Fr Bonnie's Reflections

THE RICH MAN AND THE LAZARUS EFFECT! HOMILY FOR 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

lazarus

“Who wants to be rich and remain rich?” Most people would wish to be rich!. Another question: “Who wants to be poor and stay poor?” Mhhhh! The difference is very clear. For many of us, riches and wealth are blessings from God. Yes, I also believe (1 Chron. 29:12).  For many of us still, poverty is a curse! Do you believe that? I strongly disagree. God recognizes the poor in our midst (Matt. 26:11), and instructed us to be at their service (Romans 12:13) and not to be at their disservice (Prov.22:22-23).

We shall make or lose heaven based on our relationship with those in need (Matt.25:31-45). There is, however, one truth we all cannot dispute, there is an end to riches and poverty in this world, and that is at the point of death. Death does not fear wealth nor is it sympathetic with poverty.

Last week, we heard the voice of Amos denouncing the rich who were feeding on the poor to get richer (Amos 8:4-7). And the Gospel ended with the instruction:” you cannot serve both God and mammon.” This Sunday gives us the picture of the fate of the malicious rich and the righteous poor after their short stay here on earth. The Prophet Amos sets the scene in the First Reading (Amos 6:1a.4-7) with another stern statement on those who are at ease (the rich). According to him, their comfort will later turn to discomfort. We shall focus more on the Gospel Reading of today (Luke 16:19-31).

In the Gospel Reading today; we saw two characters; an unnamed rich man and a poor man called Lazarus (Eliezer) a name which means “ My God will help.” Two scenes were featured; the situation on earth and the situation after life on earth. We shall proceed with the reflection based on these two dispositions before concluding with the Lazarus effect.

The Rich Man and Lazarus on Earth

The narrative began with a detailed description of the rich man. He was dressed gorgeously in purple which is the color of royalty and fine linen which indicated the standard of his wealth. Next, he enjoyed a rich menu consisting of sumptuous meals. In contrast, the narrative mentioned a poor man who was named Lazarus. He was officially a poor beggar and was always by the gate of the rich man.

Though there was surplus food in the rich man’s house, Lazarus was never considered even with a scrap of bread from the rich man’s table. He was not only poor he was also sick as he had sores all over his body that dogs attended to and perhaps infected too. The rich man and Lazarus were staying in the same community but lived in two separate worlds. The rich man lived in comfort and affluence while Lazarus lived in discomfort and lack.

It is very significant to note here that Lazarus never complained. He bore his situation with patience knowing that the Lord will act on his behalf at His own time (Psalm 37:7). He believed that his name would work for him; “my God is my help” (Psalm 54:4; 121:2). The rich man, on the other hand, relied on his wealth and never had any thought about God. (Rev.3:17).

The Rich Man and Lazarus in Afterlife  

In the next section of the narrative, death crept in for both them. Lazarus died, and he was carried off by angels to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. Next, the rich man also died and was buried. However, the rich man found himself in Hades (hell).

There in torments the rich man looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he asked Father Abraham to have mercy on him and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue. Abraham answered him and reminded him that on earth, he received good things while Lazarus received evil things but now the situation has reversed; Lazarus is comforted, and he is in anguish. Furthermore, Abraham made it clear to him that there is a big gap (chasm) between him and them that prevents movements from both sides.

Looking at this second section, we immediately come in contact with the phenomenon of death. That both Lazarus and the rich man died is an indication that death is a facility that is open to everyone both poor and rich alike. On this, the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:2) says:

Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike. It comes to good and bad people alike. It comes to “clean” and “unclean” people alike. Those who offer sacrifices and those who don’t offer them also die.A good person dies, and so does a sinner.Those who make promises die. So do those who are afraid to make them.

Lazarus could have died out of malnutrition and poor health. The rich man, on the other hand, could have also died on account of any of the “high brow sicknesses” like malignant gliomas, kidney failure, liver dysfunction, high blood pressure, paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer, irreversible cardiac malfunction and so on. The fact is that something must bring us to death at some point.

From the narrative, there was no mention of burial for Lazarus. Maybe his body was thrown into a forest or a valley, to get rid of the stench. However, his soul was peacefully carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. The word of God assures us that the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them (Wisdom 3:1-6).

A striking fact here is the inclusion of Abraham in the narrative. The person of Abraham is significant in the whole of the Bible. He was a man of unwavering faith in God and thus he could fit in as the patron of people who repose their faith in God (Heb.11:17-19).

The rich man also died and was buried. It could have been a stunning burial with all the high and mighty in attendance. However, behind the scene, he was found in Hades (hell) and was in great torment; taken hostage by Satan.  From the depths of hell, he saw Abraham and Lazarus and requested for a drop of water from the tip of the finger of Lazarus which was, however, impossible because of the gap between them.

We can dwell more on the gap (chasm) between the rich man in Hades and Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. The gap was the same gap that the rich man created between him and Lazarus while they were still on earth. On earth, Lazarus could not gain entrance into the Rich Man’s house. From outside the gate, he could see people eating and making merry, but nobody offered him even a scrap of bread; though we never heard that he begged. Now in the afterlife, the situation turned around. The rich man is now the one outside the region of happiness and very much, unlike Lazarus he was found begging.

In the last section of the narrative, the rich man made another request from Abraham. He told him to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them about the place of torment. In answering,  Abraham told him that they have Moses and the Prophets but he insisted that someone coming from the dead may make them have a change of heart, but Abraham told him that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets someone coming from the dead would not make a difference.

Insightfully we can still see some trends of rich-man-attitude of giving order still existing in the man. He felt that he could still give orders even in that place of anguish. He had asked Lazarus to bring water to him, and now he wanted him to leave heaven and go back to the earth for the sake of his brothers. On the first requested he wanted Lazarus to come over to hell and feel the burning heat.

The Lazarus Effect.

The name Lazarus means “My God will help me” (Eliezer). In the New Testament, we encounter two “Lazaruses.” One was a friend of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John (11:1-44) told us that he was sick and later died and buried. However, our Lord Jesus Christ came and raised him up from the dead. The second Lazarus is the one we have in the Gospel today. He suffered in life and died, but God raised him up to a better place after.

One common factor we could identify in these “Lazaruses” is God’s intervention in their helplessness. The divine intervention brought about the fact of being raised from the hopeless situation to a hopeful one. From sorrow to joy, from mourning to merriment. This is the LAZARUS EFFECT!

The Lazarus effect tells us that there is hope for a better situation; God will make a way (Isaiah 43:19). The Lazarus effect says that the dry bone can rise again (Ezek.37:7) The Lazarus effect tells that God is thinking about us (Psalm 40:5). The Lazarus effect tells us that God is capable of making impossibility possible (Luke 18:27). The Lazarus effect tells us that God is capable of healing our wounds, taking our sicknesses away and giving us prosperity (Jer.30:17-18). The Lazarus effect tells us that when there is a casting down, there is a rising for us (Job.22:29).

The Lazarus effect in the Gospel today eloquently tells us of what we could refer to as divine reversal. In the Gospel, the rich man became eternally poor while the poor Lazarus became eternally rich. On earth, Lazarus was outside the gate of the rich man and in the afterlife, the rich man was outside the gate of mercy. On earth, Lazarus had nobody besides him, but in the afterlife, he was in the bosom of Abraham. On earth, Lazarus had nothing to eat while the rich man had so much. But in the afterlife, the rich man had no access to even a drop of water and Lazarus had no need anymore.

The Gospel narrative today is a lesson for everyone. All we have are gifts from God. Let us also know that we are supposed to be humble enough to be charitable with what God has given to us. Often we forget that there could be a Lazarus effect for someone we assumed to be insignificant and unimportant. It is not impossible for a poor man to become rich (Sirach 11:21).

Have a blissful Sunday and may God visit your situation with a Lazarus effect!

Fr. Bonnie. 

A PLEA FOR THE POOR: (THE VOICE OF AMOS). HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

poor-children-crying

One public official that Nigerians would not forget so soon is Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili; may God rest her soul. Dr. Akunyili became famous not because of the mere fact that she was the director of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control but on account of the fact that she fought against the illicit manufacturing and distribution of fake drugs.

Before her historic fight against fake drugs, some malicious persons were manufacturing lethal substances in the name of drugs and these were sold to unsuspecting people (especially the poor) who end up having worst medical conditions and being unable to get meaningful medical attention most of them die. While we could remember Dr. Dora Akunyili for actively advocating for sanity in food and drug manufacturing and distribution, she is also be remembered for saving a great number of poor people from the exploitative hands of some mischevious businessmen and women.

The First Reading (Amos 8:4-7) could be termed a divine appeal for the poor. In the passage, the oracle of Amos the prophet was in favour of the poor and marginalized of the society and against the rich oppressors. It was in a society where the rich became richer by making the poor to depend on them and thus exploit them.

The oracle of the prophet Amos began by denouncing those who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. They ask “when will the new moon be over so that they can sell grain?” Who are these that trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end? They are the more privileged of the society (as opposed to the less privileged), they are the rich. They leverage on the needs of the needy and the poverty of the poor to enrich themselves.

These people cannot wait for the new moon and the sabbath to be over. Why? The new moon here refers to the beginning of the month which is considered holy to God (Number 10:10; Neh.10:31). And like the sabbath business and work are discouraged (Deut.5:14) and mercy is shown to the needy, the poor and slaves (Deut 15:12-18).

The people that Amos described here are actually opportunists who make their living out of the poor and needy. They are always unfair in their dealings with the poor by using false weighing balances. They also make slaves out of them by buying them for silver and a pair of sandals. That is, putting them in perpetual debt. Even what is considered a waste is sold to the poor.

Do we still have the prevalence of this situation that Amos mentioned? The answer is obviously YES. Today, exploitation has taken more scientific and technological dimensions. We have been enslaved by consumerism (whether it is a habit or a spirit). Buying without breaking, shopping without stopping not even minding the hidden charges. Many have been enslaved by creditors to whom they have become debtors. You might think that you are rich but from the point of what you are owing you are really poor or corporately poor.

The poverty in the world is constructed and sustained by the rich. The dynamics used by the rich is simple; they make the poor to look up to them for assistance and they use that opportunity take away from them the little they have. For rich to become richer the poor need to become poorer. This is so unfortunate.

It is very sad that the world, our just and merciful God created, is breeding on heart-rending and painful inequality. According to the World bank and IMF joint Global Monitoring Report (2014/2015), nearly half of the world population (more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day. Next, more than 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty with less than $1.25 per day and about 805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat. This is regrettably a slap on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals presented in the year 2000 and which included ending extreme poverty by the year 2015 as the first goal.

The analysis has not ended. About 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF about 22,000 children die each day due to poverty; most of these children die quietly in extremely poor villages while many us around the world keep throwing food and other useful things into the bins; not even a slight urge to share with that poor neighbour down the street.

Furthermore, according to Feeding America, a non-profit organization, about 15.3 million children in the USA alone live in food insecure homes while millions of children worldwide go to bed hungry every day. Folks, all these are happing in a very rich world where the net worth of all the wealthy people in the world put together will be enough to give food and shelter to everyone in the world for many years.

Considering the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in the world, we are prodded to ask “are people not serving mammon instead of God as our Lord Jesus Christ indicated in the Gospel Reading today? We remember that St. Paul writing to Timothy indicated clearly that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10). The dishonesty of the steward in the Gospel Today (Luke 16:1-13) is a typical example of the evil engineered by the love of money.

There is a need for us to reflect on the deep inequality we have in the world today and do something about it. We are living in an age where poverty is used as a weapon of oppression and suppression in view of generating dependence. Nations do not help nations without asking “what would there be for us?”. That is why most countries are owing so much to others and the creditors still remain open to give more loans. Be careful with and about loans; they could be enslaving.

The basic problem of the human society is that the wealth of the world is not shared. The world is too rich for us to have millions of people who go to bed every day without food. There is a need for voices to rise like Amos’ for the poor and needy in the society. We need more “Teresas” to go into the numerous “Calcuttas” around the world to make some active pleas for the poor. We can, each, begin from our neighbourhoods. We can begin from that poor home, that poor man, that poor woman, that poor, boy or that poor girl. We must pay attention to and work against the seven capital sins of modern day society as Mahatma Gandhi numerated.

  • Wealth without work.
  • Pleasure without conscience.
  • Commerce without morality.
  • Knowledge without character.
  • Science without humanity
  • Politics without principles
  • Religion without sacrifice.

Have a great Sunday and a lovely week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

OUR WAYWARDNESS VS GOD’S MERCY AND COMPASSION. HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

gods-mercy

As a little child, I was adventurous like most male kids of my age. One fateful day my uneasy hands got hold of my dad’s pair of eyeglasses and before seconds could enter into minutes I had a fall while running about and it got broken. My dad entered the sitting room as this drama was going on and at the sight of him, I started crying. I was crying not because of the fall nor the broken glasses but on account of the punishment I anticipated for being restive and destructive. I saw my dad coming close to me and my cry increased and I started pointing an accusing finger on my legs as if they caused the fall and the resultant breaking of the pair of eyeglasses.

I was still thinking about what could be the nature and intensity of my punishment when my dad lifted me up carefully making sure that I was safe from possible abrasions from the tiny fragments of glasses. He carefully placed me on a chair and asked me to stay there until he packed the broken glasses. The tone of his voice calmed me a bit and I started crying lesser and lesser though still wondering if that was all. After packing the fragments he brought water for me to drink while examining my tiny legs to make sure there were no hidden wounds. Thereafter, he told me not to play with his glasses and to stop being restless. I became calm.

Have you ever received mercy instead of a merited punishment? Have you ever received compassion instead of blame? Have you ever received a caring hand instead of a canning hand for a punishable offence? My narration here is a far lesser act of mercy than what we receive from God after our inexorable and countless episodes of disconnection, waywardness, and sinfulness. In spite of our fallenness, God continues to extend a reconciliatory invitation to us (Isaiah 1:18).

In the First Reading today (Ex.32:7-11,13-14), we are presented with the image of God in a very “bad mood”. God said to Moses, among other things, “Go down; for YOUR PEOPLE, whom YOU BROUGHT OUT of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves…” Here we can establish that the depravity of the people of Israel disconnected them totally from God to the extent that He temporarily disowned them calling them the people of Moses whom he (Moses) brought out of the land of Egypt. Does that make a sense?

The above shows us that sin dissociates us from God. It changes the nature and character of our relationship with God. We are aware of the fact that before this episode God promised the people that He will be their God and they will be His people and that He will deliver them from the burdens of the Egyptians and bring them to land He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex.6:7-8).

Continuing, God told Moses that He intends to destroy the people of Israel completely on account of their idolatry, but would raise another generation from Moses. This statement could have been a very tempting one for Moses. For any selfish and self-righteous person that could have presented an opportunity to establish a remarkable dynasty, after all, he has been in the forefront of the match into the promised land.

Instead of using the above opportunity to establish himself, Moses begged God to pardon the stiff-necked people reminding him of the promise He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He will multiply his descendants.

We are told that God “repented” of the evil He thought to do to His people. It will be important to note here that God’s repentance here does not suggest that he sinned in the first place. It actually means relenting, retracing or turning back from an initial plan. It all means that God turned around from the plan to destroy the people and instead offered them His compassionate mercy (Psalm 103:8).

We could take some reflective moments to ask few questions: “Did God actually mean to destroy His people and begin a new generation of people with Moses? Did He actually forget (and needed to be reminded of) His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Attempting to answer, we could say that God knew what He intended to do before speaking to Moses. Moses had to defend his integrity before God. Oftentimes such situations are also moments of faith and integrity trials.

In the Gospel today (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord Jesus Christ made a case in favour of sinners against the self-righteous disposition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw him in the midst of tax collectors and sinners and they judged him for being with them and eating with them. For the Pharisees, the world is divided into two with the righteous on the one side and sinners on the other side. For them, no sinners should repent! This is stark ignorance.

Considering the attitude of the Pharisees to sinners, our Lord Jesus Christ took some time to disclose to their closed minds what he actually came to do on earth, namely to seek out the lost and to call sinners to repentance. In his usual way, our Lord used some parables to deliver his message. A brief look at these parables and how they relate to us will help us in this reflection.

1) The Lost Sheep: Sheep are known to flock together. They also follow the Shepherd wherever he leads, unlike goats. From the parable, we are told that among a hundred sheep one was lost and the Shepherd left the ninety-nine by themselves in the wilderness and went in search of the one that was lost. It will ordinarily appear preposterous to the imagination for someone to leave ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to search for one that was lost.

Unusual as the above may sound, that is actually how our merciful God goes in search of us when we are lost in sin. The word of God made us understand that God is not interested in the death of any sinner (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). We are precious to God especially when we live and die in Him (Psalm 116:15). No well-meaning workman would find pleasure in destroying what s/he has made.

2) The Lost Coin: What is very remarkable in this parable is the urgency with which the woman who lost one coin out of ten searched for the lost one in the night. She could not wait until the morning breaks to look for the coin. Why the urgency? It could be that any delay in getting the coin immediately may lead to a total loss.

Viewing this from our standpoint, it is said that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and to die in sin is to die twice; the second death (Rev.21:8). God is not lax about our sinfulness he goes out frantically searching for us before it becomes too late.

3) The Lost Son (a.k.a the prodigal son): This parable took a greater part of the Gospel Reading today. One major reason could be that while the others referred to the loss of non-humans, this parable referred to the loss of a human being created in the image and likeness of God; in other words, a soul that is dear to God.

We are generally familiar with the narrative. A man had two sons, the younger son approached the father and asked for his own share of his inheritance and his father divided his inheritance into two and gave him one part and he travelled to a FAR COUNTRY and squandered the money and began to live in penury when all was lost and the country experienced famine. One day HE CAME TO HIS SENSES and decided to go back to his father to become a slave, not a son anymore.

When the father saw the son coming from afar, he ran to him welcomed him and prepared a big banquet in his honour. When the older son came  back and learnt about his father’s kindness and mercy over his wasteful brother he became angry and refused to enter the house. His father came and begged him but he was adamant and accused his father of being unnecessarily kind and merciful to someone who does not deserve mercy due to his waywardness and who deserved eternal punishment.

There are indeed many issues and lessons within the narrative but for the sake of brevity and relevance we shall be looking and four important elements: the journey to the far country, coming to senses, the judgement of the older brother and the compassion and mercy of the father.

  1. a) Journey to the far country: The far country as mentioned here refers to our journey into sin. Sin actually means a departure from God. In the far country of sin we are disconnected from God and consequently, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Nothing lasts in the far country and that was why abundance turned into lack for the young man. The far country provides a way that eventually leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).
  2. b) Coming to the senses: This is the greatest thing that can happen to anyone. Coming to one’s senses means realising our disconnection from God and how far we have wandered deep into the far or distant country. This disposition of coming to his senses brought the young man to the point of confession: “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him “father I have sinned against heaven and before you ; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants”. And this was actually what he did.
  3. c) The judgement of the older son: The older son was very angry with both his father and his younger brother. For him the younger brother’s case is closed. He was gone and should go forever with his waywardness. He was not happy about his father’s acceptance of someone who was once lost. If this older son was in Moses’ position when God planned to destroy the people for their sin he would have begged him to do so immediately. At the end of the narrative, the older son became the one in the far or distant country as he refused to come into the house. He became the real lost son no longer his brother.
  4. d) The compassionate mercy of the father: We are told that the father saw the younger son coming from a distant and ran up to meet with him. This is an indication to the fact that he had been on the look out for him to come back. This is how God is constantly waiting for us to come back from our respective far countries. The father did not mention or recall any other misdeeds of the son. This is how God receives us when we come back to him. The letter to the Hebrews (8:12) says: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Today we are challenged by the younger son to come to our senses and make that journey back to God. We are also called upon not to repeat the undesirable attitudes of the Pharisees and the older brother who are quick to judge and condemn. We should like St. Paul in the Second Reading (1 Tim.1:12-17) realise and accept the fact that we are sinners and in need of God’s mercy.

Do have a great week ahead and may God’s mercy meet you.

Fr. Bonnie.

MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA AND THE MEMORARE. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

MOTHER TERESA

“It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.”

– Mother Teresa

The attention of the whole world is once more turned to the eternal city, Rome. It is not about the election of a new Pope nor a “Third Vatican Council”. It is rather the canonization of a gentle but great soul; the Albanian nun Mother Teresa born as Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, on August 26, 1910.

Mother Teresa’s vocation to the religious life began when she was eighteen years; in the year 1928. Her father Nikola, a successful contractor and politician, had died when she was barely eight and her mum Dranafile took up the task of raising her and her siblings Aga her elder sister and Lazar her elder brother. Her home was a place where poor folks came to eat and the then little Agnes (Mother Teresa) was always empathetic with them and could only eat when they had eaten.

Mother Teresa’s missionary journey started with the Loreto Sisters in Dublin, Ireland who were dedicated to the education of young girls. She entered the novitiate in 1929 and by 1931 she took her first religious vow and chose the name Teresa in honour of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

After her first religious profession, Mother Teresa was sent to St. Mary’s High School Calcutta India to teach young girls. While in Calcutta Mother Teresa was able to see the other side of the city namely the slums where the poorest of the poor barely survived. The discovery of the slums and the pitiable inhabitants aptly set the tone for the second part of Mother Teresa’s vocation. In a statement, she said: ” I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor”.

With the permission of the Archbishop of Calcutta (after myriads of oppositions), Mother Teresa began to serve the poor openly on the streets of Calcutta. To be effective and to create a vivid connection and resonance with the poor people, she dropped her Loreto habit and started dressing like a modest India woman in plain white safari and sandals.

The active works of Mother Teresa are so numerous that only serialised publications can exhaustively detail them. Before her death on the 5th of September 1997, her works of charity and mercy got global attention and admiration with numerous awards from various institutions and organization. She also received the renowned Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. However, on this 4th day of September, the eve of the 19th anniversary of her death, the Church is giving her a rare award as a canonized saint.

This article does not pretend to give an exhaustive detail of the life and works of Mother Teresa of Calcutta whom the Church is honouring today with her canonization. However, a deep focus is given to an aspect of her piety that most active Catholics could find to be very encouraging and at the same instructive.

Mother Teresa constantly told his sisters about her emergency novena prayer. Normally we know that a typical novena prayer takes the known nine days from start to finish. However, Mother Teresa’s connection and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary brought about her pious relational attention to the traditional prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary known as the MEMORARE. She spoke of reciting the prayer ten times (not nine times) when faced with an urgent need. What follows here is a testimonial from an excerpt from the book “Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait”, by Monsignor Leo Maasburg:

Mother Teresa sat in the passenger seat, and together we prayed the fifteen decades of the Rosary and a Quick Novena. This Quick Novena was, so to speak, Mother Teresa’s spiritual rapid-fire weapon. It consisted of ten Memorares — not nine, as you might expect from the word novena. Novenas lasting nine days were quite common among the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity. But given the host of problems that were brought to Mother Teresa’s attention, not to mention the pace at which she traveled, it was often just not possible to allow nine days for an answer from Celestial Management. And so she invented the Quick Novena.

Mother Teresa used this prayer constantly: for petitions for the cure of a sick child, before important discussions or when passports went missing, to request heavenly aid when the fuel supply was running short on a night-time mission and the destination was still far away in the darkness. The Quick Novena had one thing in common with nine-day and even nine-month novenas: confident pleading for heavenly assistance, as the apostles did for nine days in the upper room “with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the women” (Acts 1:14) while waiting for the promised help from the Holy Spirit.

The reason why Mother Teresa always prayed ten Memorares, though, is as follows: She took the collaboration of Heaven so much for granted that she always added a tenth Memorare immediately, in thanksgiving for the favor received. So it was on this occasion. We prayed the entire Rosary while we were waiting in the car. No sooner had we finished the Quick Novena than the Swiss guardsman knocked on the steamed-up windshield and said, “Mother Teresa, it’s time!” Mother Teresa and the Sister got out. To keep the guardsman from chasing me out of the beautiful courtyard, I called after Mother Teresa, “Mother, I’ll wait here for you until you come back down. Then I’ll take you home.” But it was to be otherwise.

For she turned around and called, “Quick, Father, you come with us!” Was it the Quick Novena that finally bring about this “Quick, Father…”? I had no time to reflect, for Mother Teresa was already on her way to the elevator; she swept aside the timid protest of the Swiss guardsman with a charming “Father is with us!” and a grateful twinkle of her eyes.

There are still so many testimonies of the amazing results of Mother Teresa’s emergency novena with the memorare. Without over-labouring the issue, we can establish here that as Mother Teresa is being canonized today we can go home with a reflection on her deep connection with our Blessed Mother Virgin Mary on the platform of the memorare. May we learn this simple but powerful devotion from her and definitely we shall have our own remarkable testimonies.

 

“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you, I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer me. Amen.”

 

GOD’S WILL VS DISCIPLESHIP HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). +IN HONOR OF MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

MOTHER TERESAdiscipleship

One fateful day, a farmer was resting in his farm house while it rained. Incidentally, the rain became so much that the entire farmland came under heavy flooding. The Farmer ran outside and climbed up to a tree and from a branch of the tree he prayed and asked God to save him and God assured him of assistance. Soon after a fellow farmer came along with a boat and offered to help him but the man said he should not worry that God is going to help him soon. Feeling rather disappointed, the man Left.

Thereafter a rescue team from the locality emerged and offered to help the man but he told them not to bother as God has assured him of more dependable help. Two other persons came to rescue the man but he preferred to wait for the heavenly assistance.

Meanwhile, the magnitude of the flooding increased until the tree was eaten up and the man got drowned and died. He eventually found himself before God and was upset that God could not rescue him as He promised and God told him that it was His will to save him and that was why He responded immediately by sending people to him but he declined their help. The man’s will was to have God save him and it was God’s will to save him but when the will of God manifested through the people that came to his rescue, the man could not connect with it. He actually wanted it in his own way not according to God’s irreprehensible will and way.

One thing we cannot easily grasp at our own time and pace is the Will of God for us. In fact, it seems so far-fetched that some people will often leave a space in their plans which says “if it is the will of God” or “if God permits.” Knowing God’s will for us generally and in particular situations may be as puzzling as trying to understand the whole of God.
Beyond the puzzles it seems to present to us, God’s will is not only indispensable, it also conditions and determines our lives. In fact, the safest place to be when confronted by challenges and troubles in the world is in the middle of God’s will. Why? The simple answer is that God has a plan for each and every one of us (Jer.29:11).

The First Reading today (Wisdom 9:13-18b) began by asking the question: “who can know God’s counsel or who can discern God’s will (intention)?” God’s will is not what we know by mere mental processing. God’s will is too enormous to be accommodated in our limited mental timeline. In fact, the passage made us know that our reasoning and deliberations are limited, worthless and fallible.

“How then can we know or learn the will of God considering our aforestated limitations?” We can do so by purposefully following God. By following God He leads us into the discovery and doing of His will. This actually formed the basis of the Gospel today (Luke 14:25-33).

The Gospel scene opened with the image of a great multitude that accompanied (travelled with) our Lord Jesus Christ. The number of people that went with him was indeed so much and like in the case of Gideon before he went to battle with the Midianites (Judges 7:3-7), there was a need to drop down the number and separate the real disciples from those who merely accompanied or travelled with him.

It will be very fitting for us to make a distinction here between these verbs “to accompany” (or travel with) and “to follow”. To accompany someone means to go with someone to some place. In this situation, there is some note of independence between the individual and the person going with him or her. The person often does not have any obligation towards the individual, the same way one could have co-travellers on the same flight. To follow someone, on the other hand, entails subscribing to the plans and directives of the individual in question. It means to take after someone’s footsteps. It means to be a disciple or an adherent.

From the analysis above, we understand that at that time our Lord Jesus Christ had many people accompanying him (co-travellers) but not following him and he wanted them to know that following him should not be confused with accompanying or travelling with him. He was getting closer to Jerusalem, the city he must enter before his passion and death that would bring about our salvation. He needed to enter Jerusalem with followers, not co-travellers.

The next instruction was for the real followers. Just like Gideon instructed the three hundred who were eventually chosen to go against the Midianites on how the Lord had designed the battle, our Lord gave some instructions on true discipleship.

1) A True Disciple must “Hate”: Our Lord maintained that anyone who intends to follow him must “HATE” father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters as well as her/his life. The original Greek word for “hate” as used in the passage is miso  and this means “to love less”. Hence hatred as used here does not entail despising one’s family and one’s life but to esteem them less than God. Within the context used by our Lord, it entails developing a greater love and attention to Jesus Christ than to one’s relations and even one’s own life. The hidden truth here is that when we love God more and deeply too it becomes easier for us to love our relations, friends and other things in the right way.

 

2) A True Disciple must Carry Cross: Our Lord asked those who are ready to become his followers (not co-travellers) to come along with their cross. Oftentimes we are afraid of the cross because it reminds us of suffering and thus appears unpalatable; the truth, however, is that without the cross the crown will be far-fetched (James 1:12). St. Paul would tell us that the message of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing but for those who are saved it is the power of God (1 Cor.1:18). The cross is our identity as Christian and whoever is not proud to carry the cross cannot claim to be proud of Jesus Christ who saved us through the cross. Moreso if you take a very reflective look at the cross you will discover a lot of amazing features:

       It is a PLUS (+) sign so it adds to our lives.

       It is LADDER that one can use to climb over any obstacle or barrier.

       It is a WEAPON to fight sin and the devil. In fact, if you position the cross horizontally it appears like a gun or sword.

       It points to and leads us to HEAVEN

3) A True Disciple must Build: Our Lord used the imagery of a building project and warfare engagement to describe what disciple entails. Building a house is generally cost effective and whoever wants to undertake that should be sure of the finances. Every building project entails a beginning and the finishing. There are instances where buildings were abandoned half way and very often it happens as a result of improper planning. Significantly, the process of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is like building an edifice. The beginning of this project entails making Jesus Christ the  chief cornerstone (Eph.2 20-21). Each time we are involved in doing good we are building for the Lord just as evil destroys whatever we build. The building is completed when we eventually make heaven. That is why Paul writing to the Philippians (1:6) said: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

4) A True Disciple must Battle: The Christian life is like warfare and that was the instruction of the book of Sirach (2:1). St. Paul made it more lucid in his letter to the Ephesian (6:13-17) where he dressed the Christian with all the necessary war paraphernalia. And in 2nd Timothy (2:3-4) he called the followers of Christ soldiers who must be formidable in combat. To be combat ready as a Christian one has to make a dependable choice to fight consistently on the side of Jesus Christ. This a dependable way of being a disciple as well as doing the will of God. The irony that is connected with the Christain warfare is that God actually fights the battle (Ex.14:14). One needs only to be ready and available.

5) A True Disciple must Renounce All: Our lord ended by giving us the ponderable step towards the realisation of the preceding instructions. Simply put, he suggested that we should renounce ALL we have. This is another challenging one in a world that is too materialistic. To renounce is to give up or abandon what one has. In this regard we are called upon to renounce attachment and attraction to those things that will hinder us from carrying the cross, building well,  fighting well and ultimately being true followers in accordance with God’s will.

For us to be true disciples of Jesus Christ we need to walk with him and follow him wherever he leads us. We need to pay apt attention in order to discover his will for us and operate on that Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us an insight to this when he said “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and other things will be added unto you” (Matt 6:33). We shall end with the first stanza of this traditional hymn:

 

 

When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will, he abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

REFRAIN: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Have a great Sunday and a joyful week.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE GOSPEL OF HUMILITY HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D​.

Humble yourself

A young man was once making a presentation in his class and it fact was, in fact, his first time. While he was making the presentation, the professor handling the class noticed that he was holding his paper in the left hand while the right hand was loosely tucked inside his pocket. The professor saw this as an offensive sign of pride and instantly asked him to use his right hand or end the presentation. It was at this point that the young man raised the right arm that was inside his pocket and everyone saw that a quarter of it was cut off and that was obviously after an accident.

The professor seeing this came to the boy knelt down before him in the full gaze of the class and begged to be forgiven for mistaking his disability for pride. The professor’s humility was so spontaneous and touching that it brought out tears in the eyes of many of the student in the class including the disabled young man. In fact, the class ended with that humble gesture leaving the students to wonder and ponder how a professor could kneel before his student to ask for forgiveness. A lesson on humility was learnt.

There is yet another story. Many years ago, a man riding on a horse came across some soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood across a barrier without success. An army corporal who was commanding them was standing by as the men struggled and he kept giving them annoying and unproductive orders. The horse rider who was all dressed up to his face asked the corporal why he was not giving them a helping hand. The corporal replied, “I am the corporal; I give orders.” The horse rider came down from the horse, went up and stood by the soldiers and as they were lifting the heavy log of wood, he helped them to get it across the barrier.

Afterwards, the horse rider quietly mounted his horse and before moving he told the corporal, “The next time when your men need help, send for the Commander-in-Chief.” It was after he left that the corporal and his men found out that the horse rider was actually George Washington, the first American president and the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

The word humility comes from the Latin “humilitas which indicates lowliness or being close to the earth. The root of the word is “humus”  which means soil. Hence to be humble is literally seen as being down-to-earth. Humility goes with selflessness; hence anyone who is selfish would have a hard time being humble. Humility is not the same thing as self-humiliation. It is not the same thing as eye service neither is it  Low self-esteem nor foolishness.

It is very disturbing that humility as a virtue is comparatively scarce in our religious creed though preacher preach it and hearers hear it very often. Pride, on the other hand, though known as a vice is worn by many as a garb. The word of God tells us that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Viewed from the opposite direction, humility goes before honour and success. (Prov.18:12b;29:23b).

The First Reading today (Sirach 3:17-20.28-29) began with a highly instructive statement which says: “My child (son), conduct your affairs with humility (meekness), and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”. From this statement, we can see a distinction being created between humility and giving of gifts. It is actually easier to give out gifts to people; often done to receive social applause, than to be humble. True humility is farfetched though not impossible. True humility attracts love not from people (because they will prefer a giver of gifts) but from God. It is based on this that the Apostle James declared that God loves the humble but detests the proud (James 4:6).

The First Reading continued by telling us that the greater you are the more you should humble yourself so that you can find favour with God. This will readily remind us of Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). She did not become popular in the world by her position as the foundress of Missionaries of Charity but by her compassionate work among the poor in the slums of Calcutta. It takes true humility to practice authentic charity. It is evident that in our day and age, many people would want their deeds of charity to be announced and published. It thus takes humility to obey that instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ that tells us that our almsgiving must be in secret so that our God who sees all that is done in secret will reward us (Matt.6:3-4).

In the Gospel Reading, today (Luke 14: 1.7-14) the imagery of a wedding party was used by our Lord Jesus Christ to give instruction on the theme of humility. According to the narrative, our Lord went to dine in the house of a ruler and a Pharisee on a certain Sabbath day. We were told that when he entered they (the Pharisees) were watching him. Why? They were watching him to see where he would sit. Of course, the seats were already placed hierarchically from the highest to the lowliest. He may have shocked them by going to the rear (back) to sit. This could have been more probable because they made no further comment.

It could have been from that rear (back) sit that our Lord gave his instruction on the expediency on humility after examining how they were scrambling over the seats of honor. Speaking figuratively and vividly as well he advised that one should take a lowly (back) seat on entering a marriage feast. The idea is that one could be given a higher seat in the course of the ceremony when the host comes in. It is important to indicate here that there were two different types of seats at the ceremony: the seat of honor and the seat of humility. These were open for people to choose but the host determined who sits where. From the narrative, our Lord Jesus Christ summarised humility as an act of bringing oneself low in view of a possible exaltation. This was exactly what he did in order to effect our salvation (Phil.2:5-11).

We cannot completely deal with the theme of humility without taking an active look at its opposite which is pride. Pride is remarkably the cause of various losses and failures in life. On account of pride, most people have lost both the material support and divine sustenance that were meant to be theirs. Many people have gone to hell and many are still making their way there on account of pride. It takes humility to know God and to love Him and our neighbours. It takes humility to pray. It takes humility to let go and to let God. It takes humility to repent from one’s sins; it takes humility to say “I am sorry”. One of the problems with our human society today is that there is the prevalence of pride but scarcity of humility.

Humility does not consist in what we profess with our lips but in what we do afterwards. That is why we can say that humility shows itself in active situations like in the story of the disabled student and the humble professor and that of George Washington. If the humility we profess is genuine it must be able to move us to action and to do so selflessly. Our Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect example of humility. He never called himself humble but his life was marked by challenging humility:

  • He was born as a King but was laid in a manger (a lowly place for animals- Luke 1: 12& 16.
  • He had nowhere to lay his head- Luke 9:58
  • He came from Nazareth (a small insignificant town) where nothing good can be found- John 1:46.
  • He took the function of slaves by washing the feet of the disciples as a sign of humility and service-John 13:4-5.
  • It took humility to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:34)
  • Humility was his way of life (Matt. 11:29; 20:24-28).

 

Humility is a garment we all need to wear. It would not only gain favours for us before God, it will also open a lot of doors for us. Humility not only makes us know our place and keep to it, it also moves us to allow others to have their respective places. We can use humility to challenge and change the lives of others. Children could learn humility from their parents, students could learn humility was their teachers, mentees could learn humility from their mentors, workers could learn humility from their bosses. When at his first appearance as the Roman Pontiff, the Holy Father Pope Francis bent low and asked the world to pray for him, his act of humility was productive as it touched and changed lives.

As we launch into this new week let us bear in mind that we need to be humble in all things because we are nothing without God and the strength of pride will eventually bow and surrender to the power of humility. Humility is instructively a dependable route to success. Let us make conscious efforts to discard pride and it’s destructive seductions and make humility our mainstay. Keep this in mind If you are humble you may not stumble!

Happy Sunday and may the new week overwhelm you with great tidings.

Fr. Bonnie.

“ONLY THE DISCIPLINED WILL BE SAVED!” HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

discipline

A little boy was repeatedly rude. On one occasion, the boy’s dad had to hit him hard on the head as a corrective measure against his unbearable rudeness. The boy felt so bad and asked his dad why he had to hit him so hard. The dad responded and said that he hit him hard because he loves him. Instantly the boy raised his hand to hit his father but first asked “can I love you back?”

Have you ever experienced the torturous treatment of a disciplinarian? The person could be your dad, mum, relation or one of your primary or high school teachers. If you have not had a direct experience with a staunch disciplinarian then you could count yourself fortunate and may be “uncooked” too.

One thing about disciplinarians is that you can never forget them and people often appreciate them later in life. The reason for the latter is that the punishment and pain they inflict are often inspired by love and the disposition to help the individual to grow and become better in life. We can recount our various experiences and I personally will not forget my dad’s torrential slaps that were phenomenal and led to instant promises of ideal conduct.

The Second Reading Today (Heb.12:5-7.11-13), could readily serve as our point of departure. In the letter, the word DISCIPLINE was mentioned up to five times while there are also other synonyms connected to it in the context. The writer of the letter recalled an exhortation in the Old Testament which said:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines whom he loves, and chastises every son he receives”

The writer went further tell us that one of the important and highly helpful duties of a father is to discipline the son. Though it might entail pain and some unpleasant experiences at the moment but later it yields pleasant fruits.

If we take an active look into the bible we will discover that those whom God loved so much passed through some excruciating and often severe punitive experiences. We know how Abraham had to go through a long route of childlessness even when God had promised him that he will be the father of a great nation with innumerable children (Gen.17:4-6). Joseph went through thick and thin, starting with his brothers, before his elevation in the Land of Egypt (Gen.37ff). The people of Israel (whom God called his people) went through tough times at various points in their life as a nation starting from the slavery in the land of Egypt through the incessant attacks from their enemies to Babylonian captivity and the fall of Jerusalem.

We can also recall the unsettling times of David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam.13:14). Most of the prophets did not have it easy like Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah and others. We cannot forget our elder in faith Job on whom God placed a premium bet with satan as a contender (Job 1:6ff). Finally, we have the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son in whom God the Father is well pleased (Matt. 3:17), but who had to go through excruciating passion to the extent he even asked God the Father why he had forsaken him (Matt. 27:46).

Why would God allow those he loves to go through pain and suffering? Put in another way, why does God often apply discipline to those dear to Him? This question is answered in all the three Readings today and we shall examine them carefully.

In the First Reading (Isaiah 66:18-21) we are presented with God’s plenary assembly consisting of all nations and tongues whose works and thoughts are personally known to God. God is all-knowing and nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 139). From all these people these will emerge, survivors (or fugitives which mean escapees) who will further announce the glory of God. The mention of survivors is an indication that there were victims or non-survivors. In other words, the survivors are those who emerge from God’s disciplinary hands.

The Gospel Reading today (Luke 13:22-30), makes the theme of our reflection today more profound. In the narrative, an unnamed person asked our Lord if only A FEW WILL BE SAVED. Looking at the passage it may seem that the question came from the blues. However, if we go back to the beginning of that Chapter (13:1ff) we will discover that our Lord has been talking about salvation on one hand and damnation, on the other hand, beginning with some events at the time as well as some parables that all called for repentance and fruitfulness.

To the question: “will only a few people be saved?” Our Lord answered not just the questioner but everyone with an imagery of a narrow but indispensable door (gate) which many will try to enter but will not be strong enough to do so. Why? First of all the door (gate) is narrow and this means that those who are moving in accompanied with unnecessary accessories cannot enter. This means that it will take an extra and extreme discipline to gain entrance. We could recall that our Lord in another place said that it will be easier for a camel to enter the kingdom of God than for a rich man (Mark 10:25).

From the reflection so far, we can locate two dimensions of discipline for any of us to be saved and these are divine discipline and self-discipline.

  1. Divine Discipline: David, one of the beneficiaries of divine discipline exclaimed in the Psalms (118:18): “I was punished by the Lord but not doomed to die”. In the Book of Proverbs (3:11-12) we are told not to despise God’s discipline as He reproves those He loves. The Book of Sirach (2:1-2) instructs that when we come to serve the Lord we should prepare for testing (divine discipline). We are also instructed not to be impetuous in the face of calamity. Divine discipline leads us to a better and more gracious life. You can imagine the renewal that Saul underwent from that discipline he received on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).

There are some plants like the jack pine, found around the northern part of central and eastern United States and Canada, that need fire to survive. After a forest fire, Jack pines release their seeds and blossom. Just as iron, when put into the fire, loses its rust and becomes glowing, it is in the same way that divine discipline refines us and brings out the best in our lives.

The Lord’s discipline is meant to bring about the death of the old man in us for the new man to emerge (Col. 3:9-10). In the Gospel narrative, it is clear that those who finally became last (though they were formerly first) were those who failed to accept divine discipline that brings about a transforming change in the life of the recipient.

  1. Self-discipline: Self-discipline is fittingly connected with divine discipline. If you like it expounds divine discipline. Real self-discipline goes beyond mere civility and urbanity. It involves making God the priority in our lives. It involves deep spiritual intelligence which goes beyond emotional and social intelligence. Self-discipline has been the way of the saints as it encourages self-mortification, self-abasement, and selflessness. It involves overcoming oneself. It is only the self-disciplined that can pass through the narrow door (gate).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul identified self-discipline as a precondition for godliness (1 Tim.4:7). Writing also to the Romans (12:1-2), Paul recommended the offering up of oneself as a sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God while at the same time saying that we should not be conformed to the pattern of this world; this is self-discipline.

It is very instructive to discover those who operate on the platform of indiscipline in the gospel narrative today. They are the ones who would arrive at the door when the door (gate) is locked. They are the ones who would think that admittance into the eternal home would be based on familiarity, hear them again: “we ate and drank in your company and you thought in our street”. We can attest that no disciplined mind can use this as the basis for entrance into the eternal home. They are those who would become last because coming first they failed to fall into the mode of discipline. Yes! Only the disciplined will be saved!

As we launch into the new week, let us be disposed for divine discipline and also make honest efforts for self-discipline.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

BEYOND PRESUMPTION: MARY’S ASSUMPTION INTO HEAVEN. REFLECTION ON THE FEAST OF ASSUMPTION. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

assumption

Today we are celebrating of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary  and this celebration is beyond mere presumption. The Assumption is at the same time a dogma of faith proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentisimus Deus of November 1, 1950. The dogmatic declaration runs thus: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”. To be assumed means to be taken up completely.

This is a solemn dogma that can only be accepted on the platform of faith. It is reasonably a consequent culmination of various divine messages in the entire Bible concerning Mary, which includes but not restricted to the message of the angel at God’s instance: “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you”. If the blessed Mother of God is FULL OF GRACE and was conceived without sin (Immaculate Conception) there is logic, reason, and faith to uphold that she was preserved from bodily corruption at the end of her earthly life. This is reasonably connected with St. Paul’s declaration in the letter to the Romans (8: 1-2):

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

In another passage (Romans 6:22-23) St. Paul went further to proclaim thus:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

From the above, we understand that Mary’s disconnection from sin right from the moment of her conception gave her an uncommon privilege to beat the natural claw of death and annihilation of the material body.

The glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven did not happen by her own power. She had no power of her own to undertake such amazing and mysterious flight into heaven. It is purely the grace of God working in her. It is based upon this that we differentiate the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven (which is by his own divine power) and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which took place through the power of God).

There are no direct biblical references narrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, but there are strong biblical pointers as well as other events with inferential relationships:

  • ETERNAL VIRGINITY (Isaiah 7:14). Here we are presented with the eternal Virginity of Mary. The word of God said that a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son. (Note well, not a woman but a Virgin). A closer and more effective reflection shows us that after the birth of her child she remained a virgin. This also points to the fact that God aided the preservation of her virginity after having her child which actually happened through the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). In effect, she did not experience any form of physical mutilation on her body which is precious to God as the first tabernacle of our Lord Jesus Christ. The prophecy of Isaiah (60: 13) confirms that God will bless the place where His feet rest.
  • FULL OF GRACE (Luke 1:28). This is the only place in the entire bible that God spoke of someone as being full of grace or highly favoured. God had in the past extolled some men and women of virtue like David, Deborah, Gideon and others but none has been told that he or she was full of grace. Mary was also told that she is blessed among all women which is another significant value placed on her. It does really follow that one with such rare attribute deserves a special package before God.
  • MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES. This refers to a unique form of subjective religious experience which God allows some people to have. Outwardly, this can be seen in some people experiencing one or two of those unique events in the Life of Jesus Christ. Examples are Stigmatism (bleeding at those spots Christ bled like Padre Pio), Bilocation (being at two places at same time like Alphonsus Ligouri and Anthony of Padua), Levitation (Being lifted up unaided by anything or person like Teresa of Avila), Glossolalia (Speaking in other tongues or languages like on the Pentecost day), Incorruption (body not decaying after death like Rita of Cascia and Bernadette Soubirous).Among these, we relate Levitation and incorruption with Assumption as mystical experiences willed by God for our Blessed mother. Evidently, this had happened with some people in the bible. In Genesis (5:24) we are told that Enoch suddenly was taken away. In 2 Kings (2:1-11), Elijah was taken up to heaven by a chariot of fire.

There is a need for us to learn from Mary and honour her than getting ourselves busy with the unnecessary war of words about her life and suitability of her cooperation with God in the salvation of mankind. We learn from her:

  • HUMILITY: Let it be done to me according to your words.(Luke 1:38)
  • LIFE OF FAITH: She believed in the promise made to her by God.(Luke 1:45)
  • LIFE OF HOPE : She stood by the promise of God with ardent hope.(Luke1:55)
  • LOVE FOR GOD AND OTHERS: Her visit to Elizabeth and assistance at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. (Luke 1:39ff; John 2:3ff).
  • FEW WORDS BUT DEEP REFLECTION: She spoke only about four times in the bible. But she pondered all in her heart.(Luke 2:19).

As we celebrate the Assumption, let us know also that our lives need to be assumed into holiness. We need to reflect in our lives what characterized the Mother of our Lord and also our Mother.

Have a great day and happy Solemnity.

FR.BONNIE

 

THE UNLIMITED POWER OF GOD’S WORD. HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

THE WORD OF GOD

Once upon a time, a train engineer by name Larry was sent by his company to work in a certain busy train station at the heart of a town. While he was on his way to work on the first day of the contract, he saw a hungry looking old beggar in the midst of the fast moving crowd of hundreds of people. He noticed the despair on the face of the man and stopped to give him some money. It was then that he discovered that he forgot his wallet at his lodging and all he could do was to smile at him and asked him how he was doing. The old man managed to smile back at him and nodded and Larry wished him a great day and left to work.

The next day Larry saw the man again and wished him a great day but not without dropping some money into his beggar’s cup. Every day while on his way to work, Larry would stop to say a word or two to the man and often gave him something for a meal. One day and that was the last day of Larry’s engagement at the station, he came to the man to tell him that he would not be seeing him again as he was going back to his main location. The man thanked Larry for his kindness and requested if he could spare a little time to listen to him. Larry agreed.

The old man told Larry that he has not always been a beggar. He told him that he was in a Care Home that was run by a Charity but unfortunately, the Home had to close down because of funding. His wife had died many years ago and his only child had also left home unceremoniously and left no trace after a big quarrel he had with him. He mentioned also that someone gave him an address of someone in a certain city who could lead him to his son for a possible reunion.

Since he had no money to travel that distance, he decided to beg and raise some money for transport. The old man told Larry that nobody paid attention to him among the thousands of people he met at the station until he came along that day with the smile and those kind words that brightened his life. The old man went on to say that Larry’s words and kindness infected other people and now he had saved enough money to get him to the address he was going to.

Larry was deeply touched by the old man’s story and after a brief reflective silence, he asked the man the name of his son and the old man said “James Lloyd” and added that he heard that he is now an engineer. Hearing this Larry exclaimed “James Lloyd! That is my boss, I report to him every day and I even told him about this old beggar friend of mine!” Larry later took the old man, Mr. Lloyd Adams, to his son Engr. James Lloyd and what a great reunion it was!

There could be many moral lessons from this story but I wish to single out the fact of the POWER OF SPOKEN WORDS. The old man recalled that it was Larry’s smiles and kind words that brightened his life at that point when nobody cared. Let us imagine that on the contrary, Larry had said to the old man: “you old fool get out of my way and go get a life!” The old man would have received more frustration atop the one he was having already.

The words we speak do really have incredible powers. They can build or bulldoze. They can help or hinder. They can provoke or pacify. They can make or mar. Words are like tools they could be used to assembly or to dismember. In the book of Proverbs (18:21), we read: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”. Based on this St. Paul advised the Ephesians (4:29) thus: Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

If human verbalizations could be powerful how much more the unstained word of God. There is actually a creative force in the word of God. From the inception of the world, we are told in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis that God created out of His spoken words. “And God SAID…Let there be….and there was..!” The letter to the Hebrews (11:3) corroborated this by asserting that it is an act of faith that we believe that the world was made from God’s spoken words.

In the First Reading today (Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10), we read about the bitter experience of the Prophet Jeremiah on account of the word of God he spoke of the people and their situation. It is very important here to state that God’s word is not always about blessings, success, progress, and breakthrough. The word of God deals with the situation as it is.

Jeremiah told the people the word of God concerning the impending fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the King of Babylon. Instead of accepting the oracle of the prophet and seeking divine counsel, the officials of the city ganged up against Jeremiah and convinced Zedekiah the king to have Jeremiah thrown into his son’s cistern because he did not tell them what they wanted to hear. There is a difference between what people want to hear and what God wishes to say to the people.

It is regrettable that the king granted the officials their request and Jeremiah was thrown into the well with mud inside. However, God used an Ethiopian Eunuch, Ebed-Melech to rescue Jeremiah. One could see that Zedekiah showed himself a typical character that acts before thinking or one that acts by impulse.

It is important to note that after being rescued from the cistern, Jeremiah did not change a single letter of the word of God he gave earlier. The true word of God does not entertain compromise. It is not a respecter of wealth and royalty. The word of God does not entertain fleeting and passing changes (Luke 21:33).

In the Gospel of today (Luke 12:49-53), our Lord Jesus Christ released some prophetic utterances that are generally unsettling. He specifically mentioned that he came to cast fire upon the earth and wished that it were already kindled. Furthermore, he spoke about a peculiar kind of baptism he is desirous to receive. Finally, he mentioned that he did not come to bring peace upon the earth but division starting from the family relationships. Three important facts are therefore notable here and we shall be examining them closely.

  1. The casting of fire upon the earth: Fire is a great symbol in the bible. In the first place, it is used severally to depict the presence of God. Moses encountered God at the burning bush (Ex.3:2). After leaving Egypt, God led the people of Israel by means of a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). God answered Elijah by fire (1 Kings 18:24). Jeremiah tells us that the word of God is like fire (Jer.23:29) and the letter to the Hebrews tells us that God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

Fire is also seen in the bible from another point of view as an instrument divine of judgement. Adam and Eve were driven away from the Garden by angels bearing flaming swords. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen.19:24). Isaiah (66:16) tells us that God will execute judgement by means of fire. Hell is described as a place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43) and the rich man who was dispassionate to Lazarus suffered in the flames (Luke 16:24).

By casting fire upon the earth, our Lord Jesus Christ was unleashing as it were the unlimited power of the word of God upon the earth. This will bring about divine visitation that will have double effects of salvation and damnation, justification and judgement.

2.The peculiar kind of baptism: The Greek root of the word baptism is baptizo and it means to dip, immerse or submerge. Literally, it could be understood as being buried and raised up again. So when our Lord was talking about a kind of baptism he urgently needs to have he was referring to his passion, death and eventually his resurrection. St. Paul made this clearer in his letter to the Roman (6:3-4) where he said:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

  1. Division, not peace: The word peace in Hebrew is rendered as shalom and it means total or complete well-being. However, there is another sense wherein peace can be used and it denotes tolerance, compromise or if you like the absence of conflict. We could understand this better when we read the Gospel of John (14:27a) where our Lord said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

From the above, we can understand what our Lord meant when he told his listeners in the Gospel not to suppose that he was coming to bring peace (compromise) but division. This means that the word of God is not meant to bring compromise but a positive division between those who will accept it and those who will not and this will begin from the family which the basic unit of the human society as well as  the root of all good and evil.

When we take an active look into our world today, we will still discover that the word of God which is a two-edged sword (Heb.4:12) is still progressively setting apart the sheep from the goat (Matt. 25:31-46). The word of God is meant to guide and lead us to in life’s journey (Psalm 119:105). This light will help us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us as St paul indicated in the Second Reading (Heb.12:1-4). This race will lead us to eternal salvation which we need even if it entails giving up our lives like the martyrs whom Paul referred to as a great cloud of witnesses.

Armed with the message of today, let us launch into the coming week with our eyes on the word of God which is spirit and life (John 6:63). We end with this instruction from the book of Proverbs (4:20-22):

My child be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings, Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your hearts. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.

Have a great Sunday and an awesome week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

FAITH AND DESIRABLE WORKS AT THE SERVICE OF SALVATION. HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

faith without works

This story will touch and teach you. Tess, an eight years old, was a sweet child with an amazing inner strength. One evening, unknown to anyone, she slipped out of the backdoor of their house and walked six blocks on a very serious self-designed errand. She was going to buy a “miracle” from the local pharmacy.

Earlier that day, she overheard her parents talk about her younger brother, Andrew. He has been very sick for some time now. Her parents brought him to a doctor for treatment, yet despite all the effort, all the tests and all the medicines, Andrew continued to grow sicker. Her parents became desperate and worried.

The medical expenses have already exhausted all the couple’s savings and they had to sell their house and would have to move to a rented apartment. Despite what they’ve done, they still had no solution in sight for Andrew’s sickness. “What we need is a miracle,” Tess overheard her father cry in desperation to her mother. Tess decided she was going to buy a miracle for her brother!

Before going out of the house, Tess went to her bedroom and retrieved a jelly glass jar which was her piggy bank and where she had been saving all the coins. She counted them and all she had was one dollar and eleven cents. “This should be enough to buy a miracle,” she assured herself.

When she got to the pharmacy store, she saw that the pharmacist was busy talking with a well-dressed man. She patiently waited until the pharmacist could attend to her but the conversation was taking a very long time. Now, worried the night was drawing near and that she might not be able to buy her miracle, she finally felt she had to try to distract the pharmacist’s attention. Using one of her coins, she made a sound with it on the glass top of the store counter.

Clearly annoyed by the interruption, the pharmacist turned to her and, with a rather unfriendly voice, asked her “What do you want? Can’t you see I am talking with my brother who travelled all the way from Chicago and we have not seen each other for many years!”

Feeling frightened at being addressed so ungraciously, Tess manage to say “I want to talk to you about my little brother too. He is very sick; my daddy says he needs a miracle. I would like to buy a miracle from you. I think I saved enough money to buy a miracle.”

“What nonsense are you talking about? Buying a miracle!” the pharmacist exploded. Tess explained to the pharmacist, “My brother is really sick, and the doctor here could not make him well. Mother says my brother needs an operation but this cannot be done here. We are running out of money and daddy believes that only a miracle can help my little brother now.

The well-dressed man, that is the pharmacist’s brother, approached Tess and stooping down to her asked, “What is wrong with your brother?” Tess replied, “My brother Andrew has something bad growing inside his head and my daddy says that only a miracle can save him now. So how much does a miracle cost here?”

The well-dressed man smiled and asked her “How much did you manage to save?” She replied, “I have a dollar and eleven cents.”

The well-dressed man stood up and said, “If a miracle can save your brother, your money should be enough to pay for that miracle. Please take me to your brother and parents, and let’s see if we can have a miracle for him.” Taking him by the hand, Tess led Dr. Carlston Armstrong, a doctor from Chicago specializing in neurosurgery, to their home.

Dr. Armstrong examined Andrew and reviewed his medical records and later Andrew underwent the surgery he needed and not long after that he returned home, much improved and began to recover gradually. Dr. Armstrong did not charge the parents anything.

After the surgery that cost them nothing, the parents of Tess believed that it was really a miracle as they couldn’t imagine how they could pay for such a medical procedure. Tess herself believed it was her one dollar and eleven cents (which the doctor gave back to her parents) that saved her younger brother. Beyond all these thoughts and looking through the window of the reflection of this Sunday, we could say that Andrew was saved by the faith and the desirable work of his sister Tess, no more no less.

In life, whenever we stop having faith, we start failing. Faith confirms our trust in God and without it, we cannot please God. The Second Reading today (Heb.11:1-2.8-19) can rightly be called a hymn of faith while the Gospel Reading (Luke 12:32-48)  tells us about our eternal salvation which lies beyond the material consolations around us.

FAITH: The most deeply connecting definition of faith couldn’t have been any other than the one we have in the opening verse of the Second Reading today (Heb.11:1-2.8-19): “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Looking at this biblical definition of faith we could dictate two important things and they are, willful assent and trust. To assent is to accept fully and to trust is to rely on something or someone. These two dispositions summarize faith.

If we take a critical look at the story of Tess earlier, we could see the aforementioned disposition running through. She accepted the fact (without a doubt) that her one dollar and eleven cents would purchase the “miracle” her brother needed to get well. Next, she relied on the expertise of the pharmacist to provide the “miracle”. It was in the process of setting her faith afire that she found the real miracle which her money could not have ordinarily purchased.

There is also in faith a productive valence which has to do with steadfastness or if you like not giving up. Of course, faith cannot work without steadfastness. The examples we were given in the Second Reading indicated that the characters mentioned (Abraham and Sarah) lived by faith, by remaining steadfast and not giving up.

DESIRABLE WORKS: It was St. James whose exposition on faith made us know that faith without (good) work is dead (James 2:14-26). This actually moderates the view of some people who often assume that John 3:16  means that only faith alone can save us. Faith becomes effectual when it is applied in a concrete situation. For example Tess in our story not only believed that miracle could save her brother she actually went in search of the miracle.

The importance of good works in addition to faith is expressed more deeply in the Gospel today (Luke 12:32-48) which is actually a continuation of the narrative of last Sunday about the rich and selfish fool. The bane of the man in that parable was his inability combine faith with desirable works. In the Gospel today our Lord instructed his listeners to sell their possessions and give alms. This is a practical way of living out the Christian faith by actively being at the service of others. By using the material things of this world to gain eternal treasures for ourselves in heaven.

The Christian life should go beyond mere words and translate into action. It is not enough to answer a Christian, there is a need for us to act as one. Let us remember the origin of the name in Antioch when people saw the disciples reproducing Christ in their words and actions and thus called them Christians (Christ-likes).

SALVATION: When our Lord in the Gospel of today advised that we should  provide ourselves with purses that do not grow old he was telling us to aim at salvation. When he advised that we should be like men waiting for their master to return from a marriage feast in order to open when he knocks he was telling us to secure our salvation.

From the above instructions, we can see that salvation is not a facility that comes merely by having faith. Rather we use our faith to work out our salvation. For this reason, Paul advised that we should WORK OUT our salvation with fear and tremble (Phil.2:12). It will amount to waste if after passing through the corridors of this world we secure everything apart from our souls (Mark 8:36).

You don’t need to perfect before you start working your salvation. Come with your faith (no matter how little) and your desirable works and God will perfect all things.

Did you know that:

Abraham was too old and Sarah was far beyond the age of childbearing.        Jacob was a liar and actually stole his brother’s blessings. Moses stuttered and actually committed murder. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute. David’s armour didn’t fit and he had an affair. In spite of his, wisdom Solomon worshipped other gods at some point in his life. Job suddenly became poor and sick. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and made a lot of blunders. Zacchaeus and Matthew were tax collectors and public sinners. Paul was a persecutor of the Church and actually killed Christians. Timothy had ulcers. Lazarus was dead. Mary Magdalene was considered a public sinner.

All these people secured their eternal gain by faith and desirable works. God does not call for an interview to grant our salvation. He does not look at our gains or losses nor at our beauty and frames. He is neither partial nor prejudge us. He loves us the way we are. He needs us to have faith in Him because without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb.11:6). He also wants us to person desirable works as whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sister that we did unto God (Matt. 25:40).

Let us work with faith as we go on to perform good and desirable works which also includes doing the will of God so that we can secure our eternal salvation.

May your faith and desirable works bring about your salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie

 

%d bloggers like this: