As a child, I once listened to a priest tell a story about what happened to one woman in an open market. It was on a First Saturday of the month when Catholic Mothers in Nigeria usually attend a special mass dedicated to them in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and they wear their beautiful Catholic Mother’s uniforms. The activities of the First Saturday, which includes a general meeting, usually take the most part of the day and some women would proceed to their different tasks from the Church after the activities without going home to pull their uniforms.
On this fateful day, the woman in the story headed to the market from the Church to sell her goods when another woman appears in the Catholic Mother’s uniform and greets her in the usual way “praise be to Jesus!” and the woman answers enthusiastically “honor to Mary!”. With that greeting and the identification by her uniform, the woman responded immediately to a request from her fellow Catholic Mother to give her some money to settle a customer as she promises to bring back the money quickly. Without asking further questions about her location in the busy open market, the woman obliged her, and that was the last time she ever saw her. It was later that she discovered that some people disguise as Catholic Mothers on such days and defraud unsuspecting people who consider them to be genuine Catholic Mothers.
In the Gospel Reading today (John 2: 13-25), we learn that our Lord Jesus Christ found people transacting business in the temple area and making a whip from cords he drives them away and says to them, “Take these out of here and stop making my father’s house a marketplace.” Our Lord’s reaction to the temple merchants leaves us with a lot of lessons and instructions for this Third Sunday of Lent.
First, we need to understand why people go to the market. The overarching reason would be to buy the things one needs to satisfy a desire or to sell what one has, to make a profit. However, some people go to the market neither to buy nor to sell. Some go to the market to steal, like the woman in our story while others come for other reasons. Underneath these reasons, there is always a personal goal or selfish intent. To achieve these, the marketplace breeds with unhealthy competition, lies, dishonesty, deception, antagonism, envy, quarreling, fighting and selfishness.
What prompted our Lord to chase the merchants away from the temple area couldn’t be about what they were selling because people buy those animals for offering in the temple like the dedication of a male child (Luke 2:22-24). There is a possibility that our Lord, who could see their hearts, discovered their contrary dispositions over the trade which includes the vices above and more. When he said take these things out of here he was not just refereeing to the physical animals, but to the spiritual animals in their hearts.
Today, we have many people in the church with even worse market-place and the house of trade mentality and dispositions. Is our Church free from people who are here to compete? Is our Church free from lies, dishonesty, quarreling, fighting, envy, antagonism, and selfishness? If our Lord would do what he did in the past in our day and age, he would use something stronger and more efficient than cords and whips. Today our Lord is still telling us “take these things out of here, remove the marketplace mentality from my house.” God tells us in the Oracle of Isaiah (1:16b), remove your wrongdoings from my sight.
The Church often runs below the divine expectations because people pay more attention to their marketplace mentality than they do to the word of God. The marketplace mentality takes us away from the commandments of God as the First Reading tells us (Exodus 20:1-17) while directing us to the commandments of the marketplace. Every commandment of God has a parallel opposition from the marketplace commandment.
Today, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves why we are here and what we are doing in the house of God. Are you here to show your face to people or to encounter God? Are you here to fight, hate, and compete or to forgive, love and encourage one another with fraternal kindness? Are you here so that people would see you and praise you or are you here to worship God in spirit and in truth; the kind of worship that pleases God (John 4:24)?
As we march into this third week of Lent, it is crucial for us to search ourselves and drop all the marketplace dispositions we may have adopted and acquired consciously or unconsciously. The season of Lent provides us with the framework for this essential self-assessment. May God help us to drop all our marketplace (house of trade) mentalities and take up the God’s House mentality that would help us to pay more attention to God’s commandment which is a helpful guide to our salvation. Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.
Some time ago, a friend called to tell me about a confusing situation that required him to make a quick decision. A medical diagnosis of his only son indicated a malignant meningioma which is a delicate brain tumor and the doctors were considering an open brain surgery with a 55% chance of survival for the nine-year-old boy. I could hear him crying and asking God, “why would you allow me to pass through this test?”. “There you go!” I interrupted him. “You are passing through a test; you are not stuck in it. Take the 55% chance, sign the medical papers, and God will make it a 100%!” chance. I could hear him say a strong “Amen” to my exhortation which sounded like a prayer. Long story cut short, sometime after the surgery, he came visiting with the little boy, and nobody could ever guess that he was ever an inpatient at Mount Sinai Hospital. The test became a testimony.
Have you ever been in a situation where there seem to be no better alternatives? Have ever been in a case where it appears that the whole world would be crashing upon your head and nothing seems to serve as a remedy? Have you ever passed through a test? Abraham was in that situation. After waiting for twenty-five years for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son from his wife Sarah, God calls him and makes the most unexpected request:
Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height (mountain) that I will point out to you.
YOUR TEST WILL COME FROM YOUR ISAAC
From the narrative, God described Isaac very well to demonstrate the connection and affection Abraham has for him; “…your only one, whom you love.” For us, Isaac represents everything that is so precious and dear to us. Isaac represents anything that appeals to us as a treasure. Your Isaac is where your heart is (Matt. 6:21).
The message of today tells us that our test would come from our Isaac. Your test cannot come from anything that does not appeal to you. The Lenten call for repentance, fasting, and abstinence relates to giving up our Isaac. God is inviting us this season to give up the numerous Isaacs in our lives. Often, we think that when we give up our Isaac, life will become tasteless and bitter. Sometimes we believe that our Isaac determines our future and without our Isaac, we shall become nothing. That is false!
Your Isaac could be those actions and thoughts that have become so habitual to you that you seem to be helpless and hopeless without them. It could be a person or thing to whom you have this attachment that is threatening your relationship with God. It could be a place you like to visit that stops your visit to God; it could be anything that stands in opposition to your spiritual moral, and even psychological well-being.
Life is all about our decision. In the case of Abraham, he made up his mind to sacrifice his Isaac, and he was not joking about it because he made all the physical arrangement for a holocaust (burnt sacrifice) to God, represented by the altar, wood, fire, and knife. He did not know that the test was heading to testimony, but he believed in the one who gave the instructions; faith does not ask how? He had to let go, and God provided; he gave up his Isaac with faith, and God gave him back his Isaac with a blessing. He passed through the test and received the testimony!
Years past it was Abraham, our father in faith and his son Isaac. Today it is you and your Isaac. We all have our Isaacs, and this is the time to give them up so that our Lenten journey would become fruitful.
In the Gospel today, we read about the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor with Peter, James, and John as witnesses. The journey to the mountaintop represents our Lenten journey. They left the crowd at the foot of the mountain and headed to the clouds at the top of the mountain. Lent is the spiritual journey that is leading us to a glorious end. The journey might be rough, do not be discouraged it will lead us to a magnificent encounter and like Peter, we would say, “it is wonderful for us to be here.”
In several places in the Bible, we could see God having encounters with people on the mountain. The First Reading recalls the experience of Abraham with God on one of the heights at Moriah. We could see numerous mountain encounters with Moses (Exodus 19:3ff; 33:18-23; 34:28), Elijah (1 Kings 18:41-46), and our Lord Jesus Christ who taught severally on the mountain and transfigured, died, and ascended from a mountain. Climbing a mountain is equivalent to letting go or giving up some things because mountain climbers go light.
As we journey still farther into the Lenten season, let us ask God to help us to give up the contending Isaacs in our lives to be able to reach the heights with him at the end of the season. May God bless your Lenten journey and have a splendid week ahead.
February 14, 2018, would remain a sad memory for the students, teachers, and parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Florida. An active shooting event by a former student, Nikolaus Cruz claims the lives of 17 students and leaving others with various degrees of injury. It was sad watching students run for their safety as the suspect sprays bullets with the intention to kill on a holy and joyous day just before the end of the school day.
As investigations trail the dastardly act, many people are speculating and recommending possible factors that could prompt a 19-year-old boy to commit such a heinous crime. Whatever would finally emerge as the reason behind the destructive act, one thing remains basic; something moved him. Put in another way; something drove him into the active shooting that claimed lives and maimed many others physically and emotionally.
Before performing any act, we are often moved or driven by something. The law of causality in philosophy states that whatever moves is moved by another that means nothing happens without a reason or basic motivation. The beginning of the Gospel Reading of this First Sunday of Lent (Mark 1:12-15) tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus Christ into the desert and he remained there for forty days, tempted by Satan. During the Baptism of our Lord, we learn that the heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16). The same Holy Spirit drove (moved) him into the desert for the forty-day period of trial.
After the forty days of fasting and prayers, our Lord Jesus Christ was again moved by the Holy Spirit from the desert into the regions of Galilee to preach. In Luke (4:18), he declares that the Spirit of God is upon him and in the Gospel of today he says: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. If we pay attention to what he says, we could discover two important instructions, “repent” and “believe in the Gospel.” Before we look into these, it will fit for us to discover the driving force in our lives. Are you driven by the Holy Spirit, another person’s desire or your bodily desire which is at war with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-22)?
Repentance and belief in the Gospel are decisions we are invited to take but we cannot just decide without the proper motivation, and there cannot be proper motivation except we understand without the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The word of God tells us that the Holy Spirit, is our Helper (John 14:26; Romans 8:26) and He would convict us of sin because of our unbelief (John 16:8-9). The Holy Spirit cannot also force Himself upon us; we need to be open to and ask for His presence in our lives (Luke 11:13).
We all need repentance in our lives, put in another way, each of us has something to repent from though some of us think that they are righteous and do not have any need nor room for repentance. To repent, we need to be humble as true repentance is impossible without humility. This period of Lent is good enough for us to examine our lives and not the lives of others as most of us do. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us to remove the plank in our eyes so that we can see very well before we could remove the speck in our neighbor’s eyes (Matt. 7:5). Take some time and x-ray your life there should be an area of repentance in your life; this is the time to relent and repent. True repentance invites us to fast from sin and to resist the devil (James 4:7).
To believe, we need to unfreeze our minds from our false convictions and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us (John 14:26; Neh.9:20). Often, we rationalize and negotiate the word of God to favor us and our desires. To believe in the Gospel entails dropping our will to accept and do the will of God through His words. May the season of Lent help us to open our minds to listen to the word of God and receive the message in a more personal way. May each day in the forty days of the Lenten period take us closer to God as we repent and believe.
Have a blessed Sunday and more glorious day of Lent.
The earth as we know it runs on seasons. At this point, some people are experiencing freezing weather in some parts of the earth while others are complaining of excruciating hot weather condition. While some people are covering their bodies to their faces to quell the chilling effects of cold, people in other places are considering the idea of discarding even their inner clothes because of the heat. We are born into seasons, and we live and die in seasons.
The reflection of on the seasons that characterize our material world leads us to consider the liturgical seasons of the Church which also points to some significant spiritual activities. The Ash Wednesday stands as the great door that leads us to the Lenten season. The season of Lent is forty days when we are invited to retreat, reflect, and redirect our lives from our estrangement from God due to sin to a more reconciliatory relationship with Him.
The First Reading (Joel 2:12-18), tells us to return to God with our whole heart, fasting, weeping, and mourning. In the Second Reading (2 Cor. 5:20-6:2), St. Paul invites us to be reconciled to God at this acceptable time. In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18) our Lord Jesus Christ gives us some practical steps on how we can pull through the Lenten season. He also gives us the best practices with regards to almsgiving, prayers, and fasting (abstinence) which are known as the pillars of the Lenten period.
It is very instructive to notice that in the Gospel, our Lord starts by informing us what we should not do before telling us what to do. We shall examine these in the order they appear in the Gospel narrative.
Our Lord begins the instructions with almsgiving, and the reason is understandable. Giving is one the ways we reflect God as God is the eternal giver. The letter of St. James (1:17) tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God in whom there is no shadow of change. Success in life is not measured by how much we have but how much we give. When we give, especially those who cannot give us (Luke 6:30-35), we reflect and represent God because God gives us more than we can repay.
Coming to the practice of the almsgiving proper, our Lord instructs that when we give alms, we should not sound our trumpets. Why? The reason is that there is the selfish drive in us that looks for appreciation and applause from people. We often wish to be highlighted in the news, we love likes and praise comments. Our Lord is asking us to deny ourselves of that publicity in our almsgiving so that our reward would come from God who repays to every sincere giver (Luke 6:38).
Our Lord Jesus Christ instructs us not to pray like the hypocrites who love to pray in the synagogues and street corners so that people could see them. Here we understand the desire for public approval coming in with regards to prayer which should be our conversation with God. There is a difference between praying to God and praying to people. It is unfortunate that most people pray to receive attention and endorsement. Praying to people is a waste of time and energy because such prayers do nothing apart from getting their attention. (Praying to people is different from praying for them).
Our Lord invites us to make our private prayers a constant dialogue with God (Luke 18:1). Furthermore, he instructs that using many words and phrases do not determine the efficacy of our prayers. What our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us is that our prayers should be heartfelt not brilliant.
Fasting is an essential spiritual exercise that we need to understand and appreciate more. To fast means to deny ourselves of not just food but any other bodily or material gratification. Fasting goes with abstinence which means keeping away from something. When we fast, we suppress the body so that the Spirit would rise. St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Galatians (5: 16-17), to live by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. He goes further to tell us that the desires of the flesh oppose the desires of the Spirit.
In the narrative, our Lord tells us that we should not make a public show of our fasting by pulling long faces and announcing it to everyone. We could liken our fasting to some of the private and harmless things we do which we do not go about announcing to everyone. Our fasting should be kept between God and us because it is a matter between Him and us.
A more practical approach to the spiritual exercise of fasting is to focus on those unbridled desires we have. Fasting from food is perfect but there are other things you can fast from that could also be helpful. Moreso, there is a difference between spiritual fasting and other forms of fasting like medical fasting or physical fitness fasting. Of what value would it be to fast from food while quarreling and using foul language. We can fast from social media; we can fast from gossips, we can fast from anger and so many things.
As we receive the ash today, we learn that we are nothing before God. The Church tells us that we are dust and to dust, we shall return. The best we can make out of this season is to pay attention to the word of God, repent of our sins and live a more committed spiritual life. We have tried the life of sin enough, now is a new season. Let us also remember that the ash we receive today is not an automatic sin cleanser. It should instead be for us a physical pointer to our inner renewal.
Have a rewarding season of Lent and may the end of the season bring about your renewal and rising to glory with the Lord. Remember the right dispositions when you give alms, when you pray, and when you fast.
May God bless your Lenten journey.
“Have you ever traveled a long distance to buy something that is of great importance to you only to hear that it is no longer available?” Have you ever been to an office hoping to meet someone who could help you with something that you desire so much only to hear that the person is not available and may not still be available for a long time? “Have you ever agreed to have an important telephone conversation with someone, and calling at the agreed time you hear that the person is not available?” Availability is essential in life, in fact, it is one of the critical determinants of successes and failures.
Availability is traceable to the verb “avail” which means “profit” or “advantage.” From the descriptions, availability would mean to be profitable or advantageous. It is also closely related to obtainability, handiness, readiness, accessibility, and active presence. In the Gospel narrative today (Mark 1:40-45), we learn about a leper who comes to our Lord Jesus Christ and paying homage to him by kneeling begs him saying, “if you wish (will), you can make me clean.” Moved with PITY, our Lord stretches out his hand and touching him says to him, “I will do it, be clean.” Immediately, leprosy leaves him, and he becomes clean.
We shall examine this narrative in line with availability which this reflection sees as the key to our relationship with God, our healing, and our salvation. To understand the importance of availability which we have defined earlier, it will be helpful to us to make some biblical references that point to the fact of availability and unavailability before identifying its role in the healing of the leper and its potential role in our healing and cleansing.
In the Gospel narrative today, we hear the story of an unnamed man, a leper, who approaches our Lord Jesus Christ for healing. The First Reading (Lev.13:1-2, 44-46) gives us the background information about the life of an average leper. That passage summarizes that a leper is set apart from the regular people by the declaration of a priest as he or she remains unclean as long leprosy remains on the skin. The leper in the Gospel Reading made himself available to our Lord Jesus Christ by breaking the socio-religious protocols of the time. His availability to our Lord Jesus Christ was not only physical, but it was also spiritual. His availability to our Lord discloses:
We are the new “lepers” because we all need healing and cleansing physically, morally, and spiritually. We all have the invitation from our Lord Jesus Christ to come to him (Matt. 11:28); to make ourselves available and we will have PITY on us. In the Old Testament, the priest needs to confirm the skin disease and declare someone unclean or clean. Today, we have the privilege of the sacrament of reconciliation where the priest would examine not the natural skin but the spiritual skin and pronounce us clean after examining us. One good thing is that everyone leaves the priest pronounced healed and cleansed.
As we prepare to enter the Lenten period, the Church is inviting us to make ourselves available for cleansing like the leper in the Gospel. God is willing, and He can make us clean again. Let us not miss the opportunity of making ourselves available for the cleansing power of God for our physical, moral, and spiritual leprosy. Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead and remember to make yourself available. God bless you.
Once upon a time, an elderly woman gets an invitation to visit her daughter who lives in a neighboring town to spend some time with her family. The woman could not wait as she gets herself ready for the trip. She thought about her grandchildren and their “sweet troubles” around her which she cherishes with great maternal love. She also remembers their kitchen which also serves as preservation grilled fish and visualizes how a sizeable bag of fish would always accompany her home at the end of her visit.
Arriving at her daughter’s marital home, the woman could notice a lot of changes. Her daughter and the children behave differently as she notices some form of decency. In the kitchen, she could see a fewer number of fish by the fireplace. Her grandchildren switched role with her as she listens to them tell her stories mainly about a man from Galilee called Jesus Christ, who is the promised Messiah and how he is doing a lot of teaching and healing works. It was at this point that her daughter reveals to her that her husband had abandoned his fishing trade and followed the new preacher in town and that explains why he has not been home for few days.
The entire episode was overwhelming for the woman, and the thought of not getting enough fish bothered her slightly. However, she was happy that her son-in-law, who could scarcely leave his fishing trade to attend any religious activities, is now in the forefront with the new preacher in town, “that would be more than bags of fish,” she thought.
The next day, however, turned out to be an unhappy one. The woman suddenly took ill with a very severe fever in the middle of making dinner for the family. All the available medications failed. Suddenly, her son-in-law appeared with Jesus Christ the great preacher and healer and did you know what happened when Jesus Christ entered? The Gospel of Mark (1:31) says: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them”.
Today, I wish to connect sickness to the absence of what should be present. It indicates a lack of an essential quality that should instead be present. For Simon’s mother-in-law in the Gospel of today (Mark 1:29-39), it was the absence of good health, for Job in the First Reading (Job 7:1-4, 6-7), it was the absence of the good life he had earlier following the series of predicaments that trailed his life. For you, it may be the absence of joy, success, job, a good relationship, dependable marriage, a good home, financial favors, and ultimately the lack of God which is the most significant sickness.
In the Gospel narrative, we could imagine what it was before the visit of our Lord Jesus Christ to Simon’s house. The woman was in great pain and the people around her could have also been uneasy as she was not getting better. But when our Lord Jesus Christ, the healer, and master of every sickness, arrives, the fever could not stay again. The story about the healing opened the door for all others who were sick to receive their healing.
It was the healing of the mother-in-law of Simon and other people in the Gospel narrative. Today, it is about your healing. Even the most physically healthy among has a sickness. Today, God invites us to examine our lives and make our sicknesses available to Him because He is our healer (Ex. 15:26). No sickness is beyond God’s healing power:
May God help us to identify our sickness and present them to Him so that with the psalmist we could proclaim, “praise the Lord, who heals the broken-hearted.” Have a beautiful Sunday and may you experience divine visitation for healing in the coming days.
An armed robber stops a vehicle on the freeway, shows his gun to the passengers and begins to search them one after another. After dispossessing them of all their valuables, he enters his car and zooms off. A few minutes later a policeman, in his uniform, appears on the same freeway, stops the same vehicle, shows his ID to the passengers, and begins to search all of them while asking some questions and taking notes. Now the question, “what is the difference between the armed robber and the policeman?”
To the above scenario and the question, answers may vary. To my mind, the difference between the armed robber and the policeman is explainable by the difference between power and authority. The Armed robber was able to stop the vehicle and to ravage the passengers through the power of the gun. The policeman, on the other hand, was able to stop the car and to search the passengers leveraging on the authority conferred on him by the government as a law enforcement agent which his uniform and identity card confirmed.
Today, the more significant chunk of the narrative from the First Reading (Deut. 18:15-20) and the Gospel Reading (Mark 1:21b-28) tell us about authority. Authority has to do with the legitimate power one has to carry out an activity. We could then understand power merely as the ability to act without a legal right. Authority is usually accorded to the recipient for instance in a genuinely democratic election, while power is often self-assumed for example in despotic military rulership.
From the narratives of the First Reading and the Gospel, authority is linked to prophecy. Why? The answer would become more evident when we understand whom a prophet is. The word prophet comes from the Greek “prophetes” which means a spokesman or if you like one who speaks for another. Prophecy, therefore, entails speaking for another person and for one to speak for another person, the individual needs an authority. This explanation settles the confusion among many people that assume that a prophet is only able to see the future. The prophet could speak about the past, the present or the future but always following God’s direction and authority.
In the First Reading, God promised to raise a prophet after Moses who would speak to the people in a way and manner that would yield more results. We could take that prophet to be Joshua because he was the immediate successor of Moses. However, the personality of that prophet could be found more profoundly in our Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel Reading today makes it very clear.
In the Gospel Reading, we learn that our Lord Jesus Christ taught with authority in the Synagogue to the amazement of the people because he taught them with authority. Whose authority? We can answer this question appropriately by making some biblical references.
Next, in our reflection is the distinction between the voice of authority and the other voices we hear in our society today. We are living in a world that is reeling with a lot of voices. Today, we have a lot of so-called “prophetic voices” that excel in deception while gathering worldly fame and financial fortunes for themselves. There are also many people speaking for themselves and not for God. In the First Reading, God warned Moses thus:
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name, I myself will make him answer for it. But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle I have not commanded him to speak or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.
In the Gospel narrative, we also learn that an unclean spirit (a demon) living in a man heard and acknowledged the voice of authority of our Lord Jesus Christ before the man was set free from the demon. If demons could listen to and accept the voice of authority what about us? We all are like the man with the unclean spirit, and we should acknowledge that at every level in our lives there is a devil that could be blocking our ears and hearts from hearing and accepting the voice of authority and we need deliverance from all of them.
God is speaking to us now through His words, are we ready to hear and accept the voice of authority or are we still listening to other distracting voices around us? The voice of the world, selfishness, anger, immodesty, jealousy, irreligion, and other things that give rooms to demons in our lives? In the Second Reading today (1 Cor.7:32-35), St. Paul urges us to be the ideal virgin or unmarried woman who is anxious about the things of God. What are you concerned about in your life at the moment?
As we march into a new week let us continue to ask God for the grace to assist us to listen always to the voice of authority that would help us to gain everlasting life. Have a lovely Sunday and great days ahead.
Once upon a time during my early boyhood, with all the adventures that accompanied it, I broke my dad’s favorite drinking glass cup. It was not an accident; it was my carelessness because my mum warned me twice while I was doing the dishes to be careful as I was doing an “Olympic swimming demonstration” with the cup and other cups I termed contestant in the “sport” taking place in the dishwashing bowl.
When the drinking glass dropped from my hands to the floor, my mum echoed “I warned you, your dad would soon come back from work, be ready for his punishment. My dad’s penalties were usually nerved straining, and I dared them. I could neither eat nor drink, and it seemed he was taking his time to come back. When he finally arrived and saw how pale and fearful, I was looking he sensed that something was not okay, and when my mum reported the episode to him, he smiled and asked me to be careful next time. He let me go without any punishment because he could sense my remorse and penitence.
The story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh is not strange to us. Initially, Jonah wanted to evade the divine mission to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. However, events would bring him back to the city of Nineveh and the narrative today tells us that he entered the great city, which would take a three-day journey, to preach repentance. Just on the first day, the people accepted the word of God and repented, from the king to the least person in the city.
There is a note of urgency in the three Readings of this Sunday. In the Second Reading (1 Cor. 7:29-31), St. Paul tells us about the need to become more austere with the things we have and refrain from various indulgent behaviors because the world in its present form is passing away. In the Gospel Reading (Mark 1:14-20), John the Baptist continues the message by calling for urgent repentance because of the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Still, in the Gospel narrative, we learn about the urgency of the call to discipleship which involves leaving everything to follow Jesus Christ.
The message today invites us to answer the urgent call to repentance. Repentance should be an on-going exercise in our lives. Every day provides an opportunity for us to become the better version of ourselves. Today, our lives represent the city of Nineveh. The word of God is the Jonah that is walking through the length and breath of our lives inviting us to drop the old ways and to adopt the new life. The instruction of St. Paul in the Second Reading urges us not to be complacent but to live for a positive change.
The message of this Sunday is part of the New Year reality which involves the courage to drop our old ways of life and to change like the people of Nineveh. Often it is not easy to leave the former way of life (Isaiah 43:18), but it is after all gainful when we do so; that is the route to the new reality (Isaiah 43:19).
There is nobody among us that do not need repentance. The word of God says that if we say we have no sin we lie, and the truth is not in us (1 John1:8). Our returning to God, which is repentance anyway, is an urgent activity. Isaiah (55:6-7) tells us to seek God when we can find him and to call Him when He is still near.
As we march into a new week and deeper into the New Year, there is the need for us to look inward to dictate the areas of repentance in our lives. Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
During my formation to the priesthood, I had one of my six weeks pastoral experiences with an elderly priest who has a hilarious way of calling people around him for assistance. He would clear his throat and ask: “onye nonso?”, which means “who is nearby?” Consequently, anyone within earshot would emerge to help him with an errand which often consisted of giving him the television remote around the corner, or to hand him a book just beside him.
During the first week of my stay with him, I discovered that I was the only one running the errand for him because I would always rush to him when he calls out: “onye nonso” (who is nearby). It dawned on me in the subsequent weeks that whenever the priest clears his throat, the young people who had been staying with him would quickly run away. The idea was to avoid his call for a nearby person because the errands are mostly annoying like he once called and asked me to search for his keys meanwhile he was sitting on them and turning off the television he was watching.
The First Reading today (1 Sam 3:3b-10,19), tells us about the call of Samuel at a very critical time in the history of the people of Israel when they sinned and lost divine communication. We could recall that Samuel was dedicated to the service of God as his mother Hannah promised when she came to Shiloh to pray for the fruit of the womb after years of bareness. Samuel thus represents God’s answer to the prayer of Hannah.
It is important to note that the call of Samuel came while he was sleeping in the temple where the ark of God was. In life, where you choose to determine what happens your way. Samuel decided to stay close to God, and that was why God could reach out to him. God would always reach out to those who are nearby. In the manner of the elderly priest in our opening story, God was asking, “onye nonso” (who is nearby?); and Samuel was the closest.
The story of the call of Samuel is also our own story. God is continually calling us through His words to come out of the darkness and enter his marvelous light (1Pet. 2:9). God calls us to himself through the sacraments. Through baptism, we are called to become children of God and members of the Church. In the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we are called into union with Christ through our partaking in his body and blood (John 6:56). And in the sacrament of Holy Anointing, we are called out from infirmity to wholeness and restoration (Jer. 30:17).
The sacrament of confirmation calls us into the legion of the faithful soldiers of Christ, while in the sacrament of penance we are called to repentance and eternal life. In the sacrament of Holy Orders, we are called to become ministers of the word and the sacraments while the in sacrament of the Holy Matrimony married couples are invited to dedicate themselves to love and service for the rest of their lives while being open to procreation and training of the children God may give to them.
Today, in our day and age we have many voices calling for our attention and the question we should ask ourselves is “whom do we answer?” We are the new “Samuels” of our time, how often do we respond to God’s call. Usually, we give excuses why we should not answer the call of God inviting us to repentance, faith, charity, and hope in God. We often prefer to answer the call to social, political, and cultural lives to the detriment of our spiritual lives.
In the Second Reading (1 Cor.6:13c-15a, 17-20), St. Paul brings our attention to the call to immorality which many people tend to answer and defy the body which should be for Christ. The reality is that there is a conflict between the flesh and the spirit. St. Paul writing to the Galatians (5:16ff) tells us to live by the spirit and not to gratify the desires (call) of the flesh because the flesh is opposed to the spirit and the spirit is opposed to the flesh.
In the Gospel Reading (John 1: 35-42), Andrew and another disciple of John decided to follow our Lord Jesus Christ when John pointed out that he is the lamb of God. That decision was an answer to a divine call. Andrew extends the call by introducing his brother Simon Peter to the Lord. The invitation today is not only to answer the call but also to bring others along to come and see the Lord and what he could do in our lives.
Today, we are all invited to be attentive to the divine call at various points in our lives. God is still calling us in our minds and hearts, in our families in our daily preoccupations, in our communities, and other engagements. Let us like Samuel be ready to say, “Speak Lord for servant is listening.” Have a great day and a glorious week ahead.