Once upon a time, a carpenter approached a house early one morning and asked the owner if he could be of help for any repair in the house. The owner of the house thought for a while and says to the carpenter “look at that neighboring house, it belongs to my younger brother and we do not get along. Please erect something that would block us from seeing each other!” The carpenter assures the house owner that he would do a good job and he started the work while the house owner leaves for a business meeting.
By evening, the house owner returned to discover that the carpenter had erected a beautiful and simple bridge connecting his house to that of his brother. He was still admiring the bridge from his side when his brother emerged from the other side, and they met in the middle of the bridge with a warm hug. The younger brother says to his elder brother, “I am sorry for all that I did. You are so kind to build this bridge which indicates that you still want to have something to do with me, I am sorry”. They hugged each other and cried.
The house owner was so pleased that he decided to give the carpenter other jobs to do in the house, but the carpenter replies and says to him, “Let me go because I have seen that there are still many bridges to build for other families out there. Call me when there is the need for another bridge”. Indeed, many families need bridges.
There are many things we consciously choose in life, but not the family into which we are born. If we were to pick our respective families, most people would prefer royalty and wealth as birthplaces while poor and dejected homes would remain childless. The family is not all about riches and comfort. The family is not all about good times and laughter. The family is a full package: the joyful and the sorrowful, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs!
Today, as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus Christ, Mary, and Joseph, we consider our contributions to the building or destruction of our various families. Do we bring light or darkness? Do we bring pain or gain? Do we help or hinder? Do we pray together or prey on each other? Do we support or separate? Do we understand or misunderstand each other? Do we build bridges or block the link we share?
The story of the childlessness of Abraham in the First Reading (Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3) after years of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of making him the father of a great nation, leaves us with the central lessons of patient and faithful waiting. The word of God tells us in in the Book of Isaiah (40: 31) that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. Patience is a virtue that every family needs. We need to be patient with God (Psalm 37:7) and with one another (Eph. 4:3). The Holy Family of Nazareth gives us a perfect example of a patient household especially with the events surrounding the Nativity, the search to kill the child Jesus and the flight to Egypt.
Every family that overlooks the virtue of patience would have pains. All the members of the family may not be equally gifted. Some could be stronger than others. Patience should be an essential compass in the family navigation. To be patient with each other is an evidence of love and care. St. Paul writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4), says among other things that love is patient, love is kind.
The family is both a sacred institution and a gift from God. Like all the gifts from God, the family is also under the furious attack of the devil. It is very evident that the easiest way to destroy the world is to destroy families. The family is the most vulnerable group in the world, and there is a need for the various families in the world to bring God into the daily life of the family.
The Gospel Reading (Luke 2:22-40), tells us about the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple. One could wonder why the narrative of the Presentation of the Lord is essential on the feast of the Holy Family, but the reason is obvious. It was both the presentation of Jesus Christ as well as the presentation of the Holy Family to God. By implication, we are invited to present our families to God.
The variety of family problems that are evident in our day and age are indications of the absence of God in the family. Most families could boast of several luxury cars, massive buildings, very fat bank balances but lack the smallest reflection of God. The Holy Family is celebrated today to demonstrate to us the importance of family and how to achieve optimal family life.
In Second Reading, option one (Col. 3:12-21), the apostle Paul takes the time to enumerate the virtues we need to maintain a holy family: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, patience, peace, and forgiveness. Furthermore, wives are instructed to submit to their husbands and husbands are asked to love their wives while children are taught to obey their parents. We can summarize these by recommending mutual love, respect, and commitment to God as dependable grounds for a holy and wholesome family.
More practically these suggestions could help our families become holy and more wholesome:
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, let us remember to build bridges in our families instead erecting blocks. Have a wonderful celebration.
Once upon a time, a young man decides to propose to his girlfriend. Their friendship had lasted for five years, and the guy felt it is high time he proposed to her so that they could seal it up in a marriage bond. The young man decided to add drama to the proposal by taking her to an expensive restaurant and had a famous musical group give a prelude to his somewhat poetic proposal. After going through his well-rehearsed lines with his kneel on the ground, the lady said a disheartening “no” and walked away when the guy concluded with the conventional “would you marry me?”. The young man was distraught and broke down in tears.
There are some moments when a “no” as an answer instead of a “yes” could be a devastating experience. That explains why most people shy away from asking because they feel terrible when they get a “no” as an answer to a passionate request. You may connect with some experiences where you honestly intend to help, and you are utterly turned down or when you give out something of great value and someone turns it down with an attitude.
The visit of God to Mary through the messenger, angel Gabriel, as the Gospel tells us (Luke1:26-38), appears like an event of a proposal that needed an affirmation or a denial. Without prescience, Virgin Mary was visited by an angel with a divine proposal to become the mother of the savior. Mary was not forced to become the mother of God. Instead, she accepted and gave a “yes.” She was initially confused on how she could conceive while still being a virgin and the angel tells her about the action of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of God will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).
The fruit of Mary’s acceptance of the proposal of the Holy Spirit is what we celebrate at Christmas. Without Mary’s “yes” the Annunciation and Nativity would not have been fruitful at the time. We are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ because Mary accepted to become his mother and our mother too. We are celebrating the Christmas because the Blessed Virgin Mary said a big “YES” to the proposal of the Holy Spirit. We are celebrating the Christmas because Mary reversed the disobedience of Eve. In the garden of Eden, Eve accepted the proposal from the serpent to disobey God and humanity lost its relationship with God. Contrarywise, at the small town of Nazareth, Mary (the second Eve), accepted the proposal to do the will of God and that brought humanity back to God.
The Holy Spirit is still making proposals to us every day and in various ways. What answers are we giving to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is making proposals to us to live the life in the Spirit rather than the life in the flesh, for the Spirit is at war with the flesh (Gal. 5: 17-22). The Holy Spirit is proposing repentance; the spirit is calling us to love, the Holy Spirit is giving us the proposal to live the life of strong faith in God.
The Holy Spirit is ready to come upon us (like Mary) if we could say “yes” to Him. Christmas is not all about food and drink; we have been eating and drinking before now. It is not all about new clothes, shoes, and other things; most people have no spaces for new ones. It is a time of intense spiritual encounter with God and appreciation for sending us the redeemer.
In the Book of 2nd Samuel (7:5), God questioned David’s plan to build a house for him to dwell. God is still questioning people in our day and age who are building Christmas trees without Christ. It is not all about erecting the tallest Christmas tree; it is about making a small space in our hearts, the new Bethlehem, where our Lord’s would be born. We need to accept the proposal from the Holy Spirit to give as we have received and to forgive as God forgives us (Luke 6:37-38).
May the Christmas celebration bring Christ into our lives and may the grace of the Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary consequent upon her acceptance of the proposal to become the Mother of God continue to radiate in our lives every day. I wish you every spiritual blessing this Holy Season and in the coming New Year.
During the hurricane episodes in some parts of Texas and Florida, someone shared an experienced with me that turned out to be a framework for reflection. According to Nelson, his family had a sad experience because they had to stay all night in darkness because of an unscheduled power outage due to the hurricane siege. He goes further to tell me that joy only returned to their home at the restoration of the light the next day. While listening to him, I was at the same time reflecting on the connection he was making between darkness and sadness on the one hand and light and joy on the other hand.
Before God started the creation of the world, the first facility He provided was light: “and God said, let there be light, and there was light” (Gen.1:3). Light, in the form of fire, often heralds the presence of God and we can attest this with some biblical examples:
On this Third Sunday of Advent, the Readings invite us to rejoice because the light is close coming to us. We are like people waiting for a delivery package, and a message comes saying that the package is on its way and would be arriving soon. The joy of someone waiting for a delivery leverages on the utility of the content of the package.
Today, we are invited to rejoice because our liberation is at hand. This announcement indicates to us that Christmas is a time of spiritual liberation. The birth of Jesus Christ marks the beginning of a new era for us. The First Reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11) tells us that he is coming:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12). He is coming to dispel and overcome the darkness in our lives (John 1:5). The darkness includes all the evil things that hurt us, our spiritual captivity and imprisonment. In the Second Reading (1 Thess. 5:16-24), St. Paul tells us to rejoice always but also to pray without ceasing as we await the coming of the Messiah. He also encourages us to refrain from every evil while praying to God to make us entirely holy in spirit, soul, and body for the coming of the Lord.
Do not allow anything or anyone to take away your joy as the Lord’s coming draws nearer. Do not worry about anything, but pray about everything (Eph. 4:6). I repeat it, rejoice and keep rejoicing your liberation is nearby. Remain committed, hold firm; the darkness would soon turn into light, and the glory of God will dawn in your life. Rejoice and keep rejoicing.
I wish you a beautiful and joyful Third Week of Advent and a glorious week.
Once upon a time, Dave’s mom comes home to announce to him and his dad that her closest friend Mrs. Brown would be visiting them by the weekend with her husband and their only daughter Jane. Dave is excited about the visit though he tries not to show it because his mum noticed he was bonding with Jane the last time the family visited.
With the announcement of the visit of the Browns, the entire house turned into a hub of activities. Dave’s dad had to put the lawn mower into action, fix new curtains, and rearrange the dining. Dave’s mum did extensive shopping and even got something they never used. Dave had only one thing to do, and that is to appear in clean clothes on that day.
On the day of the visit, as Dave’s parents make the final preparations, Dave decided to draw and paint some animals to impress Jane who may be coming into his room. He spent some time drawing and painting various animals from the letter A to Z. The family finally arrives and receives a warm welcome from the host family.
Dave could hear them coming in and decides to do the last painting on the Zebra. As he was finishing, his father invites him to welcome Jane and the parents. Dave rushes out to greet them, but Jane remarks with disappointment that his clothes are spotting with paints all over. At that point, Dave takes a closer look at himself to realize how awful he is looking. His parents could not hide their anger as they order him to change into new clothes immediately. “Did Dave prepare for the visit of the Browns?” We shall find out later in the reflection.
The central message of this Second Sunday of Advent is about preparation. The rhythm of life functions with preparations. We could also learn that from God. Before He created the creeping things and sea animals he already prepared the land and the sea. Before he created Adam and Eve, He prepared a garden for them. It is one thing to prepare but another to prepare well; in the case of God, the Bible tells us they (all his preparations) were all excellent. Hence, preparation can be done well or poorly like in the case of Dave who messed up his clothes while preparing to entertain Jane with his drawings.
In the First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11) and the Gospel Reading today (Mark 1:1-8), the Old and New Testament prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist, give us the dynamics for preparing for the coming of the Lord. The prophet Isaiah tells us to do three important things while making way for the Lord before the appearance of his glory:
The Gospel Reading shows us the operationalization of these three steps in the ministry of John the Baptist through the administering of the baptism of repentance. To repent is to turn around and to do something differently. John the Baptist appeared wearing camel’s hair with a belt around his waist, and for food, he ate locust and honey.
There is a message for us with the description of his wardrobe and diet. The materials mentioned may look common but to get each of them requires thorough work. We are therefore instructed to not only to be modest in our clothing and diet this season but also to be ready to tie up our waist in readiness for the coming of the Lord. In the Second Reading (2 Peter 3:8-14) Peter tells us that it will be like the coming of a thief so we should conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion.
Have a beautiful Second Sunday of Advent and more blessings ahead.
In every ball game, all good coaches have one common instruction for the team members, “keep your eye on the ball.” The instruction does not only mean having a watchful connection with the ball, but it also means being on the alert to receive the ball when it comes and to make a skillful use of it. It is common for teachers to tell their students to keep an eye on the ball for academic excellence, employers say the same to their employees for organizational growth, and mentors equally say the same to their mentees to attain success in life.
The Advent period gives us the same instruction “keep your eye on the ball.” It will be helpful for us to identify what the ball means for us and what we can achieve with it this season. We understand the Advent period as the time of WAITING for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas. It is clear from the above description that we should keep our eye on our Lord Jesus Christ while waiting for his coming at Christmas; that is the Advent message.
How do we keep our eye on the “ball,” that is on our Lord Jesus Christ this season of Advent? The reflection today supplies us with the strategies. The First Reading (Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) gives us the indication among other things that we are clay and God is the potter. This introduces a relationship of dependence on our part. We keep our eyes on God and allow Him to mold us and not us trying to mold God into what we think He should be. We are invited to become docile to God whom the prophet Isaiah, in the First Reading, begs earnestly to come down quickly.
In the Second Reading (1 Cor. 1:3-9), St. Paul enjoins us to adopt the attitude of WAITING which is very fundamental for the Advent period. In the Gospel Reading (Mark 13:33-37), our Lord Jesus Christ tells us to be watchful and to be on the alert. From the Readings, we understand the following procedure while keeping our eyes on our Lord Jesus: waiting, watching, and being on the alert.
In our day and age, Christmas, like other Christian celebrations has been commercialized. Advent has also been transformed from a time of waiting for the birth of Jesus Christ to the time for waiting to celebrate ourselves. Instead of keeping our eyes on the Lord, most people keep their eyes on fashion, sales, money, and worldly cares.
Advent is a time of watchful waiting. We are invited to keep our eyes on the Lord by paying attention to the Word of God which is God Himself (John 1:1). We also keep our eyes on the Lord by exercise our Christian duties diligently. The Gospel tells us that the man who was traveling placed his servants in charge, each with his work. Each of us has an endowment from God, and we are expected to be active while waiting and watching for the coming of the Lord.
As we march into the Advent period, let us remember to “keep our eyes on the ball.” Active watching should empower our waiting, doing good and being on the alert to resist sin. May the grace of God during this season help us to live up to the demands of the Advent season.
Have a glorious Advent Season.
There is a story about a good King who loved his subjects so much that he decided to leave his palace to dwell with the people in their ordinary habitation in the inner cities of the Kingdom. The people found it incredible that the King could abandon the comfort and luxury of the palace to stay with them in their low standard habitation. They accepted with joy.
Every day, the King would follow them in their daily activities, eat with them and even play with them. He made himself available for them for direction, advice, and all manner of assistance. After some time, the people became conversant with the presence of the King that most of them could no longer connect with the awe that goes with royalty. Most people took him for granted and would often pass him without greeting. Some would appear before him in rags and others would even speak to him as they would to an ordinary person in the Kingdom.
With the progress of time, a more significant majority of the people lost touch with the King entirely and didn’t feel the need for a King. In fact, most of them would tell stories and display the pictures of “powerful Kings” from other Kingdoms who live in magnificent palaces and attract great admiration and fear from their subject. The King became so insignificant to the people that nobody knew when he left the Kingdom to an unknown place. Just very few who were loyal noticed and followed him.
Sometime later, the Kingdom started experiencing a lot of problems and was disintegration as strange Kings besieged the kingdom from various directions. At this point, the people began looking for their King to help, but it was too late. They could not find the King, and they could not trace his whereabouts. Could this be like our encounter with Jesus Christ the King of Kings, and Lord of Lord’s who humbled himself to come among us and became like us in all things except sin (Phil. 2:6-8; Heb. 4:15)? Do we recognize the privilege of having Jesus Christ always with us?
Kings live in palaces and wield enormous influence over their subjects. In a typical Kingdom, subjects serve the King with fear and trembling, and the King is not usually accessible; some people live their whole lives without making a personal experience with their King. Today, as we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King, our attention goes to one of the most significant images and characteristics of God in the Old and New Testaments, namely, shepherd.
Going back through the scriptures, we could see a pattern of God’s choice of shepherds among the Patriarchs, Judges, Kings, and Prophets (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Saul, David, Amos, Ezekiel). There is something about the shepherding that is so special that God adopts it to describe His relationship with us. Like a shepherd who turned to a King, David was inspired in Psalm 23 to declare that God is our Shepherd who has a detailed plan for our protection, provision, and guidance. We could also recall that angels announced the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ through shepherds (Luke 2:8-20).
In the New Testament, our Lord Jesus Christ takes up the image of the shepherd when in the Gospel of John (10:11) he says, “I am the good shepherd” and goes further to elaborate on the functions of the good shepherd which relates to the details of Psalm 23. Furthermore, before his passion and death, our Lord declares that he is a King though his Kingdom is not earthly (Luke 23:2-3; John 18:33-37).
Jesus Christ the King is unlike the Kings of this world. Earthly Kings stay in their palaces, and their subjects provide for them and protect them even with their lives. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Shepherd-King who provides for the sheep, knows each one by its name and also lays down his life for them (John 10:11-18). In the First Reading today (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17), the oracle of the prophet assures us that God will look after and tend his sheep. However, He will also judge our deeds. The Gospel Reading (Matt. 25:31-46) confirms the judgment while stating that God will separate the sheep from the goat.
Beyond the celebration of Christ as our universal King, there is the need for us to recognize, appreciate and cooperate with the presence of the King of Kings in our lives. We could recall in our opening story that we could become too accustomed to the presence of the King among us that we fail to give him honor and acknowledge his power working in us. Are we not getting used to his presence in our Churches that most of us do a lot of banal things inside the church which includes but not restricted to making phone calls, chatting on social media, hating and gossiping just to mention but four?
Our Lord Jesus Christ will be happy that we are proclaiming him the universal King today, but he will be happier if we could acknowledge his presence and follow his words; “the sheep that belong to me hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Our Lord will be happier if we make him the Lord and King of our lives. Today, there are many “kingdoms and kings” that we have allowed into our lives and which are also misdirecting our lives. They are in modern technology, fashion, consumerism, and secularism.
A very typical question we could ask ourselves today is: “who is the King of my life?”. If we declare that Jesus Christ is the King of our lives, we should make his Lordship real in our lives by fearing God and walking in His ways (Psalm 128:1).
May you have a resounding celebration of Christ the Universal King and may what you proclaim with your lips today manifest in your life.
Acres of diamond is a story that goes back to Russel Conwell, the founder of Temple University Philadelphia. The story is about a very wealthy man who owned a large farmhouse. One day he heard someone talk about lots of diamond deposited in some new settlement and how people who are living in that area are becoming very rich. That night, the wealthy farmer could not sleep. He began to see himself as a poor man and made up his mind to sell his farmhouse and move over to the diamond strewn area.
Some years after moving to the area, he could not find even a piece of diamond. He later became miserable and ended his life by drowning himself in a river. One day, the person who bought his property saw pieces of stone by the side of the stream by the farmhouse, they looked nice, and he took one of them home.
On one occasion, a merchant visited the man and seeing the stone he shouted and said: “This is the biggest raw diamond I have ever seen in my life, from where did you get it?” The man was amazed and tells the merchant that there are many of them down the stream on the farmland. Later, the man discovers that the farmhouse he bought is sitting on acres of the diamond. Behold, the original owner sold it search for diamonds which he never got. Often the things we seek are within us while we wander about looking for them in the wrong places. We are all standing on acres of diamond; we only need to be aware of it.
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 25:14-30), we hear the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants. In the narrative, a man, who was going on a journey, handed some talents to three of his servants. The first received five talents, the second two and the third, one. Our Lord made it clear in the parable that each received according to his ABILITY; if you check the definition of talent one of the synonyms is ability.
When the man returned from his journey and asked for accounts, the one who received five talents presented five more and the one who got two submitted two more. With the servant who received one talent, the story was different. He returned the talent with two reasons: assessment of the master as a wicked man and the fear of using the talent. The master condemned his attitude while calling him a wicked and lazy servant who could not even deposit the money in the bank but buried it in the ground.
We begin by noting the master’s wisdom while giving them the talents. The narrative says they received the talents according to each person’s ability. This means that the master has a good knowledge about each of them and he distributed the talents leveraging on his understanding of each of the servants.
The subject of talent is vital for us. We all have various gifts from God which we could also call talents (abilities); there is nobody that does not have at least one talent; even the dumbest person around us. Success consists in acknowledging your talents and using it efficiently.
The failure of the third servant in the parable was the attitude of comparing himself with the others. In life, most people make the mistake of measuring their progress with those of other people. Let me tell you this; you are unique and special the way you are. You don’t need to become another person before you become successful in life. You may even have more talents that the person you wish to become and you end up limiting yourself.
Do not waste your time and energy watching others using their talents and wishing to be like them only to end up achieving nothing. If you stay on your track in life and use all that God has given to you, be sure that you will get to your destination. You don’t need to compete with anyone; there is no competition in destiny. You need to be a believer in yourself before you can become an achiever for yourself.
Another possible cause of the failure of the third servant could be the advice he received from people. There are dream and success killers in the form of human beings.The person who advises you often determines the kind of results you get. The third servant may have failed because of a lousy advice; “don’t use it, bury it.”
A woman started painting after retirement when she was seventy-five years old and became famous in the world. It was her passion to paint but as a young girl family and friends discouraged her. After three years of painting on canvas, she made more money that she made in her whole years of working in a corporate organization. Do not allow anybody or anything to take away or stifle your talent.
The First Reading (Prov. 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) tells us about an efficient use of talent exemplified in a virtuous woman. The passage says she is priceless not because of her beauty but because of what she can do with her hands; she labors with her talent and has a fear of God. To fear God is to do His will which includes using what He has given to you. Using her talents (abilities), she could help others just as St. Peter tells us (1 Peter 4: 10).
The time to activate our talents is now. In the Second Reading (1 Thess. 5:1-6), St. Paul tells us about the day of the Lord which will come unannounced. The best preparation is for us to use what God has given to us to glorify His name. Salvation is an essential facility we have from God; it is a gift we must use to secure our eternity (Eph. 2:8). To gain the whole world and lose our souls is futility (Mark. 8:36).
Have a great Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
During the height of the terrorist’s attack by the Boko Haram extremist in Nigeria, a young girl was caught trying to detonate a bomb in a crowded market in what supposed to be a suicide mission. During an interrogation with security officials, she says that if she succeeded in the mission, she would become a famous and exclusive virgin in heaven since she had not lost her virginity on earth. Some years ago, in a town in Nigeria, one lady known and respected in the community for her consecration to perpetual virginity was caught and admitted that she wanted to poison her younger sister’s food while visiting with her family.
Virginity is not equivalent to righteousness; there are virgin in heaven just as there are virgins in hell. One can be a virgin in the flesh but a non-virgin in the heart. The most excellent exercise of virginity is not just in the body but also in the mind and spirit. Today, we reflect on the theme: “virginity without virtue is vanity” following the Gospel Reading on the parable of the ten virgins.
In the parable (Matt. 25: 1-13), our Lord tells us about a wedding where ten virgins are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom (not the bride). They had lamps, but only five of them brought jars of oil. The bridegroom arrives late from an unnamed destination, and the five wise virgins light their lamp and enter the wedding feast, but the other five could not join because the door closed before they could get oil for their lamps.
The narrative has a lot of messages for us. First, the number “Ten” is instructive as a symbolic number in the bible. The number ten symbolizes completeness positively or negatively as it applies to any situation.
Another essential element in the parable is the jar of oil. The availability and lack of oil set the boundary between the wise and foolish virgins. The oil functions in keeping the lamp burning, hence it is an essential provision for the ceremony though the need does not arise immediately. The oil represents the virtues we need in our lives. It is not enough to be a Christian; there will be a need for us to possess the requisite Christian virtues.
Our positions, ranks, titles, designations, and earthly honors have no relevance to our salvation if we do not possess some of the essential Christian virtues. It is common to hear most people boast about their Church titles and other positions and using them to measure their level of commitment to God. However, such people forget that titles and positions are worthless before God; what matters to God is the inner commitment, the presence of the oil that will keep the flame burning.
We could recall the instructive dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and some Jews in the Gospel of John (8:31ff). The Jews believed that having Abraham as their father automatically makes them righteous as Abraham. Our Lord takes the time to tell them that having a link with Abraham is not enough; there is the need to reflect the life of Abraham “if you were Abraham’s children you would be doing what Abraham did” (John 8:39).
Back to our foolish virgins, they believed that being virgins among other virgins specially selected for the wedding was enough to get them to the banquet. They were distracted by their title, and they forgot to look inward and to secure the most needful facility, the oil. It will be important to find out the things that preoccupied the foolish virgins to the extent that they could not pay attention to what was vital for the wedding banquet. If we fast-forward them to our context, they could be involved with their make-ups, chatting away on the phone or gossiping.
We are often foolish like the five virgins when we misplace our priorities. We often waste our time with the unnecessary things when there are other things that matter. We are usually concerned about our outer looks but do not bother about our inner looks. We are typically worried about people’s opinion about us and care less about God’s judgment about us. We are usually concerned about our titles and ranks but forget about our ranking with God.
We are invited today to look beyond our physical “virginity” and seek out the inner virtues we need in life to enter the eternal banquet. Wisdom consists in seeking out these essential virtues as the First Reading (Wisdom 6:12-16) instructs us. May God’s unfailing grace help us to look beyond the surface and search for the oil that will keep the flames burning until the Lord comes to take us to the glorious banquet. Do not be a foolish virgin!
Once upon a time, Mrs. Adams was driving her child Jenny to school when her phone rang, she picks and tells the person calling that she is at home down with a fever and that she would not be coming to work. Next day, Jenny accompanied her mum to A shop, and she (Mrs. Adams) met one her friends that just had a child. During their conversation, Jenny heard her mum telling her friend that she was unable to come and pay her a visit after her delivery because they had a family vacation.
A few days later, Jenny was at home when their home phone rang, and her mum asked her to pick up. The person at the other end asked, “is this the Adams’ family?” Jenny answers and says, “No! Wrong number, this is not the Adams family!”. Mrs. Adams was furious with Jenny started to scold her for lying. Replying Jenny says, “Mum, but you tell a lot of lies too, I can count two big ones, your sickness, and our family vacation, I am just trying to learn from you.”
We can build or destroy people, especially those who look up to us by our good or bad examples. The First Reading today (Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10) tells us about God’s imploding anger on priests who must lead the people to God by right examples but have succeeded only in driving them away. The denunciation also covers attitudes of partiality and in-house division and fighting among priests.
The First Reading calls to mind St. Peter’s instruction (1 Pet. 4:17) where he says that judgment will begin at the house of God. The directive implies that to whom much is given much is also expected because the corruption of the best is the worst kind of corruption.
The Gospel Reading (Matthew 23:1-12) presents the same line of thought using the Pharisees and Scribes as reference points. Our Lord Jesus Christ advises the people to follow their teaching but not their way of life because they preach, but they do not practice, they give stringent rules, but they do not follow them. They tell the people what they should do, but they do none of them.
This situation has not changed in our age and time from the sanctuary to the pews. Today we have preachers telling people about love but would never care to practice love. We have preachers who give the best sermons on forgiveness but keep people in the darkness of resentment. We have preachers who give lovely and moving messages on giving but would never lift a finger to do even the smallest charity, and we also have immoral moralists as preachers.
Sometimes preachers become too comfortable with themselves and with some people that they lose sight of the need to use proper examples to advance the message of the gospel. Often, some people influence preachers negatively to the point that they present a mismatch between their words and what their lives portray.
Once upon a time, a woman takes her son to a guru to advise him against excessive intake of alcohol. After listening to the woman, the guru tells the woman to return with her son after one month. When they returned, the guru takes his time to talk to the boy privately about the devastating effect of alcohol and how he could start making some changes, and the advice worked.
One month after the encounter with the guru, the woman returns to thank the guru. However, the woman was curious to know why the guru asked her to return after one month during her first with her son. The guru tells her that he was also guilty of alcohol at that time, so he used the one month to disengage entirely from alcohol and thus gained the moral strength to advise the young man.
The message today is not only for religious leader but also for anyone who is in a position of influence over others. As a preacher, teacher mentor, parents, etc. people are looking up to your life for either inspiration or dissuasion. We could make or mar people by our way of life more than the things we say to them. St. Francis of Assisi once said: “preach Jesus, use words if necessary.”
Today, we are called as preachers and teachers in various capacities to show good examples that would align with the content of what we peach and teach. Let us recommit ourselves to practice what we preach with this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, Make us instruments of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let your love increase
Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
Walls of pride and prejudice shall cease
When we are your instruments of peace.
Where there is hatred, we will show his love
Where there is injury, we will never judge
Where there is striving, we will speak his peace
To the millions crying for release,
We will be his instruments of peace
Where there is blindness, we will pray for sight
where there is darkness, we will shine his light
Where there is sadness, we will bear their grief
To the millions crying for relief,
We will be your instruments of peace
Have a pleasant Sunday and a glorious week ahead. May your words match your actions.
During my earlier years as a priest in Nigeria, I lived with a pastor whom everyone considered to be a tough guy. However, on a very close examination, one could see reasons in some of his extreme actions and reactions. One fateful morning after breakfast, the priest, who liked his title, Monsignor (may God rest his soul), asked me to escort him to the church to check out the sound system and other appliances.
Inside the church, we could see some people praying before the blessed sacrament reposed in the tabernacle. He interrupted them by asking for an audience. Raising his voice, a little higher, he asked those who were present for the morning mass which started at 5:30 am and ended by 6:45 am to stand on one side and those who just arrived to stand on the other hand. Looking at his wristwatch, he announced: “It is 10:45 am, those of you who came for morning mass, it is time for you to go home, you have prayed enough, God is not deaf, the others who just came can stay but not too long.”
I was amazed at the dismissal remarks and sensing it he tells me that some people are using the church as an excuse for them not to carry out some other responsibilities. “How would someone leave the house at 5.am and stay in the church forever, leaving out domestic responsibilities and other things”, he added. He cited numerous instances where mothers would abandon their children at home and come to sleep before the blessed sacrament in the name of prayers. “This is a clear example of loving God and hating your neighbor,” he concluded.
In the Gospel Reading today (Matthew 22:34-40), our Lord gives an enduring teaching on love. Last Sunday, our Lord was “forced” to comment on paying taxes to Caesar by a joint conspiracy team of Pharisees and the Herodians. This Sunday, a lawyer representing the Pharisees wants him to state which is the greatest commandment in the law. We know that God gave Ten Commandment (Ex.20:1-17) and all of them are equal having the same weight and value. The intention was for him to “force” our Lord Jesus Christ to make a preference for one in opposition to the rest so that they could fault him.
Our Lord’s answer to the question gives an excellent summary of the commandment with the phenomenon of love as the foreground. Our Lord’s answer to the question runs thus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
The Lord’s answer to the question comes from two Old Testament passages:
The background to the Gospel narrative tells us that the Pharisees wanted to put Jesus Christ to the test when they heard that he silenced the Sadducees. From our Lord’s answer, he instructed them to pay attention to their neighbors. It is not enough to claim love for God by being in the Synagogue all day. We can understand this better if we read Matthew (23:14; 23). Here our Lord condemns the Pharisees and the scribes for oppressing widows and the helpless and for a pretense, make long prayers. They pay tithes but neglect justice and mercy.
Today, the First Reading (Exodus 22:20-26) invites us to consider the widows and orphans. These stand for those who need our love and care. We are challenged to start loving God from our neighbors. Often, we profess our love for God, but we fail to activate that love starting from people around us. Some people could stay for hours running in the Church, but find it difficult to spend a minute or two with someone who may need just a little attention. We are often lovers of God but haters of neighbors
As we celebrate today, let us be mindful of the fact that our Lord’s instruction about the greatest commandment has two branches; the love for God with everything (heart, soul, and mind) and the love for our neighbor. Doing one and leaving the other is incomplete. Let us spread the love; God wants us to discover Him in our neighbors, in the people around us, in our family, in our colleagues, in our classmates, in the church community, and humanity. Somewhere I read that we lie when we say we love God and hate our neighbor (1 John 4:20).
May the love of God abide with you always as you spread His love. Have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.