accused our Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate (Mark 15:8-15). Woman with the issue of blood had to struggle through the crowd to touch the garment of Jesus (Luke 8:42-43). The crowd hushed Bartimaeus while he was calling out to the Lord for mercy (Mark 10:48).

Overcoming the Self and the Crowd and Climbing the Tree of Salvation

The narrative about Zacchaeus would have been ineffectual if he gave up in the face of his self-limitations and the obstacle from the crowd. Zacchaeus did not accept the accident of his dwarfism nor the discouraging wall of the crowd as he heads towards the sycamore tree that stands along the path our Lord was going pass.

The first lesson we could learn from Zacchaeus is the ability to look beyond the current situation of our life. There is a need for us to strive towards that which lies ahead always. Overcoming limitations is a choice you make. Zacchaeus could have given up and returned to his office, but his hunger to see our Lord Jesus Christ made him beat both his self-limitation and the barricade of the crowd.

The sycamore tree is very vital in this narrative. Zacchaeus’ instant surveillance aided him to locate the sycamore tree at a distance, and his preview of the procession revealed to him that Jesus Christ would pass through that route. We could call this geographical awareness, but it has spiritual resonance for us.

The sycamore tree with Zacchaeus on it turns out to be an attractive billboard that caught the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the point of climbing the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus’ stature and the obstacles of the crowd became irrelevant as out Lord stops to converse with the wee little man in the presence of the crowd that posed a barrier for him earlier. There was an instant reversal of the situation.

The high point of the dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and Zacchaeus was our Lord’s disclosure of his intention to stay in his house, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house”; sounds like an obligated self-invitation. Remember that Zacchaeus set out to seek the Lord, and the Lord found him. The word of God says that those who seek me will find me if they seek me with all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).

Note that the crowd followed Zacchaeus to his house and still tried to dissuade him but refused to be intimidated. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not only come into the house of Zacchaeus but also into his soul. Our Lord’s transformed Zacchaeus as he promises to give half of his possession to the poor, and with the other half pay those, he extorted four times over; that means with interest and more.

Moving Forward and Rewriting our Story like Zacchaeus

We all share in the story of Zacchaeus in one way or the other. Sometimes we contend with various self-limiting factors that could be physical, behavioral, moral, or spiritual. At some other moments, we battle with the crowd effect, which could come in the form of people and events around us that retard us from reaching out to the Lord, who is ever ready to go into our hearts to renew us from our sinfulness. The First Reading (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) tells us among other things that God loves us and would spare us because we belong to Him

One of the great privileges we have in scripting our life story is that God gives us a pencil with an eraser so that we can erase and rewrite our story before a chapter ends. Zacchaeus was apt to change the narrative of his life by overcoming his self-limitation and the crowd effect.

You can do the same for your life. Your current situation can only define you if you choose. The difference between where you are and where you intend to be is what you do. Furthermore, it takes focus and commitment, like in the case of Zacchaeus, for you to get there. Do not allow the following things to limit you:

Your present condition. Nick Vujicic was born without limbs, but he is one of the best authors and motivational speakers of his time. Remember that no circumstance has the right to stay forever with you.

The opinion of the crowd. In the route of your life, you will encounter a lot of “nay-sayers” who would deter you and even stop you from attaining the height you wish to reach. They would only win when you give.

Your Past. The past is gone and sticking to it brings depression. Let the past go so that you can embrace what lies ahead. For Zacchaeus, his small stature and the crowd became the things of the past as he runs to the sycamore tree.

Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

“WHY DO WE PRAY FOR THE DEAD?” HOMILY FOR THE COMMEMORATION OF ALL SOULS Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Fr Bonnie's Reflections

all-souls

During our minor seminary days, late coming to any activity was (and is still) a great offence. Once the prayer commences in the chapel, for instance, those outside are considered late and would receive adequate punishment. One day, I was just stepping onto the threshold of the Chapel alongside other junior seminarians when the signal for the commencement of the prayer came. We were stopped just at the threshold where there was an inscription “Domus Dei et Porta Caeli” which means “House of God and gate of heaven”.

We were asked to move to one side and behind us were others who had not reached the threshold at all, and they have been invited to move to another side. After a while, one of the auxiliaries (prefects) pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter into the chapel since we were not as late as the lot behind us…

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HEAVEN: OUR REAL HOME! HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Fr Bonnie's Reflections

heaven 2

Is there really heaven; the perfect place of eternal happiness? What is life like in heaven from dawn to dusk? How large is the place and how many (many) mansions are really there as our Lord mentioned in the Gospel of John (14:2-3)? Do people there do sports and play games? What do people there eat? People say that those in heaven keep singing and praising God will they not get tired and bored? These and similar imaginative questions are in the minds of many, and of course, some imaginative answers crop up because nobody on earth can claim to have comprehensive knowledge about heaven.

It will be fitting today to ask ourselves what we think about heaven, the place every well-meaning Christian should be aspiring to go after the short time we have on this earth. As a child, I had the idea of heaven as a place you…

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DEALING WITH THE PHARISAIC SYNDROME IN US HOMILY FOR THE 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Pharisee and tax collector

Have you ever considered yourself more privileged than others? Have you ever been in a group where you see yourself as being in the wrong place because you perceive that nobody in the group measures up to your class, level of education, political views, exposure, or even your religious belief system? In short, have you ever seen yourself superior to others because of the simple fact of having a different identity?

If you have a “yes” answer to any of the above questions, you may be guilty of the pharisaic syndrome. In the Gospel today (Luke 18:9-14), our Lord Jesus Christ tells a contrasting parable that addresses those who ride on the wings righteousness while despising others. Two men, a Pharisee, and a tax collector go up to pray at the temple area. The Pharisee takes a prominent position and prays to himself (not to God).

The Pharisee starts his self-praise prayer by thanking God for being different from the rest of humanity who are greedy, dishonest, and adulterous. Next, he contrasts himself from the tax collector with his religious practices of fasting and paying of tithes. On the other hand, the tax collector standing at a lowly position and without even raising his eyes to heaven beats his breast, asking God to be merciful to him for his sins.

Our Lord concludes the parable by remarking that the tax collector went home justified, unlike the Pharisee, who was prideful in his prayers. Furthermore, he states that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee and his Pharisaic Syndrome

The Pharisees represent an elitist sect within the Jewish religion that maintains strict observance of the written laws and the tradition of the elders. They are remarkable for creating barriers between themselves and others who do not belong to their sect. In some places in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ refers to them as hypocrites (Luke 11:37-44; Matt.15:1-9; Matt. 23:23-24).

The Pharisaic syndrome consists of a double standard of living. The name “hypocrite” is from the Greek “hypokrites,” which means a stage actor, dissimulator, or pretender. Therefore, a hypocrite lives a life that contradicts the real facts of the person’s life. From the analysis of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Pharisees fit into the structure of hypocrisy. They pretend to be righteous and holy in the presence of people, but inwardly they live a contrary life unknown to the public.

The Pharisee in the parable comes to the temple to make a pretentious show of piety to spite other people. The presence of the tax collector fuelled his hypocritical ambient as he sets standards of virtue and religious devotion to make the tax collector feel inferior and unworthy. Notice that what he offered was not a prayer because nobody prays to himself. He was merely narcissistic.

The Tax Collector and Sinner

Tax collectors at the time of Jesus worked for the Roman government in all the regions under the empire. It was also a common knowledge among the Jews that they extort money from the poor masses (Luke 3:13). Hence people see them as sinners (Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30). Zacchaeus would confirm this theory during his encounter with Jesus Christ when he resolved that he would repay everyone he defrauded four times as much (Luke 19:8).

The tax collector did not come to the temple with the same disposition as the Pharisee. The Pharisee went as an intact spotless religious enthusiast, but the tax collector came as a broken, dirty sinner. However, at the end of their prayers, they switched places. The Pharisee went home broken and inadequate because he did not pray to God. On the other hand, the tax collector went home whole and healed because he had a transforming encounter with God.

Notice also that the tax collector did not pay attention to the arrogant pretension of the Pharisee; in fact, he was not looking, he refused to be distracted and focused on praying to God. His prayer was brief and straight to the point, “God be merciful to me a sinner”. Often, we allow the obsessive drama most people display around us in the church to distract us. There is a need for us to focus on God, not on people.

The central virtue of the tax collector which our Lord Jesus Christ extolls is his humility. It is impossible to offer a sincere prayer to God without humility; God commands humility before we could engage ourselves in prayer (2 Chron.7:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). Humility helps us to recognize our inadequacy before God while acknowledging His sufficiency. The First Reading today (Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18) tells us, among other things, that “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.”

Moving Forward 

In life, do not allow what people say or do change whom you ought to be before God. In the narrative, the tax collector refused to copy the bad example of the Pharisee, and he would not allow himself to be intimidated by his self-praise. He instead remained humble and focused before God, and He answered him with divine forgiveness and peace.

We learn from the misdeed of the Pharisee that it is wrong to judge people because we are different from them. Often, being different from other people does not make you better than them. Humility helps us to accept what we are and allow others to be who they are. Like in the case of the two, there would always be a result of every action. Outwardly, the Pharisee thought he was in excellent standing, but in God’s presence, he was taking the least position while the tax collector who comes in humility received divine exaltation.

There would be the need for us to examine our lives to discover the hidden symptoms of the Pharisaic syndrome and pray earnestly to God for the grace for total liberation.

Watch out for these Pharisaic Syndrome

  • Are you always talking about the faults of others?
  • Are you always judging others?
  • Are you always talking about self-accomplishment and looking for people’s validation and praise?
  • Are you always comparing yourself to others to put them down?
  • Are you always blaming others?
  • Are you always criticizing others?
  • Are you always blameless and never acknowledge, accept, nor apologize for mistakes?

Have a beautiful Sunday, and a glorious week ahead. May the grace of God abide with you always as you submit to Him in humility.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

HOLDING UP THE STAFF OF PRAYER HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Moses' staff of prayer

Have you ever seen a carpenter trying to cut a piece of wood with a handsaw? If you have, you could recall that the handsaw goes several times (back and forth) into the wood before he achieves an excellent cutting. The carpenter would keep his eyes on the wood while pushing the handsaw into the wood with every strength he could muster.

We can apply the above illustration to our interaction with God during prayer. Prayer is not a one-time thing; it is an activity that ought to permeate us in season and out to season. The First Reading and the Gospel invite us to reflect on the need to make our prayer persistent. The First Reading (Exodus 17:8-13), tells us about the warfare engagements between the people of Israel and Amalek, and how the Israelites were able to win the battle through a divine connection with the staff of Moses raised towards heaven.

There is the need for us to understand the function of the staff or rod of Moses, as some translations would say. The first mention of the staff was during the encounter Moses had at the burning bush. During the meeting, God asked Moses, “what is in your hand?” and he said my shepherd’s staff and God asked him to throw it to the ground, and it became a snake. After that, he asked him to pick it by the tail, and it returned to the staff.

Staff is a symbol of authority, and in the context of Moses’ encounter with God, it shows the active presence of God to bring about amazing events. If we read further through the story of Moses, we discover that the staff was used by Aaron (the spokesman of Moses) to compete with Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7:10-12). Aaron used the staff to turn the Nile River into blood at the Lord’s command (Exodus 7:19-21).

During the crossing of the red sea, God reminded Moses to raise his staff over the red sea to divide it for the people to pass through on the dry ground. After crossing, he raised the staff again over the red sea, and the water returned and drowned the Egyptians who were coming after them (Exodus 14:16-26). Moses also struck the rock with his staff on two occasions to get water for the people of Israel to drink after a period of thirst (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:9-11).

The First Reading today tells us that the people of Amalek attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses gave instructions to Joshua to pick certain men with him to engage Amalek in battle. As the men go to war against Amalek, Moses climbs to the top of the hill with his staff, which he raised to the heavens. As long as his hands were up, the Israelites prevailed, but when he got tired, Amalek began to have the better part of the battle. To ensure that his hands remain upward, Aaron and Hur made him sit and supported his hands. The Israelites won the battle that day, not because of their physical strength but the divine connection with the staff of Moses.

Why does God demand Persistence in Prayer?

The Gospel Reading today (Luke 18:1-8) relates to the First Reading as they share a common denominator, namely, persistence. The victory of the Israelites in the war against Amalek depended on Moses’ persistence by holding up his staff towards the heavens. In the parable we heard from the Gospel, an unnamed woman would not give up asking a wicked judge to give her fair judgment until she gets it.

The introduction to the parable shows that our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to show his disciples the importance of persistence in prayer as opposed to becoming weary and giving up. Surely God wants us to be persistent in our prayers. St Paul writing to the Ephesians (6:18) says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”

The question we need to address still is why God demands persistence in prayer from us. Does it mean that we need to repeat our prayers countless times before God could open the door for an answer? Do we need to run after God as the widow did to the judge before we could receive a reply from him? The following answers could suffice for the reason why God demands persistence in our prayers.

God wants a relationship with us!

There is a difference between a one-time encounter and an enduring relationship. God would not encourage us to approach Him as a firefighter but as a Father. That is why in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells His disciples to begin by calling God “Our Father.” (Matt 6:9). Relationship is significant to God, and without a relationship, we have nothing in common with God (John 15:5).

For any relationship to become worthwhile, there would be a need for attention. Attention is very vital in any relationship. Attention brings focus because we drop every distraction and focus feeds interest and commitment. Furthermore, being in a relationship helps us to learn about ourselves and others.

Persistence in prayer brings spiritual transformation

Praying is like working out in the gym, and the more you work out, the more your body responds to the activities, and this would be evident in your body. When we engage in persistent prayer, we train our spiritual muscles to become strong and resilient in our spiritual journey.

Persistence reduces our worry and increases our faith

Worry is one of the most dangerous obstacles to our spiritual life and development because it diminishes faith. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). If the widow in the Gospel were overwhelmed with worry, she wouldn’t persist in getting an answer from the wicked judge. Worry cannot change anything, but persistent prayer could.

Moving Forward: God Responds to Every Prayer, Keep Praying

Every prayer gest an answer from God. However, God responds to our prayer in various ways. In whatever situation we may find ourselves, God wants us to be persistent. In the Second Reading (2 Tim. 3:14-4:2), St. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.

Like we pointed out earlier, God answers prayer. Rick Warren thinks that for every prayer, God answers us in on one of these four different ways: No, grow, slow, or go. Let us reflect more on these.

No: God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Consequently, God could say no to us when our request would harm us instead of helping us. St. James (4:3) tells us that we ask, and we don’t receive because our motives are wrong. However, when God says no to us, he gives us an alternative yes in a different way.

Grow: Often, we are just so immature to receive answers to our prayers. In such situations, God comes in to tell us to grow. Growing among other things, means that we should differentiate between our wants and needs. Most things we want are not what we need in life. It could also mean that we rise in our faith in God,

Slow: There are sometimes when we think that we are smarter than God, and we love things to turn out in our times and seasons. At those moments, God tells us to slow down by waiting for Him. This is where the virtue of patience comes in. Isaiah (40:31) says that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.

Go: This is when we get our answers the way we ask. God tells us, go when He opens the door of blessings following our steadfastness, faith, and persistence. The Book of Psalms (50:51) says “call me on the day of trouble I will deliver you and you will glorify me”.

As we march into the new week, may we pay attention to the invitation for us to pray and to be persistent about it. Our persistent prayers would function in improving our relationship with God, transform us, and reduce our worry level. Have a blessed week, and more graces upon your prayers.

Fr. Bonnie

 

 

DEVELOPING THE ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

Growing up as a child, one phrase I always heard from my parents and my older siblings whenever I received a gift from them or from other people was, “what do you say?” That usually was a tactical way awakening or reminding me to say, “thank you!”. The expression of gratitude is something a child could learn from the socializing environment, not from nature. The natural disposition of the human person is to grab and go but returning to give thanks is a powerful disposition we need to develop.

We could rightly call today “thank you Sunday” as we encounter the narratives of gratitude in the Readings. In the First Reading (2 Kings 5:14-17), we learn about Naaman, the Syrian army commander who received the healing of his skin infection (leprosy) from God through his prophet Elisha who asked him to plunge himself seven times into the Jordan River. When he was healed with new flesh, like that of a child after the last plunge, Naaman remembered and returned to show gratitude to the prophet Elisha.

In the Gospel Reading (Luke 17:11-19), we hear the story of the cure of the ten lepers consisting of nine Jews and a Samaritan who eventually returned to give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice the connections between the First Reading and the Gospel. Both talk about leprosy, a very deadly affliction at the time. In the First Reading, Naaman goes to Samaria to get healing from the prophet, and in the Gospel, a Samaritan leper goes to Jesus Christ around the region of Judea and gets his healing.

Remembering and Returning

Remembering involves an active recollection of someone or an event on account of what happened in the past. Remembering is the opposite of forgetting which is the inability to bring to one’s mind an event or person in the past. With the way our mind works, we often remember the hurts we get more than helps we receive; we are quick to complain than we are to compliment; we tend to condemn more than we commend.

Remembering is very essential in our relationship with God. In fact, God encourages us to remember Him (Deut. 8:18a; Neh.4:14b) as He is always mindful of us (Psalm 115:12). It is impossible to genuinely worship God without the conscious and intentional act of remembering (Psalm 77:11-12). Remembering moves us to pray, praise, and penitence. In the parable of the prodigal son, the point of repentance was the moment he came to his senses, in other words, when he remembered the love of his father and what he lost by being in a distant country (Luke 15:17).

Remembering would be incomplete if there is no action of returning to the source. God is continually asking us to return to Him, and He would return to us (Zech. 1:3) In the First Reading and the Gospel, we see Naaman and the Samaritan leper not only remembering but also returning to give thanks to the sources of their cure. Coming out from the Jordan with fresh skin, Naaman had the option to leave immediately to his home but remembered and returned to give thanks to Elisha.

The situation is even more dramatic in the Gospel Reading. The passage tells us that following the supplications of the ten lepers, our Lord sends them to go and show themselves to the priests. However, healing comes upon them while they were on their way, but only one of them, the Samaritan, could remember how their healing came to be and returned to give thanks.

Moving Forward with the Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude could be a positive attitude if we desire to cultivate it. Gratitude means being at peace with ourselves and others for what we have and being aware that whatever we have is a gift; we literally own nothing. Often, we are so overwhelmed, and we worry about what we do not have, and we forget (not remembering) to be thankful for what we have. Sometimes, the worry about what we do not have may make us lose what we have.

The attitude of gratitude would help us to be grateful FOR everything we get and to be thankful IN every situation, which may not be very good for us. Indeed, life may not be fair at various moments in our lives, but we still have a lot more to move us to gratitude. Pause and consciously make a list of what you have, and you will discover that you urgently need to say to God:

Thank you for my life

Thank you for my health

Thank you for my job

Thank you for my family

Thank you for my friends

Thank you for my children

Thank you for my spouse

Thank you for the food and water

Thank you for the air

Thank you for the sun

Thank you for a new day

Thank you for new opportunities

Thank you for another chance

Thank you for grace

Thank you for this message

Gratitude is a door to more blessings and a secret to success; make it an attitude. The difference between gratitude and attitude is the “GR,” and it means the Golden Rule, “treat others as you would want to be treated.” If you want more reason to be grateful, then show gratitude to God and to others.

Be grateful in and for everything. Have a gratitude-filled Sunday. Thank God, and thank you.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

IF YOU HAVE FAITH USE IT! HOMILY FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

FAITH

There are moments in our lives when we have so many questions about things, but we get little or no corresponding answers. There are moments when it seems that all our efforts to get to a precise balance switch over to the reverse; the more we push, the more we get a push-back. You may have had a rock-bottom experience in your finances, marriage, and relationship. It could even be physical, mental, or spiritual challenges that make you defenseless. You know those moments when you are not sure of the next line of action.

An attentive look at the First Reading today (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4) shows that the suppliant was in the exact situation we examined above. Hear part his painful lines again:

How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?

This excerpt shows the deep frustration and hopelessness of the person in the eye of the frustrating moment. From the lines, we understand that the individual in question has been crying out to God for assistance, but no help seems to be in view. It may not be out of place to ask why he was not able to get help from God. The possible answer to the question is evident in God’s reply to him and part of which would preoccupy us in what follows.

The Just Shall Live by Faith

Many people spend much time in prayer, but very few exercise the faith they have in the course of their prayer. Responding to the suppliant in the First Reading, God first dismisses the idea that He would not listen by stating that He would not disappoint, and even if he delays, it is worth the wait. Going further, He says that the just (righteous) shall live by faith.

God’s response clearly shows that the person praying to God in the passage has faith issues. Here we understand that being just or righteous does not automatically translate to faith; in fact, your faith would show forth your righteousness like the case of Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).

The one praying to God in the passage from the First Reading had every good quality and intention but faith. If he had faith, he would not complain that God would not listen to him because God answers even before we finish praying (Isaiah 65:24). If the suppliant had faith, he would have known that he needs to be patient and wait for the Lord to act (Psalm 37:7) and that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).

At this point, it would be worthwhile for us to define faith for clarity. Faith is not an assumption or a feeling as most people think. Faith is essentially a supernatural gift we have from God, which enables us, when we use it, to believe without looking for verifications. The famous oxymoronic passage from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of the things we are hoping for and the evidence of things we cannot see (Hebrew 11:1).

Use Your Faith; You Don’t Need an Increment

In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 17:5-10), we see the apostles coming together to our Lord Jesus Christ to make a joint request, and that is “increase our faith.” Here, they acknowledge that they have faith, but they feel that what they have is not enough. Notice that this question comes after the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the instruction about leading others to sin and forgiving offenders as often as they ask for forgiveness.

To their request for increment in their faith, our Lord tells them that if they have faith like the size of a mustard seed, they could tell a mulberry tree to relocate to the sea, and it would happen. Here, our Lord Jesus Christ tries to tell them that what they need is quality-based faith, not quantity-dependent. Furthermore, they need to put their faith into action no matter little it could be.

Moving Forward in Faith 

If the Christian life is hardware, faith would be one of its powerful software. St. Paul was right to name faith as one of the three things that would last (1 Cor. 13:13). We need faith to worship God rightly, and as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “it is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6).

Often, we ride on the wings of doubt and fear more than that of faith. We ride on the wings of faith when we trust in the power of God and not leaning on our understanding (Prov. 3:5). We ride on the wings of faith when we leave every situation in God’s hands so that we can see God’s hands in everything. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real, but with FAITH, we Forward All Issue To Heaven. Faith would not make things easy; it would instead make all things possible through the power of him who can do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine (Eph.320). 

Have a beautiful Sunday and a lovely week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

THE REALITY OF THE AFTERLIFE HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Rich man and Lazarus

What is the purpose of your life on earth? To this question, there could be many answers as there are many people with diverse mindsets and value systems. For the epicureans (those who believe in worldly pleasure), the purpose of life consists of eating and drinking and indulging in sensual pleasures. According to the Bible, their maxim runs thus, “let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13; 1 Cor.15:32).

We see the trend of epicureanism running through the liturgy of the Word today. In the First Reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7), God pronounces woe to the complacent in Zion who indulge in mundane luxury leveraging food, drink, best oils, exotic music, and material comfort.

Why did God call them “the complacent?” The complacent is someone who exudes the feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction and is often careless about what the future holds, especially the potential dangers. A perfect example of a materially complacent individual in the Bible would be the rich fool who, after recording a vast harvest complacently says to his soul “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12:19).

The Poor Lazarus and the Rich Epicurean

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is one of the famous passages we have in the Gospels. According to the parable, there was an unnamed rich man who had everything going for him and would feast daily. At his door lay Lazarus, a poor sick man who would gladly eat the scraps from the rich man’s table, but nobody would offer him anything. The only help he could get was from dogs who come around to lick his sores.

Afterward, both the rich man and Lazarus go the way of mortals; namely, the route of death. While money could buy so many things in life, it cannot stop death when it finally comes. Death is open to everyone; the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the good and the bad.

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man helps us to understand that there is another life after this earthly existence. Pay attention to what happened when they passed. Lazarus is the first to die, and there was no mention of a funeral, but his soul was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.

Note well that while he was on earth, nobody could come close to him except the dogs. But on his way to the Afterlife, he had the privilege of having angels transport him to heaven and bring him to the bosom of Abraham. Being at the bosom of Abraham, the father of faith shows his patience and trust in God despite his condition on earth. He believed that his condition would not be his conclusion.

On the other hand, the rich man dies, and unlike Lazarus, he receives an elaborate and befitting funeral. However, there is no mention of angels taking him, and he did not go to the bosom of Abraham. He instead finds himself in a place of torment and scarcity where he could not get as little as a drop of water. At this point, the poor Lazarus becomes eternally rich while the wealthy epicurean becomes perpetually miserable.

Moving forward, the rich man sees Lazarus enjoying at the bosom of Abraham while he languishes in scarcity Notice that the rich man could recognize Lazarus at this point, but he did not pay attention to him on earth. Furthermore, his two requests for a drop of water from the tip Lazarus’ finger and to have him go back to the world to warn his five brothers did not receive positive answers; why? His prayers are useless in that location because he had the opportunity on earth to make a difference, but he could not.

Moving Forward: Preparing for the Afterlife

The rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth, and Lazarus did not find himself in a glorious Afterlife because he was poor and sick. The difference between the two individuals and what determined their respective rewards was their attitude and disposition to what they had or what they did not have. Attitude is the key to our success or failure in life.

The rich man’s attitude shows that he takes material wealth and worldly pleasure as the end and purpose of life. For him, life is all about how much you could eat and drink, what you can wear and how flamboyant one could be. The rich man did not realize that life is not all about eating and drinking but justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans14:17). St. Paul adds that we should not destroy the work of God on account of food (Romans 14:20).

Lazarus, on the other hand, made it to the bosom of Abraham in heaven because he allowed the love of God to overwhelm him while being patient and having total trust in God. Notice that he didn’t grumble nor complain against the rich man; he had hope in God that he would receive divine elevation at the end of his earthly struggles.

The message today invites us not to put our trust and hope on riches even when they increase (Psalm 62:10). Complacency on riches would deprive us of eternal bliss like the rich man. Finally, St. Paul tells us to consider whatever that is true, honorable, just, holy, lovable, of good repute, virtuous, and anything worthy of praise.

As we step into a new week, let us pay attention to the eternal realities instead of material concerns that would deprive us of everlasting happiness in heaven. Let us be apt enough to make choices for the things that would help us rather than the ones that would harm us in the Afterlife. God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

BETWEEN GOD AND MAMMON: THE MASTER CHOICE CHALLENGE HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

God or mammon

Once upon a time, a king comes across a poor but happy peasant man and his family while taking a walk outside his palace. The king kept wondering why every one of them looked joyful though they live in abject poverty. After some days, the king decides to pass that way again, and this time the family was having so much fun as they play around laughing and jumping around.

Coming back to the palace, the king asks one of his advisors to explain to him why the peasant and his family live in peace and joy despite their poverty. Responding, the advisor tells the king that they do not belong to the “99 club”, “what’s the 99 club?” the king inquires, and the advisor begs him to spare 99 gold coins, and in few weeks he would understand what it means.

Getting the bag of 99 gold coins, the advisor drops it at the door of the peasant man at night while everyone was asleep. In the morning, the man sees the bag and opening it he finds gold coins and joyfully counting he records 99 gold coins. For a moment, he starts to think that one coin is missing, “how could it be 99 coins, not 100”? He thought. Recounting the bag of coins several times could still not make a difference in the figure.

For the first time in a long while, the peasant loses his joy and becomes irritable. He calls his family together not to share the pleasure of getting a miraculous bag of 99 gold coins but to ask if anyone, by any chance, saw one gold coin. When he could not get a definite answer, the joy in the family started to dwindle. Passing the areas after one week with the advisor the king could not see that joy, he saw earlier. Responding to the king, the advisor tells him that the peasant had joined the 99  club as he is desperately looking for one gold coin when he has 99 of them he could enjoy with his family.

 Between God and Mammon

In the Gospel today (Luke 16:10-13), Our Lord Jesus Christ ends the instruction on the right use of wealth by leaving his disciples to choose between God and mammon as much as nobody can conveniently serve two masters. Notice here that our Lord calls mammon a master, and we know that master stands for a person who has power over another; in fact, a master holds a relationship of control over the one who is under him.

God needs no introduction; He is the creator, owner of the universe, and the whole of creation and everything seats under Him, including mammon. God is, indeed, the source of our being. Addressing the Greeks in the Areopagus St. Paul maintains that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In the testimony of St. John about the Word who is God (John 1: 3) he says, “all things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made.”

Mammon comes from the Greek word, mammonas which means money or material wealth. Money is a good thing as it could solve a lot of problems; in fact, the Book of Ecclesiastes (10:19) says that money answers all things. However, there is another angle which tells us that the love of money is evil; in fact, the root of all evil. Some eager for money have strayed from the faith and have involved themselves in many troubles (1 Tim. 6:10). Notice here that the love of money is the ROOT of all evil, not the FRUIT. The fruit is what we see, but the root lies beneath, and we don’t easily see the root.

The real reason why most people rise very early in the morning to work and come back late tired and exhausted is the desire to generate money that could serve some material needs which includes food, clothing, and shelter among others. Most People go into businesses and other endeavors because of the income they could generate from them.

Generally, the bible does not condemn working to generate income; in fact, the Psalmist says that you shall eat by the labor of your hands and all shall go well with you (Psalm 128:2). Again St. Paul says that whoever does not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). What God detest is when we place work and income above Him or when we neglect social justice and morality in our pursuit for money like the prophet Amos (8:4-7) mentioned in the First Reading today.

Moving Forward: Money is not everything, but God is!

Materialism is one of the major obstacles to our spiritual growth and development because it turns our attention from God and keeps our focus on what we can get and how much we can hold. Life is not all about what we can get than what we can give. In giving we increase; the Word of God says that blessed are the hands that give than the one that takes (Acts 20:35).

It is not uncommon to hear most people talk about pursuing money. The reality is that if you set out to go after money, you will never get enough. The real key to wealth is to embrace your passion, and with that you make impact, and the impact would drive income.

The real Master we must follow always is God because He is the source of our resources. Our Lord Jesus Christ maintains that those who righteously seek God would have other things, including material wealth, added unto them (Mathew 6:33). As we march into a new week, let us try to reappraise our Christian commitment and stand with God as the ideal master of our lives.

Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. God bless you!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

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