Fr Bonnie's Reflections

HOLY GHOST 101: UNDERSTANDING THE PERSON AND MISSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Pentecost 2

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Understanding the person, mission and work of the Holy Spirit is one of the great challenges that has been confronting Christianity from the apostolic times to our day and age.  We, therefore, need to understand whom the Holy Spirit is, and leveraging on that, we can move further to appreciate His mission and work in our lives.

The First thing we need to know is that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a thing! The Bible presented us with some symbolic images that indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit; they are just symbolic manifestations. We have some examples like mighty wind and fire (Acts 2:2-3). During the baptism of our Lord, the Holy Spirit also came in form of a dove (Matt.3:16).

The Holy Spirit is God; the third person of the Trinity. Oftentimes most people think that the Holy Spirit is only a New Testament reality. But the Holy Spirit has been working and we could locate His action from the moment of creation. The Book of Genesis tells us that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2).

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was not identified as a distinct person from God the Father. Often, He is called the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2; 6:3; Ezekiel 37:1, Neh. 9:30). He is also called the breath of God (Gen. 2:7; Job 32:8; 33:4). Furthermore, He is called Good Spirit (Neh. 9:20). Above all, David identified and called Him the Holy Spirit. (Psalm 51:11).

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon people at needful times but His presence was not permanent; in other words, He did not dwell in people. For instance, Joseph had the spirit of God (Gen.41:38), at the instance of Moses, the Holy Spirit came down on the seventy elders and they prophesied once and never again (Num. 11:25-26). During the time of Moses, the Spirit of God came down on a man called Bezalel and gave him intelligence and knowledge of every kind of craft.

The Judges were men and women who worked under the impact of the Holy Spirit. Among them were Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Jephthah (11:29), Samson (Judges 13:25). The prophets were also in touch with the Spirit like Balaam (Numbers 24:2), Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:9, 13-15), Isaiah (Isaiah 48:16-17), Daniel (Daniel 4:8-9) and others.

Before starting his public ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ declared the word of God which says “the Spirit of God is upon me!”. (Luke 4:18) The Spirit did not only come upon him like He did in the Old Testament, but He also remained with him. John the Baptist confirmed this in the Gospel of John (1:33) where he says:

I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit DESCEND and REMAIN is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

From the foregoing reflection, we can see that the difference between the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and in the New Testament is that in the former, the presence was not permanent but in the latter (New Testament) the Holy Spirit comes to stay. We could confirm this from the words of our Lord in the Gospel of John (14:16) where he says:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[Holy Spirit] to be with you FOREVER.

I believe that we are privileged to be among the beneficiaries of the new dispensation of the Holy Spirit. It now makes more sense why our Lord asked the apostles and few others including the Blessed Virgin Mary not to leave Jerusalem until they receive power when the Holy Spirit comes. The power is meant to stir up the Holy Spirit he already gave to them in during one of his post-resurrection visits (John 20:21-22) when he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

The apostles needed the Holy Spirit to empower them to begin to function effectively. What happened on the day of Pentecost was a commissioning ceremony. It is one thing to be named for something and another thing to be confirmed and commissioned to act.

By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were strengthened, they spoke in strange tongues, they became bold to speak in public and were no longer “afraid of the Jews”. When the Holy Spirit is lacking in our lives, we become afraid of the Jews. The Jews stand for all the variety of oppositions in our lives. The Jews here stand for all the odd experiences that make us hide and shy away from witnessing to God.

Today is also our own Pentecost. The Church is the new Upper Room. On this Upper Room, heaven will meet the earth. On this Upper Room, gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, piety, courage, fortitude and fear of God are available for us. On this Upper Room, we have baskets of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

It is very important for us to remember that before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and others were together in ONE ACCORD. Even when they spoke in different tongues there was mutual understanding unlike what at the tower of Babel where they spoke one tongue but lacked understanding. The Holy Spirit cannot come where people are not in one accord; disunity displaces the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Today we ask the Holy Spirit:

  • To recreate us and make us the newest versions of ourselves (Psalm 104:30).
  • To help us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).
  • To Empower us (Act 1:8).
  • To reborn us (1 Pet. 1:23).
  • To teach us (Luke 12: 11-12).
  • To Guide us (John16:13).

May this Pentecost celebration bring amazing transformation and graces upon your life. Have a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

PRAYING AND WAITING FOR THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER. HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER (YEAR A). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

 

PRAY AND WAIT

“While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to WAIT there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5).

Waiting is one exercise that could be draining, physically and emotionally. However, life is all about waiting. In fact, we just have to wait and be patient in waiting (Psalm 37:7). Today, the First Reading (Acts 1:12-14) tells us that after the ascension of our Lord into heaven, the apostles returned to Jerusalem and “were CONSTANTLY devoting themselves to PRAYER” (vs. 14). We can see clearly that the gap between the ascension and the  coming of the Holy Spirit was a time of WAITING which was also filled with “CONSTANT PRAYER.”

Prayer could be defined as our communication and connection with God. This communication and connection would become more efficient when we make our prayer constant (Luke 18:1;1Thess.5:17). Like most people would say, we become better at something when we do it repeatedly. The same dynamic applies to praying.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost not just because it was a promise, but more immediate, because of the prayers that stormed the heavens from the Upper Room where Mary and the apostles gathered together in one accord (Acts 2:1-2).

Before something would come from heaven something must leave the earth. The prayers at the Upper Room in Jerusalem opened the Upper Room of heaven for the Holy Spirit to pour forth on the apostles. This demonstrates a strong and effective communication between earth and heaven which brought forth the promise of the father; namely, the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel Reading (John 17:1-11), our Lord Jesus Christ renders what we know as the High Priestly prayer. He prays heartfully and intensely. His prayer is not only for us but also about us. The passage began by telling us that after Jesus had spoken THESE WORDS, he looked up to heaven and prayed.

One would be curious to ask, “which words.” The answer could be found in preceding Chapter (John 16). An attentive look at the Chapter tell us more about the promise of another advocate; the Holy Spirit whose coming would complete and confirm the work of Jesus Christ.

Our Lord takes the route of prayer to match his words with action. We learn from the priestly prayer of Jesus Christ the need for us to pray and remain in prayers. Prayer is the only tool we can use to communicate and connect with God. When we stop praying we lose our communication and connection with God.

As we look forward to the Pentecost, we are invited to climb to the Upper Room of prayer and raise our voices to God who would not delay in answering us even when it lingers (Heb.10:37). The Holy Spirit will not force his way into our lives; the prayerful disposition of our Lord encourages us today to invite the Holy Spirit to come into our lives.

As we march into this week that will lead us to the Pentecost. Let us continue to storm the heavens with our constant prayers as we await the outpouring and baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Have a wonderful week as you keep up the communication and connection with God in prayer.

Fr. Bonnie.

KEEPING UP WITH THE ASCENSION POWER HOMILY FOR THE ASCENSION THURSDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Fr Bonnie's Reflections

ascension

Going up or ascending could be fun for instance flying in an airplane for those who do not have an issue with height. “To ascend” means to rise or move to a higher point, degree or rank. To make a transition from a lower level to a higher level. There is usually a great feeling of elation and promotion that goes with moving up or going up as opposed to moving down or going down. While moving up or going up is associated with success, great accomplishment, and other positive things, moving down or going down is associated with failure, degradation, and hopelessness.

Today is a very important and remarkable day for us as we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. The Ascension is an inevitable bus stop on the highway of our redemption. Without the Ascension, the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ would not…

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THE PROMISE OF “ANOTHER ADVOCATE!” HOMILY FOR THE 6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER (YEAR A). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

another-advocate_orig

Once upon a time, something happened in a remote rural community in West Africa. The community had a rule that prohibits anyone from going to the farm on the fourth market day. One early morning, on a fourth market day, a middle-aged man came to the village square announcing that he saw a young man coming out from the farm.

People from the community gathered immediately and apprehended the young man. Without allowing him to say anything, a decision was made to kill him by burying him alive to placate the gods who might be angry with the community. The boy’s plea of innocence failed on deaf ears as nobody cared to hear him out.

Meanwhile, a large wild bird was in a tree watching what was going on. As the people were digging a grave to bury the young man, the bird began to shriek and to fly about furiously, but nobody paid attention to it. At that point, a man in the crowd, who was considered a lunatic in the community, started shouting and asking the people to pay attention to the bird but nobody took him seriously.

However, something very dramatic happened, and that shocked everyone! The man who accused the young man was standing under a coconut tree when suddenly a large coconut disengaged from its place and hit him on the head, and he felled down and died instantly. It was at that point that the people looked up and saw that the wild bird used it sharp peak to disengage the coconut fruit that hit the man on the head.

The people could not continue the unholy interment as they became apprehensive and decided to hear the young out. According to him, the dead man came to him very early in the morning and begged him to help him drop a piece of wood to a location beside the community farmland to enable him to take it to the farm next day.

While they were coming back after dropping the piece of wood, he asked him to hold a farming tool for him, and when they came close to the village, the man raised the alarm announcing that the young man was coming from the farm. Upon further inquiry, the young man disclosed that the dead man wanted him to sell a piece of land to him, but he refused as it was the only one he inherited from his father.

Following his narrative, the young man identified the bird on the coconut tree as the same bird he saw on a tree when he came to drop the piece of wood for the man. It was at that point that the people understood that the bird and the mad man came to speak for the boy’s innocence and even saved him from mob judgment and condemnation. They were for the young man handy “advocates.”

The word advocate originates from the Greek “parakletos” which means someone who publicly pleads, support, or counsels another person. Put in another way; an advocate is a spokesperson. An advocate helps and promotes another person especially from a situation that is deplorable in the eye of the public.

In the Gospel Reading today (John 14:15-21) our Lord says: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows him.”

From this statement, we understand that another “advocate” is an indication that there is a first advocate. The First advocate is Jesus Christ our Lord. The apostle John (1 John 2:1) writes:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father; Jesus Christ the righteous.

We might be curious to know why we need another advocate; does it mean that the work of the first advocate is not enough? Here we acknowledge the division of labor among the Three Persons of the Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know that the Father Creates, the Son saves, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies. It is important to note that when each of the Persons is at work, the others are present. Let us leave this teaching to the Trinity Sunday.

“Another Advocate” the Holy Spirit comes to stay with us and like our Lord said, His presence would be forever. Does it mean that the Holy Spirit has not been there? He has been there and has been at work (Genesis 1:2) but unknown to the world as a person.

The Holy Spirit is another advocate. The work of the Holy Spirit includes: teaching us (Luke 12:11-12), guiding us (John 16:13), counseling us (John 14:26), empowering us (Acts 1:8) and also speaking for us especially when we lack words (Romans 8:26).

Our Lord Jesus Christ is our advocate before the court of heaven as he pleads for us at the right hand of God the Father (Romans 8:34). The Holy Spirit is the advocate that helps us in our faith journey here on earth; He helps us in our battle with the world. The advocate helps us to give fitting worship to God (John 4:24). Without this advocate in our lives, the work of the first advocate would not make sense. In fact, the coming of the other advocate; the Holy Spirit, confirms and concludes the salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why the Pentecost ends our Easter celebration.

The Liturgy of the word today takes our attention to the second advocate. We are invited to focus on the person, power, and position of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we draw nearer to the celebration of the feast of Pentecost.

In the Gospel we read, our Lord said that the world could not accept him because it neither sees nor knows him. The word of God says that my people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Lack of the deep knowledge and appreciation of the Holy Spirit is killing our world today. When the Holy Spirit; the other advocate, is absent from our lives, we suffer from the destructive patterns of our accuser; the devil (Rev. 12:10).

As we walk through the Sixth Sunday of Easter and get closer to the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, let us continue to pray for the impactful and transforming presence of the other advocate in our lives. May the Holy Spirit continue to be your advocate in all the situations in your lives. Amen.

Fr. Bonnie.

CHOSEN TO RUN THE RACE ON THE WAY TO THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE! HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

RUNNING OUT OF DARKNESS

What you choose in life determine a lot about your future; that is why we must choose wisely Furthermore, there must always be a reason or reasons for every choice we make in life. We could make choices among alternatives, people or events could choose us among others; and God chooses us in accordance to His will and design (John 15:16).

Today we are reflecting on divine choice and its implications for our lives. The Second Reading (1 Pet.2:4-9) among other things says:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

God is too gracious to us. Our life as humans is all thanks to God’s kindness and love. God could have made us ants, trees, or any other phenomenon. However, it pleased Him to allow us to have a share in His image and likeness (Gen.1:27). This is a divine choice.

Beyond this privilege, God wants us to be united with Him forever after this life, and that explains the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to repair the relationship between God and us and to show us the way to eternal life (10:10b).

God calls and chooses (Matt. 22:14). This divine choice is what St. Peter tries to explain in that part of the Second Reading we presented above. God did not choose us because we are qualified, but He intends to qualify us through this choice leveraging on our cooperation. God chose us to become His own and to deliver us from darkness to light; from death to life; from nowhere to somewhere; from nobody to somebody.

God’s choice for us is not an end itself, but a means towards an end. We have instances where the chosen of God misuses the choice; King Saul is a very dependable example of a choice that went bad (1 Sam. 15: 11ff).

Let us reflect on St. Peter’s exhortation on divine choice which directly recalls the oracle of Isaiah (43:20b-21). Peter began by saying that we are a chosen race. One would ask which race? We know that race is descriptive of people with common characteristics which differentiates them from other people.

By race, we do not mean people who are differentiated by color or other physical characteristics. We understand race here as pointing to individuals who bear the mark of Christ. Furthermore, and more significantly, it refers to those who are on the heavenly journey (race). Yes! We are running a race, and we are specially chosen for this race as St. Paul confirms in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.9:24).

To run a race, we need to be on track; if you like the right way. In the Gospel Reading today, our Lord said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. From these three phenomena, we see clearly the enabling elements for the race.

Those chosen for the race need to run through a way. There are indeed many ways in our world today, but there is only one way; also, known as THE WAY. Our Lord made it clear that he is THE WAY (John 14:6). The way is the new life in Christ; the route to eternal life which is, however, narrow (Matt. 7:14) We could recall that the post-resurrection disciples of Jesus Christ were accused and persecuted for following the WAY (Acts 22:4; 24:14). Running the race as chosen people means following the Way, namely our Lord Jesus Christ. The Way leads to two other important realities; the truth and the life.

Our Lord also declared that he is the truth. In the dialogue with Pilate, Jesus Christ told him that he came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37-38). The truth is one essential element that the world does not want to hear because it often convicts and chastises. In a world running currently on the wheels of political correctness, the truth is suffering while lies are becoming daily norms.

We need the truth as well as those who will speak the truth in season and out of season. We need the truth as well as truth speaker in our families, in our communities, in the church, and in the world. The greatest truth is that God loves us and desires our salvation if we but believe in Him and live uprightly.

Finally, our Lord Jesus Christ declares himself the Life. There are various walks of life, and people head towards different directions in life. There is the material life and the spiritual life. It is very unfortunate that in our world today many lives are materially driven, and few have the spiritual orientation.

Many people are more attentive to the nourishment of their bodies to the nourishment of their souls. We obey our physicians to the letter when we receive medical advice, but we tend to disregard the prescriptions for our souls especially the ones that tell us to go and sin no more (John 8:11) and to bear good fruits (Gal. 5:22-23).

Today, we have the invitation as the chosen ones to run the race on the Way of Truth and Life. God is ready to provide us with grace for the race. Like the seven deacons in the First Reading today (Acts 6:1-7), we have the encouragement to become servants in this race which is not all that rosy. He who has called us is faithful and would not fail the people He has chosen for Himself (2 Tim.2:13).

As you continue on this race, keep your eye on the prize (Phil 3:14) and God’s grace will remain sufficient for you. As our Lord advised in the Gospel Reading, do not let your hearts be troubled; run the race by faith not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

Have a grace-full Sunday and as a chosen one on the way to the truth and the life may your strength increase.

Fr. Bonnie.

SHEPHERDING THE SHEEP VS “SHEEPING” THE SHEPHERD: A REFLECTION FOR THE GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Good Shepherd

The Fulanis of the northern region of Nigeria are known for their dexterity in cattle rearing. In fact, it is a well-known tribal characteristic that most male children learn the art from a very tender age. A little boy could lead a herd consisting of many cattle with minimum supervision; he only needs to make some audible sounds and use a long cane intermittently, and the herd would be moving in the desired direction.

Once upon a time, a Fulani man took two of his sons out to the field to teach them how to control and lead a herd of cattle. He began by teaching them how to lead one cattle. According to his instruction, if someone can monitor and drive one cattle the individual would be able to lead a herd of cattle no matter how numerous they could be.

During the lesson, one of his sons took an interest in running after some grasshoppers in the field, and his father would call his attention, but he would get distracted after some time. The lessons over, the man asked his sons to demonstrate what he taught them. The one who as paying attention went first and did exactly what the father taught. The cattle obeyed his instructions and did not resist him.

When the one who was distracted went to lead the animal, he got all the possible resistant from the cattle. He took his time to flog it several times, but it refused to move. He went further to pull the cattle by the rope around its neck and instead of following the boy, the cattle dragged him along to the extent that he felled and it continued to drag him until his father rescued him. It was evident that the kid was distracted during the time his father was giving them instructions; hence he used the wrong method and instead of leading the cattle the animal led him on by dragging him along.

During his recent Apostolic Visit to Egypt, Pope Francis gave a heart-warming instruction to priests and religious in what he termed “the seven daily temptations”:

  • The temptation to let ourselves be led, rather than to lead.
  • The temptation to complain constantly.
  • The temptation to gossip and envy.
  • The temptation to compare ourselves to others.
  • The temptation to become like Pharaoh that is to harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters.
  • The temptation to individualism:
  • The temptation to keep walking without direction or destination.

A very attentive reflection on this list of temptations leaves nobody in doubt that the Pope was talking about shepherds who have the duty of taking care of various flocks and the demands of being good shepherds.

It is also important to note here that anyone who has control over anyone or anything, secular or religious, is a shepherd. So, our reflection is inclusive of everyone, priests, religious, parents, teachers, mentors, bosses, and indeed everyone whose position or function places him or her above others.

The First Reading today (Acts 2:14a, 36-41) gives us some essential qualities of a good leader; if you like a good shepherd personified in the Apostle of Peter. Firstly, he led others in proclaiming the truth and bearing witness. He sets the pace in the right direction. In the passage, we could also see that after his speech, the people were led to repentance and baptism. Three thousand souls accepted Christ on that day.

A good shepherd leads the flock to the right places; to the region of life and light. The Responsorial Psalm (23) among other things says: “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” A good shepherd is selfless and dedicated. He or she does not leverage on constant complaints like the Pope mentioned in the list of temptations.

The work of leading involves sacrifice and selflessness. Our Lord Jesus Christ tell us that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). This means seeking for the good of others rather than for oneself. It means going the extra mile. In doing this, a good shepherd does not compare himself or herself to others; doing so could also lead to envy and jealousy as the Pope mentioned.

Often we try to measure our success by looking at the success of others. Our tasks and duties are different; we might have the same mission but different visions. In life, you can only be whom God has designed you to be. You cannot be you and be another person at the same time. Be content with yourself (Hebrew 13:5).

One powerful element we can acknowledge in the Gospel today (John 10: 1-10) with our Lord’s identification of himself as the gate for the sheep is the protective compassion that runs through his words. Now a gate is an immobile facility; it is always there every time; day and night. The gate serves a facility for security and protection. As the door, he is always available to receive and to protect. The Psalmist (121:4) says: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

The docility (openness) that is characteristic of a door discourages all forms of the hardness of heart like in the case of Pharaoh as the Pope indicated in the list of temptations. It is the good shepherd’s docility that endears him to the sheep and makes them follow him when they hear his voice. The hardness of heart is a clear indication of the absence of love. Shepherding without love is like building without foundation. Love conquers and endures all things; love is eternal, and God is love (1 Cor. 13: 7; 1 John 4:8).

The good shepherd knows the sheep and also knows where to take them. Knowledge is power. He knows where the green pastures are and he leads the sheep to that location. The Pope mentioned that one of the temptations we face is walking without direction and destination even as people are following us.

Knowing the direction and the destination are two important navigational tools of a good shepherd. Though the path may not be smooth, he still leads them on; the psalmist calls it “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). The little boy in our story was unable to lead the cattle because he lacked the needed knowledge and ended up being led; that is what we mean by “sheeping” the shepherd.

Today, there are numerous instances of “sheeping” the shepherd. Sheeping, the shepherd, happens when we fail to uphold the truth and fairness. “Sheeping” the leader involves giving orders to the leader of detecting the pace of leadership. “Sheeping” the shepherd happens when the sheep loses confidence and trust in the Shepherd.

There is no gainsaying the fact that many places in our world are infected by bad shepherds. We discover this situation in the rising rate of bad leadership in various families, communities, towns, religious and secular institutions, and in many nations.

Another side of this is the prevalence of bad sheep starting from our homes, communities, institutions and indeed everywhere. In most cases, these sheep are perpetually incorrigible and are determined to “sheep” the shepherd instead of being “shepherded” by the shepherd. Today children give orders to their parents while teachers obey their students. Some people in most places run both the Church and the priests (pastors).

There is a need for both the shepherd and the sheep to take their respective positions and function according. Let the shepherd lead with knowledge and total dedication and let the sheep pay attention and follow; it takes the two to make things right.

I wish to conclude with Pope Francis’ words to all shepherds during his visit to Egypt: “May you be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony.”

Have a glorious Good Shepherd Sunday and remain a good sheep/shepherd.

Fr. Bonnie.

EMMAUS: “THE RESURRECTION OF FAITH, OPENED EYES AND BURNING HEARTS.” HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER (YEAR A). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D

Emmaus 2

Once upon a time, two young men set out on a long journey to consult a wise man in a certain town very far from where they live; it was a two-day journey by foot. The two young men had planned to see the sage to get answers to the hardship and difficulties in their lives; they wanted to know how they could succeed in life and do away with hardships.

Early morning on the second day of their journey they came across an old man along the same road who was walking slowly with a heavy load on his head. One of them suggested that they help the old man but the other bluntly refused and mentioned that helping the old man would delay their journey. The one who suggested the assistance went ahead to help the old man with his load while his friend wished him good luck and hurried into the town to search for the sage.

The old man asked the young man where they were going and the reason for their visit. The young man told him that they heard about one wise man and they have come to consult with him about the hardship and difficulties they were experiencing. The old man told the young man that he knew the whereabout of the wise man and offered to take him to the place through a shorter route by a bush path.

In few minutes, they came to a house in the middle of the forest, and the old man asked the young man to come along with him into the house without doors. As they entered the house, the old man said to the young man “welcome to my house I am the one you seek!”. The young man was shocked by the news and could only stare at him.

The old man told his visitor that his hardship and difficulties were lifted from him that moment he lifted the load from his head and carried it to his house. Hence, he would prosper greatly in all his plans. When he inquired about his friend, the old man told him that it will take his friend twenty-one days to find the route to his house and since he is not the patient and attentive type he would never get there. The young man later left and became a very wealthy and successful man. His friend came back after a fruitless search for the wise man only to be told story about what happened when he departed in a hurry and without consideration for the old man who turned out to be the wise man.

We could connect with the story above when sometimes we frantically search for things not realizing that they are just within our reach; that is the result of ignorance. Ignorance is a virus that can diminish us without sparing a bit of us. Knowledge is key to many things; no wonder the oracle of Hosea made it clear that my people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). And our Lord Jesus Christ wept over Jerusalem because of the people’s ignorance (Luke 19:41-42).

The Gospel Reading today (Luke 24:13-35)) tells us about one of the post-resurrection pilgrimages and the destination was Emmaus, which means warm spring. Two disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ left Jerusalem in utter despair and were going to Emmaus for a reason we do not know. The arrest, passion, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ brought about the scattering of the disciples (Mark 14:50). The resurrection was supposed to bring them together, but the multiplicity of stories about the empty tomb, appearances of angels at the tomb including the rumor that the disciples came to take the body away while the soldiers were sleeping (Matt. 28:13) brought so much confusion and disquiet.

The two disciples could have left Jerusalem (the city of peace) because peace eluded them. The set out on a pilgrimage to Emmaus (warm spring) to see if they could get some inner warmth. On their way, they kept reflecting on the event of the time; the variety of stories concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Suddenly our Lord appeared in their midst in the form of a co-traveller to Emmaus and asked them what they were talking about, and they were surprised to learn that he was perhaps the only visitor to Jerusalem who was ignorant of the current story about Jesus Christ. More like someone visiting the USA at the peak of the presidential campaigns and election and claiming not to know what’s on the news.

By the time our appearing Lord opened the scriptures to them and began to tell them about the Messiah and his salvific mission they became speechless and began to understand how foolish and ignorant they were. At first, they blamed the “co-traveller” for his ignorance about the events of the time, but after the exposition, our Lord accosted them for their foolishness and ignorance of the scriptures which according to St. Jerome is ignorance of Christ.

After the heart-warming sermon on the road to Emmaus, the two disciples could not but indulge in the company of our Lord to the extent that they did not allow him to go as they earnestly pleaded “stay with us!” That evening while they were at the table our Lord broke the bread and gave them, and instantly their eyes opened, and they recognized him, but he immediately disappeared out of their sight.

The journey to Emmaus leaves us with a lot of crucial lessons. It is a journey from fear to faith, a journey from despair to peace, a journey from a cold heart to a warm heart, a journey from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge, journey from nowhere to somewhere, a journey from foolishness to wisdom.

The Resurrection of Faith.

The two disciples represent the two prominent dispositions in our life: doubt (fear) and faith. Before the Emmaus encounter, they were filled with doubts as they were recounting the disconnected stories about the resurrection from various witnesses. In their doubts, their minds were closed from remembering and reflecting on the scriptures. Our Lord’s appearance to them was to transform their fear into faith. The word of God tells us that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17).

We are like these disciples. We often forget the promises of God and prefer to remember and magnify the problems around us. We often forget what God says He would do in every situation and only remember what our situation is doing to us. We often remember that we are passing through the valley of the shadow of death and forget that God says that he would be with us; with his crook and staff, He would comfort us (Psalm 23:4). We often drop the shield of faith (Eph.6:16 ) in our battle as the soldiers of Christ.

The Resurrection of Opened Eyes.

At the beginning of the Gospel narrative, we learn that the eyes of the two disciples were prevented (closed) from recognizing our Lord when he joined them on the pilgrimage to Emmaus. Often, we fail to recognize the Lord in our lives because of our spiritual blindness which could be because of sin or our lack of faith. One of the young men in our opening story was unable to recognize the wise man they seek because of his impatience and lack of the milk of kindness.

Fast forwarding to the post-dinner breaking of bread, we learn that the eyes of the disciples opened. It is important to note here that they had to hear the word of God first before their eyes opened during the breaking of bread. Today we have two locations that would bring about the opening of our eyes. We are called to the liturgy of the word of God first and then to participate actively in the liturgy of the Eucharist where we receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection of Burning Hearts.

There is a very significant difference between the HEAD and the HEART. The head is the seat of reason while the heart is the seat of faith which connects us with God. Before the encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, the two disciples were operating on the platform of reason. Their discussion was an entire exercise in rationalization. They were trying to be logical in their reasoning forgetting that with God, logic has no relevance. The resurrection is not a product of reason but an element of faith.

During the scripture exposition that our Lord made with them and for them, their hearts were burning, but they could not attend to that. It was at the point when their eyes opened that the remembered how their hearts were burning when the Lord was explaining the scriptures to them.

We are challenged to allow our hearts to burn for the Lord not our heads like the Athenians who rejected Paul’s preaching about the resurrection because it made no logical sense for them (Acts 17:18–34). The problem with our world today is that people would like everything to be logical and reasonable before they could be accepted. But our Christian vocation tells us to believe first even when we do not have a reasonable evidence (Heb.11:1).

As we continue to reflect on the message of today, let us rise to our Emmaus pilgrimage. Emmaus stands for a profound encounter of faith. Emmaus stands for a more in-depth understanding of the word of God that would open our eyes and burn our hearts for the Lord. Emmaus represents the presence of God in our lives as He stays with us to renew us and make us better and believing children of his.

Have an Emmaus Sunday and more graces in the coming week.

Fr. Bonnie.

LIFE WITHOUT DIVINE MERCY IS MESSY! REFLECTION FOR THE DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

goodness-mercy

Once upon a time, a king hired a gardener who was very dutiful and provided the king with fresh juicy fruits from the garden every morning. One fateful day, the gardener brought some red cherries to the king and tasting one, the king who was in a bad mood felt it was sour and threw it on the gardener in anger and it hit him in the face. Turning to the king and smiling respectfully, the gardener said: “God is merciful”. The king was a bit confused why the gardener could not show any sign of displeasure and why he said “God is merciful.

The king asked the gardener to explain why he appeared unhurt and what made him say that God is merciful. He replied and said that he wanted to bring big pineapples and coconuts but later changed his mind to bring the small cherries first. He believed that it was the mercy of God that made him not to bring a larger fruit because it could have hurt more.

God is indeed merciful. In fact, the book of Lamentations (3:22-23) say that the steadfastness of God never ceases and His mercy never ends for they are new every morning. Pope Francis was right when he declared that God’s name is MERCY. Without divine mercy, our lives would become messy. What is the nature of divine mercy and how is it relevant to us as we celebrate the Divine Mercy Sunday?

Our lives rest on the platform of divine mercy. Creation itself is an expression of God’s love. God created the world out of nothing (materially speaking), but spiritually creation is a product of God’s love. When humanity failed in Adam, God demonstrated His justice which brought about the eviction of our first parents from Paradise. However, God’s love went after us through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection brought divine mercy to us.

The history of our salvation is rooted on divine mercy:

  • The incarnation is an expression of divine mercy; the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14).
  • The passion of Christ is an expression of divine mercy; “but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
  • The death on the cross represents the highest expression of divine mercy when he expired and source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened for the whole world. Out of divine mercy, Jesu Christ became a curse for us to redeem us from the curse of the law and give us blessings (Gal.3:13-14).
  • Still hanging on the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ made some mercy- statements that point to God’s mercy for the whole world. To his executioners, he says “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). To the repentant thief, he says: “today thou shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
  • The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is both an expression and confirmation of divine mercy. A confirmation of the event of Good Friday, when he said: “it is finished” (John 19:30). Yes! It is finished with our tribulations and pains because of the divine mercy that is given to us. The resurrection is a confirmation that our sins are truly forgiven and we have a new life (2 Cor. 5: 17).

Divine mercy should challenge us to be merciful to one another just as our heavenly Father is merciful to each of us (Luke 6:36). Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us also that God will be merciful to those who are merciful (Matt. 5:7). The apostle James (2:13) expand more on this teaching when he writes that judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

One of the key sicknesses of our world is the lack of mercy starting from our families. Little things degenerate into huge fights fought with deep bitterness and resentment. Mercy has gone on vacation in most families with people barely managing and tolerating themselves instead of celebration one another. Communities are divided into various factions because mercy has not legroom. Nations are in turmoil because people are deficient of the milk of kindness and mercy.

We are encouraged to look forward to and pray for divine mercy. God loves us more and attends to us when we come to Him asking mercy. David was not shy to say: “ Have mercy on me oh God in your compassion” (Psalm 51:1). The blind man Bartimaeus shouted it: “Jesus Son of David have mercy on me” (Mark 10: 47).  Today, we are also challenged to become channels of mercy for everyone we meet in the journey of life; especially those who hurt us. The deeper the hurt the greater the flow of mercy. As we celebrate God’s divine mercy, let us continue to expand the borders of mercy wherever we go; today God is giving you a new name; Mercy.

Have a wonderful celebration and a great mercy-full week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

LESSONS FROM THE EMPTY TOMB AND THE INVITATION TO GALILEE: HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

HE HAS RISEN

Visiting the graveyard is not usually an attractive exercise because it presents an eerie and unsettling atmosphere that reminds one of the realities of death and dying. It could only be someone who is out of touch with mental and spiritual sanity that would like to loiter and lounge around the tombs (Mark 5:1-5). People go to the graveyard to pray and bury the dead. Today, the Gospel narrative presents one of the most unusual reasons for a visit to the cemetery; just to see the tomb very early in the morning when one could see scarcely one’s palms.

The Gospel Reading (Matt. 28:1-10) tells us about Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb very early in the morning with the other Mary (it is probable that she is the mother of Cleopas) to see the grave. Could it be that they forgot what it looked like? (We can’t say from the narrative).

Furthermore, coming very early in the morning to the tomb gives a sign of urgency. We could infer from the story that the early morning tomb visitors slept briefly, or did not sleep at all through the night. However, we need to make it clear here that they were not interested in the tomb but the one inside the tomb. Moreover, there was no better day for them to come but at the wee hours of the THIRD DAY.

Here we could identify the duo as women of faith. They came early on the third day because they believed in the words of our Lord: “Destroy this temple, and on the third day I will raise it up (John 2:19)”.  They trusted and accepted the word of our Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (9:22):

“The Son of Man must suffer many things, He said. “He must be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Leaving their families very early that morning of the first day to visit the tomb reminds us of the call to discipleship which involves “leaving everything and following him” (Luke 5:11, 28). We need to leave everything and follow the Lord if we must find meaning in life. Those who follow the Lord never miss their way.

These two women came to witness the live resurrection of our Lord Jesus; though they came few minutes after the actual rising. They did believe that the tomb cannot hold the Lord. They believed that the darkness of Good Friday would give way to the light of Easter. The trusted in the power of the resurrection.

Coming to the site of our Lord’s burial they saw an empty tomb; what does this disclose to us? The Lord has risen from the dead, and our faith is meaningful; we have something to preach and believe (1 Cor.15:14-18). The tomb is empty because the risen Lord has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). The tomb is empty because God has delivered us from darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His beloved son.

The tomb is empty because we are now a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart to declare the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1Pet.2:9).  The tomb could not stop him. The empty tomb declares that our lives have been redeemed and purified from the works of darkness and sin (Titus 2:14). The empty tomb reminds us of our Lord’s self-emptying (Phil. 2:7) which brought about our in-filling with good things (Psalm 107:9).

The empty tomb demonstrates the empty works of the devil and his promises. The empty tomb shows that without God in our lives we are cut off and can do nothing (John 15:5). The empty tomb shows that the words of our Lord on the Cross is real: “it is finished” (John 19:30). That means he has paid our debts and we do not owe anymore. So, as he said to the women (Matt.28:10), the Lord is telling us today “do not to be afraid.”

A critical mind would wonder why the angel at the graveyard and our Lord Jesus Christ himself could send the women to inform the disciples to meet him up in Galilee. “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.” Why Galilee as a location for meeting the risen Lord?

Galilee is very central in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary announcing the coming of the Savior through the Virgin birth took place in Nazareth; the most insignificant towns in Galilee “where no good thing could come” (John 1:43-46). Most of the apostles got their vocation around the Galilee region including the fishermen that became fishers of men (Matt.4:18-22). Most of the outstanding teachings and miracles of our Lord took place in Galilee. In fact, Galilee could be said to be the maternal home of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, the need to anchor the resurrection narrative where the story began.

Going to Galilee has to do with going back to the roots to bear witness and testify to the fact and power of the resurrection. This witnessing is what we see Peter doing in the First Reading today. In his testimony, he began by tracing the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ back to Galilee where he went about doing good, healing those oppressed by the devil and God was with him.

In Galilee, it will become evident that the one whom they knew very well and who eventually died on the cross and was buried; has risen. In Galilee, it will become very lucid that the one who changed water into wine (John 2:1-11) has come back from the dead to life.

Today we are invited to enter our own Galilee of testimony. We should be able to bear witness to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, not just by words but also by our actions. We are challenged by this invitation to Galilee to live a resurrected life.

We are all called today to head to Galilee to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus not just by physical feasting but by our spiritual communion with the Lord. For this reason, St. Paul enjoys us in the Second Reading (Col.3:1-4) that if we are raised with Christ, we should seek what is above, where Christ is sea1ted at the right hand of God.

May the resurrection of our Lord bring about the emptying of our physical and spiritual burdens. May the resurrection of our Lord open the doorway to our Galilee of witnessing by our words and actions.

Happy Easter and may the days ahead become steps towards your elevation.

Fr. Bonnie.

“THE DONKEY AND THE COLT ARE URGENTLY NEEDED” HOMILY FOR THE PALM SUNDAY (YEAR A). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Donkey and Colt

Have you ever experienced an urgent need or a situation that does not give room for an alternative approach or plan “B”? If you have not, you may be temporarily lucky. Due to our human limitations, we often fall into some needful situations that often overwhelm us. However, some needs are material while others are spiritual and more important. In the ceremony of the Palm Sunday, we shall see our Lord expressing an urgent need for a donkey and a colt to convey him to Jerusalem. Why did he make the specific request of these beasts of burden en route the site of his passion and death?

Today is the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. We have arrived at the doorway to the Holy Week. The ceremony of today begins with our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This entry is a very special one, and we are invited to reflect deeply on the events that preceded this entry into Jerusalem and how they relate to us and this holy season.

From the Gospel Reading at the opening ceremony (Matt. 21:1-11), we learn that our Lord made a very specific and unusual request for a donkey (also known ass) and a colt from a specific village near Bethphage. Notably, the donkey and the colt were tied to a tree. The instruction is that the two disciples that were sent should untie them and bring them urgently to him. 

The donkey could be an older version of the colt and they represent the old and the young at least physically. Spiritually, the donkey and the colt stand for the souls of both the old and the young that are tied to the tree of sin. The tree in the narrative represents the tree at the middle of the garden in the Book of Genesis (3:3). Our lord’s journey into Jerusalem is to tie our sins to the tree of redemption; the Cross. We could also see the donkey and the colt as reminiscent of Adam and Eve who erred at that the Eden tree and whose disobedience would receive attention at the tree of Calvary.

Our Lord’s journey into Jerusalem on a donkey shows that he came to carry our burden, exemplified by the action of the beasts of burden (donkey) moving our Lord into the city of Jerusalem which is the location of his passion and death. Of course, we know that donkeys are only used to carry loads not human beings. This confirms our Lord’s invitation (Matt. 11:28):

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

This entry into Jerusalem would not be triumphant without the donkey, and the colt and that was why our Lord could place a note of urgency on them. Drawing from the narrative, our Lord’s passion requires the urgent need of our souls for which the Cross stands at Calvary. The entry was joyful though the mission is painful (the passion). The joyous entry shows our Lord’s love and urgent need to save our souls. He was joyfully looking at the victory over death.

Our Lord triumphantly moved to Jerusalem from Bethphage riding on a donkey. In the same way, but more significantly, he would carry our souls triumphantly from the darkness of sin into the light of divine forgiveness and liberation. (Col.1:13). The passion of the Lord is nothing compared to the redemption it will produce at the dawn of Easter.

Another important lesson today is the reverse reaction of the crowd towards our Lord. The crowd that shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” at the triumphant entry would be the same crowd that would say “crucify him” during the trial and judgment at Gabbatha. This reverse action is representative of our relationship with God. We often agree to walk with the Lord at one point and another point we deny him and even “crucify him” by our sins and disobedience.

With the event of today, we have entered the week of passion. The Lord having entered triumphantly into Jerusalem is now carrying the burden of our souls to the Cross of Calvary where we shall have our liberation by his death and resurrection.

May we continue the procession from the entry into Jerusalem to the entry into his passion death and resurrection. May we not repeat the actions of Peter who denied his master (John 18:15-27). May we not repeat the actions of Judas who betrayed the Lord (Luke 22:48). May we not repeat condemning actions of Pilate and the authorities (John 18:28-40). And may we not like most the disciples, abandon the Lord during his Passion (Mark 14:50). May we rather like the Blessed Virgin Mary and few others stay close to him at the foot of the Cross at his death hour (John 19: 25-26) so that we can also rise with him.

I wish you a passionate Palm Sunday.

Fr. Bonnie.

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