Fr Bonnie's Reflections

LOOKING FOR THE “AHAZIC” SIGN HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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Our world is swimming in the ocean of signs; in fact, we can be called a generation of signs. We all look out for various signs to enable us to either act or refrain from acting. Individuals, groups, and organizations have and make use of signs to communicate certain information. A red light along the road stops all vehicular and human movements. An apple with the upper part bitten off is a direct reference the Apple company. The image of a woman on a door in a public place communicates the presence of a restroom for females, while a picture of a man on a door communicates the opposite.

 On the new media landscape, there are so many signs  (icons, emoticons, and emojis) that signify one feeling or the other. We also have natural signs that point to some realities other than themselves. For instance, smoke indicates a fire, the nature of the clouds often signifies the outcome of the weather. Our  Jesus Christ gave a reflection on a natural sign in his background when he says: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” (Matt.24:32)

God knows our limitations in knowledge and that could be the reason why he often communicates to us using signs. From the Bible will discover that most divine communications are through signs. God used the sign of the rainbow to seal a covenant and the decision not to visit the world again with a deluge (Gen.9:12-13).

Abraham received a sign from God using the countless stars in the sky showing the greatness of his posterity (Gen. 15:5). Moses’ staff became a sign of God’s abiding presence for the Israelites in their struggle for liberation from the Egyptians as well as the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire (Exodus 4:2-4; 13:21-22). God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute, who eventually became unfaithful, as a sign of the infidelity of the people of Israel to Him (Hosea 1:2; 3:1-4). Our Lord Jesus Christ called Jonah and himself signs for the Ninevites and to his generation respectively (Luke 11:30).

The First Reading (7:10-14) tells us about God’s instruction to Ahaz, the King of Judah to ask for a sign. Ahaz could not ask for a sign as he claimed that he did not want to put God to the test (Deut 6:16). He was actually in doubt about the power of God to deliver him from  Israel and Aram. He rather trusted in the alliance he was forming with the Assyrians even when the prophet Isaiah assures him that the attack will not happen.

Often we are like Ahaz. We put our trust in men than in God. Ahaz was using a religious canopy to shield his faithlessness. In fact, the real act of putting God to the test is to doubt His power especially to save us. God goes further to give a sign to Ahaz. The sign does not seem to have relevance to the issue, but it is profoundly significant: “ a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

How does this sign resonate with the “Ahazic” situation at the time? The resonance is in God’s determination to make the impossibility possible. God seems to be telling Ahaz  “saving you from your enemies is very simple for me to do but I am about to do a thing too deep to the imagination. A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name will be God-is-with-us (Emmanuel)”. This message shows that she is a virgin, and after conception, she remains a virgin, and without the physical action of a man, the virgin conceives.

Attempting an application of the “Ahazic” sign to our lives, we discover that the two enemies represent the devil and the world (see Eph. 2:2-3) and the target is Jerusalem which represents our souls. We are contending with the world that has an agenda that is troublesome for us (John 16:33). We are also fighting with our enemy the devil whose agenda is to steal kill and destroy (John 10:10a).  Like Ahaz some of us appear to be helpless in the face of these enemies and like him also, we have a weak Assyrians as alternatives.

Today the Gospel Reading (Matt.1:18-24) draws our attention to another sign in the person of Joseph. Joseph stands as an excellent sign to all Christians. We can understand Joseph more when we place him side by side with Ahaz in the First Reading today. Both had puzzles confronting them; Ahaz contending with two enemies and Joseph contending with the fact that his bride-to-be (a virgin) was pregnant. However, their approaches and reactions to their situations differed. Ahaz lost hope in God while Joseph trusted and obeyed. The gospel calls him a righteous man. We also can identify his humility, civility, and obedience. For us Christians, Joseph stands as a productive guide and a sign of faith and trust in God and attentiveness His words, righteous living, and obedience of faith as St. Paul recommended in the Second Reading (Rom.1:5).

This last Sunday of Advent invites us to look out for that “Ahazic” sign that will bring us to God so that God can be with us. When God is with us, nothing can be against us (Romans 8:31). Many beautiful and destructive signs in the world are contending with this “Ahazic” sign.

It is very unfortunate that the current signs around us today are not calling our attention to the Emmanuel we are waiting to receive in our hearts but to consumerism, excessive shopping and decoration and all other externalities of the season. Pope Paul VI  in while promulgating the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium Et Spes), enjoins us to scrutinize the signs of the time. This scrutiny will help us to discover the real sign we need especially within this last week of Advent when we expect the Savior to be born not in Bethlehem but into our hearts.  

The deepest and the highest sign is the coming of the Messiah. He is coming to your heart, and you need to make room for him. Have a graceful last week of Advent and may the “Ahazic” sign lead you to a blissful Christmas.

Fr. Bonnie.

REJOICE BUT WAIT UNTIL HE COMES! HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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Children are addicted to Christmas! Yes, they are. In fact, Christmas without children is unimaginable. Christmas marks the birthday of one of their kind, and you wouldn’t want to spoil the Christmas for any child. Children expect gifts from their parent, and other people at  Christmas and one of the worst Christmas’ for a child is one without a gift. From the time you make a promise to give a gift to a child to the time you present the gift, a child expresses two emotions: joy and expectation; there is, however, a third element which sustains these two and that is WAITING.

Waiting is an important exercise that most of us often try to avoid. The primary reason why we disconnect from waiting is that it seems to take our productive time. However, life itself is all about waiting from conception to birth and from infancy to adulthood we have to wait for events to follow each other. We do not harvest as soon as we plant. We wait for our food to cook before eating. There is always a waiting time for all activities. One of the things that I have learned is that we mature as we wait.

The First Reading (Isaiah 35:1-6a.10 ) begins with an invitation to exult and to rejoice. There is always a reason behind all emotional expressions. Often we asked people why they are happy, sad, joyful, sorrowful, moody and so on. This idea balls down to the principle of causality which states that there is a cause behind every effect. Here we can ask why we should rejoice since we still have two weeks before Christmas. Does it not look like celebrating in the middle of the forest?

The invitation to rejoice at this point in our Advent journey is a divine reassurance that our waiting is not going to be in vain. The call to rejoice is a perfect demonstration of the potential effects of the coming of the Savior in our lives.  We learn from the First Reading about some immediate changes that would occur at the time of the coming. The desert and parched land represent our disconnection from God. When we are far from God due to sin and disobedience we become a desert place; like our Lord would say “cut off from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The rest of the images we see in the First Reading tell us about restoration. Restoration is one of the ways God uses to compensate His people after a period of their disconnection from Him (Joel 2:25; Job 42:10). The passage notes that there will be a restoration of the lost glory, our hands and feet get strengthened again; we shall experience divine vindication, the eyes of the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will walk again.

All these are physical expressions of the spiritual regeneration we shall experience at the time of the coming of the one who will redeem us. The assurance we receive here is that our sorrows will turn into joy (John 16:20), dry bones shall rise again(Ezekiel 37:7), and there will be a lifting up for us (Job 22:29).

While there is this invitation to rejoice, St. James tells us in the Second Reading ( James 5:7-10) to be patient and wait for the actual coming of the Lord. The theme of waiting comes out very vividly here. It is most important at this time when the world is turning ADVENT into ADVERT. Most people are more concerned about Christmas holiday than Christmas HOLY DAY. May people cannot wait for the child to be born; practically the world is pushing for a premature baby in a manger. The truth is that at this time Mary is still pregnant, and the due date is still a fortnight away; we need to wait! It is when they hear the cry of the baby that people jubilate.

The Gospel Reading summarily tells us to watch out for the fruit of his coming. We shall experience his coming through the transformations we will experience around us and which will confirm the words of the First Reading “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers become cleansed; the deaf hear, the dead rises, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.”

There is a need for us to reflect deeply on the potential impacts of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in our midst. Christmas is not all about physical merriment. It is not all about eating and drinking, buying things we already have and spending so much money we could give to the poor on decorations that will become obsolete after the first week of January.

There is a need for us to gauge our spiritual engagement during this season of Advent. We cannot have a wholesome Christmas without an active Advent. The disposition we give to the Advent period determines what we get at Christmas. Let us rejoice because the Savior is near. However, we need to wait for his arrival not idly but by attending to the recommendation of St. James in the Second Reading where enjoins us to have a firm heart and to abide in loving relationship with one another while doing the will of God.

There is no way we can make a rightful Christmas without a well-articulated Advent. So many people seem to put the Christmas before the Advent, and this is an acute misplacement of values and priorities. The joy we are asked to express on this day is not on account of the materials we have been able to accumulate, but on a result of the fact that the Lord will soon be born in our hearts which we ought to have made ready for him.

Have a great third Sunday of Advent. Rejoice our Lord is coming, but we still need to wait until he comes.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

CHANGING OUR WAYS AND PREPARING THE ADVENT WAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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I remember seeing a movie in the 1990s with the title “the hard way and the only way. The action comedy tells the story of a wannabe cop who achieves his ambition through the most painful and dramatic manner. Life is full of WAYS. There are right WAYS and wrong WAYS. The word of God tells us that there is a way that seems right but the end of it is destruction (Prov.14:12). The way you follow determines your destination. A way could mean a disposition, an approach and even an attitude towards a goal.

If we go through the scriptures very attentively, we will discover that the entire history of humanity with God is about WAYS. God shows us the right ways, but we often fail to follow. Most divine encounters in the Bible were on the way. Abraham met God on the way (Gen.12:7-8; 18:1-3). While on the way with his father-in-law’s flock Moses meets God at the burning bush (Exo. 3:1-5). And God also made way for him and the people of Israel through the red sea (Exo.14:21-22). God always invites His people to follow his ways. In the book of Psalms (62:7) David prays that God’s way be known on the earth, His salvation among all nations and Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are different from our ways (Isaiah 55:8).

If we turn to our Lord Jesus Christ, we will discover that more than 80% of his ministry took place on the way. He called almost all the apostle on the way, and many people followed him on the way (John 6:2). Most of the preaching were on the way, and he cured and healed most people on the way. We can recall Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:42b-48), the ten lepers (Luke 19:11-17), Zacchaeus’ conversion was on the way (19:1-10). The way also led him triumphantly to Jerusalem he carried the cross and suffered along the way that led to Calvary. After his resurrection, he appeared to two of his disciples along the way (Luke 24:13-35).

In the apostolic time, the Way became a formal description for Christians (Acts 22:4). Peter’s first miracle was on the way (Acts 3:1-3) and Saul who later became Paul got his conversion on the way (Acts 9:1-19).

The First Reading (Isaiah 11:1-10) begins with the announcement of the rare shoot that shall come from the stump of Jesse. The opening statement is a direct indication of the inauguration of a new way. We understand this further in the reading where the Prophet says that:

His delight shall be in fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

A deeper and more critical look at this shows that the one who is coming will operate in a new way. He will not be like the rulers of this world who do not fear God. His judgment will not leverage on sight or hearsay but righteousness. Unlike the way of the world that is unjust to the poor, the new way will provide a judgment for the poor.

The Advent period inaugurates another way for us; the way of repentance which the Gospel Reading (Matt. 3:1-12) tells us today. The way of repentance often seems to be the hard way, but it remains the only way if our journey to God must give us an eternal reward.

The call to the way of repentance is not an instruction many of us would like to get. We are often more concerned about the gains and pleasures of the flesh to the achievements of our souls. Often we prefer to postpone our repentance to an indefinite later date and most people end up not reconciling with God before they exit the world.

The instruction of John the Baptist is clear, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Many of us may have heard this right from our childhood, and it could sound like “one of those things we already know.” But looking at the instruction through the lens of the season of Advent it would make a whole new meaning for us especially with regards to the next instruction which tells us to prepare a way for the Lord and make his paths straight.

Preparing a way for the Lord demands that we break with our old ways. It is at this point that we should detach and depart from sin. There is a need for us to examine our lives this period of Advent. As John the Baptist suggested in his pre-messianic Oracle, there should be a reasonable change in the way we do things; that means reconstructing our relationship with God and adopting the Advent way.

St. Paul in the Second Reading today (Romans 15:4-9) reminds us that the call to repentance and preparing the way for the Lord is an instruction that we ought to accept and put into practice. It is a message of salvation that will bring us closer to one another for the glory of God.

As we light the second candle of the Advent may we be conscious of the fact that we need to mend the way to our heart for the coming of our Lord and saviour. Repentance is important at this time because the Lord cannot afford to be born in a sinful heart.

Happy Second Sunday of Advent and may your blessings increase.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GOSPEL OF SPIRITUAL VIGILANCE HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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Once upon a time a young man dozes off in a Church. He suddenly wakes up to hear the preacher say: “stand on your feet I will pray for you!” The young man jumps up only to discover that he is the only one standing and people started to look at him in a strange way. The preacher sees him standing and says “keep standing… I know there are still other people in this church, let me repeat, if you know that you are involved in ritual killing stand on your feet I will pray for you!”
In the Second Reading today (Romans 13:11-14a) St. Paul advises his audience in Rome and all of us that it is the hour to wake from sleep. He goes further to note that our salvation is nearer, the night is gone and the day is at hand. We can summarize this instruction with one word, vigilance.
To be vigilant means to be awake and alert to one’s immediate environment especially with regards to danger; this has to do with the physical space. The threats of terrorism have changed the human society in a very dramatic way. Around and in our airports, malls, and other public places security personnel are constantly on alert. In fact, everyone is advised to be vigilant in those locations because of a possible terror attack.
Another sense of the word is spiritual vigilance, and it means being at alert to spiritual values. We can understand this more if we read the First Letter of Peter (5:8) where he says: “Be calm but vigilant.” During the agony in the garden, our Lord says to Peter, James, and John: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt.26:41). In the Book of Revelation (3:2), one of the messages to the Church in Sardis says: ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and we have entered into a new liturgical semester; cycle A. The word Advent means “future coming.” The Advent Season is there a time we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in three centers of gravity.
• His coming at as a new born king at Christmas.
• His constant coming into our lives in particular through the word and the sacrament
• His final coming on the last day which according to St. Paul would be like the coming of a thief (1 Thess.5:2).
The Advent period this year begins with the clarion call on all of us to be vigilant; to be on alert. Being vigilant should be a significant part of our Christian life as soldiers (2 Tim.2:3-4). The need to be vigilant does not mean idly looking up to the skies. It is rather a form of vigilance that involves regenerating spiritual activities. In the Second Reading, St. Paul spells it out when he advises that we should “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” He is, in order words, telling us about the inner transformation we need which involves repentance and a decision to live a good life.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 24:37-44) our Lord Jesus Christ advances the instruction on spiritual vigilance. He begins by reinforcing the fact that His Second Coming will be eventful as the deluge during the time of Noah. If we cast our minds back to the time of Noah, we can recall that the people at that time did not pay attention to the instructions of God about the impending flood. They preferred to eat, drink and marry to any other thing. The question we could ask is “do we not have the same disposition in our day and age?
In our contemporary human society people prefer to listen to technology (the modern food, drink, and marriage) to listening to the word of God. As the people mocked Noah at that time, individuals in the contemporary age mock the good news through their apathy and preference to worldly pleasures. In fact, people are more vigilant about their bodies than their souls.
In the Gospel, our Lord notes that two individuals would be at different locations, but only one of each pair would survive the selection exercise. Those who would pass the screening exercise are only the vigilant; those who stay awake.
The Advent is a holy season. It is the time for spiritual vigilance. It is a time to wake up from our spiritual slumber and to cast off the works of darkness in our lives. St. Paul advises us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians to be sure not to fall asleep as others do but to keep awake and be sober (5:6).
May every day of this season of Advent be for you a great opportunity to be spiritually vigilant so that when the Lord comes He will find you properly armored with His light. May you be among the ones that will find favour at Lord’s coming.
Have a great Advent Season and may your blessings increase.
Fr. Bonnie.

CELEBRATING THE KING WHO DELIVERED US FROM THE KINGDOM OF DARKNESS! HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING Rev. Fr.Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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The 20th Century began with the geometric rise of secularism and inattention to divine power and authority. World leaders were exerting so much power, and influence around the world and people started to see them as unique and indispensable forces to reckon. The 20th century turned out to be the most violent ever in human history. It produced and groomed imperialism, authoritarianism, colonialism, terrorism, Wars, materialism, religious apathy and the institution of various new age movements that favored the human person as having absolute control over the universe.

Considering the growing mundanity in the world and the pitiable inattention to God’s omnipotence, Pope Pius XI, on December 11, 1925, promulgated the Feast of Christ the King in the Encyclical Quas Prima. Among other motivations for the promulgation the Pope notes:

…these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord.

The celebration of Christ our Lord as the Universal King brings us to the point of deep reflection and appreciation of God’s might and authority which surpasses those of humans. It is an invitation to us to know that no king nor kingdom can endure apart from the kingship and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate an unusual kingship that thrives on selfless service and exemplary humility. Most kings of this world were born in palaces adorned with precious ornaments but the king we are celebrating today was born among animals and in a manger (Luke 2:7). While the kings of this world lounge in cozy couches and sleep on adorable beds, Jesus Christ our Lord and King had nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58).  The kings of this world have subjects under their subjugated service, but our King came to serve his subjects (Matt.20:28).

The Second Reading today (Col.1:12-20) gives us a deeper idea of what our Lord and King accomplishes for us spiritually. According to St.Paul, God transferred us from the power (kingdom) of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sin.

This statement discloses the highest point of the saving grace of our King. In fact, we cannot call him our King without this deliverance from the kingdom of darkness and transference into his marvellous light. He accomplished this for us in humility and obedience to the will of God the Father (Phil. 2: 6-8).

St. Paul tells us that our Lord and King is the firstborn of all creation. This statement further means that he is before all things, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers are under him. It is for this reason that Zecharia (14:9) calls him the King of all the earth and Isaiah says that his kingship shall never end (9:7).

The executioners at Calvary did not understand the manner of King our Lord is. For this reason, they mockingly tell him to save himself as he saved others if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God, the King of the Jews. They were expecting an outward manifestation of power while he was spiritually delivering humanity from the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light. He achieves this through his suffering (Isaiah 53:3-7), death, and resurrection (1 Cor.15:20).

It will be fitting for us to be more personal at this point. Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe and the King of your life? We can give a suitable answer to this question only when we have figured out what or who is reigning in our lives.

In our world today, there are so many people who can do just anything to become wealthy, gain power or get some momentary satiation. Some of us have become slaves to the flesh, modern technology (social media), fellow human being and some habits. Are these ephemerals not kings and kingdoms in our lives? Check well before you proclaim Jesus the King of your life today!

As we match out today to proclaim Jesus as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, let us make sure that it is not merely a lip service (Matt. 15:8 see Isaiah 29:13). But a faith induced worship that would please him (John 4:24).

Have a great celebration of Christ the King and may he continue to reign in our lives throughout the coming week.

Fr. Bonnie

 

THE REAL END OF EVERYTHING! HOMILY FOR THE 33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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There is an interesting story by Ernest Hemingway with the title “The End of Something.” It tells the story of a very busy lumber town called Horton’s Bay. The town is always agog with activities from morning to evening as the timber mill site work non-stop. One fateful day, the owners of the factory decided to move all the machines and workers to a new location. Suddenly, the former busy landscape became ghostly and silent as all other activities come to a dead end. Consequently,  the town becomes deserted with no sign of the usual hustle and bustle.

 The story goes on to narrate how two young lovers come to the town but could not recognize it at all. Only litters of sawdust heaps are visible in the open ruin.  As they sail through the side of the lake facing Horton’s Bay in a boat, they recall with pity how it used to be a famous destination where daytime and night seamlessly interweaved.  Facing this ruination where nothing seems to be alive, the young man pauses and tells the lady that he wishes to end their relationship because he could not find any fun in it anymore. The message comes as a big disaster for the lady who was already feeling sad about the end of Horton’s Bay. But here they go; the end of Horton’s Bay and the end of a relationship she cherishes. Finally, everything ends!

There is a familiar adage that says, “everything that has a beginning will have an end.” There is a time to come and a time to go says the Preacher. There is a time to start and a time to end whether we want it or not. We can, therefore, say that nothing is permanent. It is only in God that this logic becomes lame because there is no demarcation between the beginning and the end in God. For this reason, the book of Revelation (1:8; 22:13) tells us that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Furthermore, in the prophecy of Malachi (3:6), He says “I am the Lord I do not change.” He is the same yesterday, today and forever( Heb.13:8).

Is this world going to end one day? The answer is YES. The end of time is one phenomenon that is unsettling for many people. Many people are so troubled by it that they become paranoid. Some time ago we examined a list of failed predictions about the end of the world, but we don’t want to bother ourselves with that today. The truth is that the world would end, but nobody knows exactly when that will happen. The world began from God and would end in God. Hence God is the real end just as He is the ideal beginning.  We ought to focus on God because the world belongs to Him and He alone would determine its end.

The first reading today from the prophecy of Malachi (4:1-2a)  gives us an intriguing picture of the end. We learn that the day will come blazing like an oven that will have double effects. On the one hand, it will be a total annihilation for the proud and evildoers, and on the other hand, it will be a glorious moment for those who fear the name of God. Upon them, the sun of justice will shine with its rays of healing.

From this narrative, we understand that there are two types of people; those who are proud and do evil and those who fear the name of God. Everyone will receive a reward by this distinction. God always shows His love and mercy to those who fear His name. “Fearing the name of God” is another way of saying that one obeys Him (Ex.1:17). On the other hand, God detests the proud and evildoers (Psalm 5:5)  because they do not obey Him.

 The Gospel Reading (Luke 21:5-19) presents us with a more fearful description of the end of the world. Some people were profanely admiring the temple and all the beautiful accessories. They could have been so indulgent with the external elements of the temple that our Lord could no longer ignore their mundanity. He calls their mind to order and instructs them thus:

 “All that you see here- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

This statement is a silent way of saying that there will be an end to everything including all the great and beautiful things of the world. The people expressed their amazement over what they considered impossible; that is the destruction of the temple. They then wanted to know the signs that will precede the end. At this point, our Lord gives another important instruction about deception:

“See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

In the next instruction, our Lord mentions that nations will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will also be earthquakes, famines, plagues and unusual sights from the sky. Furthermore, he mentions that all these will be preceded by persecutions, betrayals, and even subjection to death. The final instruction that will make sense to us says:

You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.

The fundamental truth from the First and Second Readings is that there will be an end of everything;  even the temple. Above that, there will be destruction and salvation of souls. Let us make a simple analysis of a classroom situation. A teacher says that she is going to set an examination which anyone who reads very well would pass. When one passes, the individual gets promotion to the next class, but anyone who fails repeats the class. In this situation what should be the concern of a typical student in that class; reading well? The approaching examination? Failure or Success? 

Most of us would agree that a serious student will be more concerned about reading well which will take care of the approaching examination and would ensure success. From the Christian life point of view, one could see that most people are worried about the end of the world instead of being concerned about living good Christian lives.

The above explains the instruction St. Paul gave the Thessalonians today in the Second Reading (2 Thess.3:7-12)  about those who conduct their lives idly in a disorderly way. Only those who live disorderly lives are afraid of the end because they do not have good works to show. Those who live improper lives are scared of the destruction that will follow the end of time.

The liturgy of today is not meant to make us fearful about the end which will come at God’s own time. It is rather an invitation to us to continue to live good lives and bear good fruits. It is an invitation to us to persevere no matter the situation that may be confronting us. It is an invitation to us to know that everything will end but something will remain; namely our souls. It is an invitation for us to be like the good student who is more concerned about reading well than the fear of the approaching examinations.

It will be pertinent to mention that there are many people in our world today who are making a claim:  “I am he!” just as our Lord Jesus Christ warned in the Gospel Reading today. It is also very pertinent to note that they are deceiving many people.  “I am he” does not just mean they would answer the name Jesus Christ; it also means that they would assume the position of the Savior by making people believe that they can do all things; give all solutions to all problems.

As we gradually move to the end of another liturgical semester, let us ask God to give us the grace to be more concerned about living good lives and producing more deserving fruits than looking for sign and wonders especially about the end. The real end of everything is in God, and if we remain in Him we shall be saved!

Have a great Sunday and a successful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

DYING TO LIVE! HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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On May 31, 2009, an Air France flight 447 nose-dived into the Atlantic Ocean killing all the 228 people on board. The ill-fated Airbus A330 left Rio de Janeiro by 7:29 pm on its way to Paris but was hit by a thunderstorm over the Atlantic while the chief pilot was having a nap. It was two years after the incidence that Marines found the debris of the plane.

According to the Vanity Fair magazine, the cockpit recording shows that there was last minute rumble in the cockpit as the chief pilot emerges from where he was taking a nap but late enough to undo what the junior pilot erroneous did to save the situation. Facing the icy ocean, one of the pilot exclaims: “F..k we ‘re dead!”  What a way and manner to die and with such a careless prefix!

Have you ever being to a morgue (or mortuary) before. I mean going into the facility where corpses have storage corners? A visit to a morgue could move a conscious mind to think deeper about the meaning of life and the reality of death. A visit to the morgue could prod us to question our daily struggle for survival and depth of the words of the Preacher’s poem on vanity (Ecclesiastes 4:4-8).

Today’s liturgy invites us to reflect on death which is a facility that is open to all of us. Beyond death, however, we are encouraged to focus on life after death.  The First Reading (2ND Mac.7:1-2.9-14), tells us about the devout and faithful Maccabean family. Seven brothers, with their mother, were arrested, tortured with whips and were compelled by a heathen king, under the threat of death, to violate God’s law by eating pork meat. They, however, would prefer to die to commit the abominable act. They disclosed their willingness to face death by their conviction about life after death. The following are some of the responses from four of them that support their faith in dying to live

  •  “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
  •  “You accursed fiend; you are depriving us of this present life, but the king of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for His laws we are dying.”
  • “It is from Heaven I received these (my tongue) for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him, I hope to receive them again.”
  • “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”

All the seven brothers and their mother chose to die in order to live instead of living to sin. Thus the summary of their submissions is: “we are ready to die because we shall live eternally.”

The Gospel Reading (Luke 20:27-38), tells us about a Sadducees who comes to Jesus Christ to ask a question about resurrection after death.  The Sadducees are opposed to the resurrection, and this Sadducee may have come with his members to make a mockery of the resurrection before Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and life (John 11:25). To strengthen his viewpoint, the Sadducee in question made use of a narrative that resembles the story of the seven brothers in the First Reading. In his incredible story, the seven brothers married a wife successively as each dies. He wants our Lord to declare whose wife the woman would be at the time of resurrection.

Looking at the instance and the question of the Sadducee one can see a very clear demonstration of ignorance. We may however not blame the Sadducees so much because their sect did not care to know the nature and manner of the resurrection. In fact, their concern is the affairs of the present life not about life after death; just like many still do today.

It is very instructive to discover that many people are afraid of death. This fear is unreasonable because it would never make it not to happen when it should. Dying well should be a primary concern for Christians not just death as a facility that is open to everyone. Dying well means dying in God or being at peace with God at the moment of one’s death. Furthermore, dying in God or being at peace with God at one’s death assures one of living after dying because there is life after death as well as death after death; the second death (Rev. 2:11).

We have all around us fashion houses, fast food outlets, big and small shops and malls, beauty houses and other places that provide daily needs. People move in and out of these locations to attend to the body that is subject to death at an undefined moment.However, we all can agree that the soul does not receive similar attention. We are often late to Church for Mass and other spiritual activities, and we are also often in haste to leave the Church because we don’t want our time to be wasted. By who? May be God, the giver of the time we don’t wish to waste.

When was the last time you had a good confession? When was the last time you received our Lord Jesus Christ in a most worthy manner in the Eucharist? Do you still have a functional bible and rosary? When was the last time you had a quite time with God? When was the last time you had a spiritual direction with a priest or one dedicated to the care of your soul?

We pay attention to the recommendation of doctors, physicians, pharmacists, technicians, cosmetologists, dieticians, physical trainers, academic professors and advisors, financial advisors, attorneys and so many others. But most of us find it unusual to get spiritual advising; often we think that it is for the sick, old and dying, but death does not always wait till we get ill or old.

Summarily, we give so much attention to our material needs and give less attention to our spiritual needs. The bitter truth is that our spiritual needs will finally emerge to be more important than our material needs; we cannot run away from that eternal truth after death.

One question that we must each ask ourselves today is: “What is it in this life that is worth dying for?”  Many people have gone to their graves for useless and base things in life. Many have died for the sake of one addiction and habit or another. Some have died out of unholy association and friendship, others for the love of money, and others still to be socially or politically relevant. It is not about dying; it is all about dying well; dying at peace with God. Often people tell you they are doing the wrong thing to avoid suffering. But my dear friend,  It is better to suffer here for a while than to suffer eternally in the hereafter!

Life is worthless without God (John 15:5). For us to find meaning in life, we must first of all find God (Matt.6:33). In some deep introspection, I have come to see that we have nothing at the end of the day. When we die, this body goes underground and decays; imagine what happened to those 288 aboard Air France. Our souls, which is the most important part of us would go back to God for direction as to where to spend eternity. On earth, our material possessions are taken up by family, friends or even people we never imagined.

 Friends, the ideal goal of our presence in this life is to gain eternity hereafter, and that should form our focus in the manner of the seven brothers in the First Reading. Missing heaven is the real death. We should, therefore, be ready to die for the sake of that eternal bliss. Like the second brother said, the King of the world will raise us up to live forever.

Many of us still live our lives as if there is no life after dying in the same manner as the Maccabean King, his subjects, and the Sadducees of Jesus’ time. We need to understand that we have but little time here on earth. The life we have today is a privilege and an opportunity for us to prepare ourselves for befitting eternity; that is the resurrection to life. The senseless pleasures of this world cannot secure eternal life for us. Why waste your life and your time on things that will finally diminish you instead of what will bring you to eternal glory?

We rely on the grace of God, as St. Paul prays in the Second Reading (2 Thess.2:16-3:5), for us to receive strength and encouragement in every good deed and word. It will surely be unprofitable for us lose our souls to damnation in hell after gaining the world (Mark 8:36). May we continue to make the right choices because they would determine our life after dying, or our death after dying.

May God direct you to chose to live after dying. Have a graceful Sunday and a blessed week!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

  

 

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

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

We were asked to move to one side and behind us were others who had not reached the threshold at all, and they have been invited to move to another side. After a while, one of the auxiliaries (prefects) pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter into the chapel since we were not as late as the lot behind us and that we had reached the threshold. With this, we went through the traditional kneeling down as was obtainable at the time. After that, those of us who had reached the threshold were asked to cross over and join the rest inside the chapel while those of us were not only denied access but were also severely punished.

Yesterday we were in a happy mood as we celebrated the joy of our many brothers and sisters who have gained entrance into the Kingdom of heaven. Today, on the other hand, we contemplate the fate and pray for those who like in my story have reached but not crossed the threshold.

Today, we are encouraged to pray for those who might be undergoing some forms of probation. Such people have been asked to stand aside. They are not with those inside neither are they pushed outside and denied access like those who were gravely late. They are like in a betwixt position though with much hope. Their hope is in our prayers: their brothers and sisters in the militant Church. Attentive to this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death, they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030).

Attentive to the above, we are called to bend our knees in utter supplication to God on their behalf. We are encouraged to continuously call on God to have mercy on them and admit them into his Kingdom. Hence like those of us who were at the threshold of the Chapel and who were mildly punished and allowed to cross based on the pleading of one of the prefects, these our brothers and sisters cannot help themselves. They can only be liberated on account of our fervent prayers and supplications since they still stand a chance to enter into bliss.

We know about a place of temporary punishment or purification based on the confirmation of the word of God. Purgatory as a word is not mentioned in the Bible as it is, but we have references pointing to its reality just like the word Bible is not see in any of the books in the bible. If we read the Second book of Maccabees (12:46), we will discover that it is a worthwhile thing to pray for the dead so that their souls will be released. Of course even in our secular parlance, we observe minutes of silence for the dead, and afterwards, we say: “Rest In Peace” (RIP). We cannot do these if we do not have hope for a better future or rest for them.

In the Gospel of  Matthew (12:32), our Lord Jesus said that anyone who sins against the Son of man would receive forgiveness, but anyone who sins against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come. By this statement our Lord made us understand that there is forgiveness after our life in this world. He did not mention what the world to come looks like but that definitely cannot be heaven nor hell because there can be no any forgiveness the two locations. So we are left with purgatory as the most likely place that could stand for it.

Another excellent Biblical reference can be found in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (3:15). It will be very pertinent if we quote this passage and I wish to do so using the King James Version for the benefit of everyone. It says:

If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he

Himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

St. Paul was saying that a man’s work will face judgement and he will suffer a loss on that account. But he will only be saved through fire. Now the Greek description of “suffer loss” is “zemiothesetai” and this comes from the root “Zemioo” which means punishment. (The same word we can see in Exodus 21:22; Proverbs 17:26 and Proverbs 19:19.)

From the passage above, we understand that a man’s work will undergo examination as with fire and on account of that he will receive punishment, and his salvation will still come but through that same burning by fire. It is like raw gold that can be refined only by passing it through fire.

Furthermore, in Revelation (21:27) we learn that nothing unclean can enter into the Kingdom of God; we can say that nothing raw, unrefined imperfect can come Into the Kingdom of Gog. So purgation or purification will be required for those who cannot be granted direct entrance on account of imperfection.

From our human evaluation perspective, there are various levels of offences. In the civil society, for example, a person who commits murder has committed a crime and someone who contravenes traffic rule also shall be guilty of an offence. But the same punishment cannot go for the two offences. St. John (1John 5:16) tells us about sins that lead to death and others that do not result in death. It is from here that we talk about mortal sins and venial sins.

We are greatly encouraged today to pray for our departed brethren as our prayers will assist as many as possible to be liberated from purgatory and be admitted into the Kingdom of God. Yes, they may be delayed but not denied or defeated.

May the Souls of the Faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace!

Fr. Bonnie.

LESSONS FROM THE CROWD AND THE SYCAMORE TREE. HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

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Have you ever encountered an overwhelming crowd? I mean a full crowd of people that could make movement very challenging. For individuals who are claustrophobic, being in a crowd can be devastating. Such an overwhelming and overpowering crowd was present on the streets of Rio De Janeiro on July 26, 2013, when Pope Francis visited Brazil during the world Youth Day celebration.

As the Pope rides through the street, he gets cheering accolades from the huge crowd. Meanwhile in the crowd, a nine years old boy, Nathan De Brito struggles to catch a glimpse of the Pope.He has to contend with so many “big people” in the crowd, but he did not give up because he didn’t see that as an option either. He weathers the odds and gets to a platform that gives him a better view of the historic event, but that was not the end of the story.

As the Popemobile approaches and cheers rent the air, our little friend made up his mind to break through the crowd and meet the Pope one-on-one! That is not going to be an easy one boy! With all the security and hurdles? Hell no! But Guess? He made it. He beat the security and from a vantage point he jumps onto the Pope who in turn catches him mid air. Clinging unto the Roman Pontiff with a passionate grip he tearfully tells him that he desires to be a priest of Christ, a representative of Christ. The Pope couldn’t stop tearing up. In response he tells Nathan he would pray for him and further says to him: “As for today, your vocation is set!”

Today, we are reflecting on a very familiar biblical story; the story of Zacchaeus and our Lord Jesus Christ. If we pay attention to the narrative very well, we can see some relationship it has with our opening story.Both Zacchaeus and Nathan have barriers on their way to their targets, and that is the crowd. Furthermore, both of them did not give up as they use various methods to get to their respective goals and both of them succeed in the long run. It is also important to note that their respective stories end well with uplifting statements. For Zacchaeus: “TODAY salvation has come to this house” and for Nathan “As for TODAY your vocation is set.”

Let us do a committed study and reflection on the Gospel Reading today (Luke 19:1-10). The narrative tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ continues to head to Jerusalem; this journey started from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.A considerably large crowd accompanies our Lord as he passes through the lively city of Jericho. Suddenly, a wealthy chief tax collector named Zacchaeus (“clean” or “pure” in Hebrew) emerges from his office. He notices the cheering crowd surrounding a figure he did not see very well because of his height. He becomes curious and instantly makes a decision to go closer and see him. It is possible that Zacchaeus have heard so much about our Lord Jesus Christ whose fame was spreading at that time. He could also have heard that one of his colleagues, Levi by name (Matt.9:9-13) had left their lucrative business to join the famous teacher. Zacchaeus earnestly wanted to get a real glimpse to feed his curiosity.

Zacchaeus steps out to see but the more he tries to see the more frustrated he becomes because of his height, and the overwhelming crowd. Like Nathan in our opening story, he refuses to give up and goes ahead to do something that takes the narrative to another level; namely, running ahead of the crowd and climbing to a Sycamore tree. Sycamore trees are known to be squatty in shape, easy to navigate and comfortable for sitting.

By climbing the Sycamore, Zacchaeus dropped his official status and position to catch a glimpse of our Lord. The act of climbing the Sycamore tree may appear childish, but in a sense, it is fitting as our Lord says that we have to become like little children to inherit the kingdom of God (Matt.18:3).

Arriving at the site of the Sycamore tree, our Lord Jesus Christ stops to have a life changing conversation with the occupant of the tree. Looking lovingly at Zacchaeus and admiring his unrelenting enthusiasm our Lord says to him:  “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” We can only imagine the overwhelming feeling of Zacchaeus. He was at the tree to see the passing Jesus, and the passing Jesus, in turn, comes searching for him, calls him by his name and goes further to invite himself to his house; this narrative is the only place our Lord took the initiative to ask for such a favor publicly.

Zacchaeus hurried down and brought our Lord Jesus Christ to his house. Our Lord could have gone to the house of  “righteous people” of the time including the Chief Priests, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and others. Instead, he goes to the house of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector and presumably a chief sinner since tax collectors are sinners by the standard of the time.

The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and his non-judging disposition brought transformation in the life of Zacchaeus. People were showing dissatisfaction about our Lord Jesus Christ’s decision to come to his house. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, accepts conversions and promises restitution for the financial damages he caused in the past. He further promises to divide his properties into two and give half to the poor. By these declarations, Zacchaeus becomes renewed, and he thus answered his name properly that is: “clean” or “pure.” By the words of his confessions and promises our Lord said: “today salvation has come to this house for this man too is a son of Abraham and the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost!”

We shall, at this juncture, be looking at three important elements from this narrative as helpful guides for better application and understanding.

  • The Shortness of Zacchaeus

The description made it clear to us that Zacchaeus was a short man. His little height further made it impossible for him to see our Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of the crowd. Perhaps if he were of average height, he would have muscled it out with the other people in the crowd.

It is very instructive to note that Zacchaeus realized the nature of his predicament, accepted it and went ahead to do something about it.Often some of us live and perish in senseless denial of our overt ill situations, and we end up making more disastrous mistakes.

Beyond the physical, Zacchaeus was spiritually short just like all of us. We become short when we live and breed in sin. We become short when the glory of God is no longer with us and for us (Romans 3:23). In our shortness, we become disconnected from God, and He becomes very far from us (Isaiah 59:2).

If we pay attention to the narrative very well, we will discover after Zacchaeus came down from the tree, the issue of his height did not come up again. The conversation that followed in his house did not have the least indication about a short man. We have here a clear indication that Christ clears all forms of shortness from us and gives us a dependable spiritual height.God has a way of bringing out great things from little things. The prophet Zacharia says that we should not neglect little things nor despise the day of small things (Zech.4:10). The little cry of a baby could touch the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex.2:6).

  • The Crowd

In the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, we often encounter various kinds of crowds. Often we hear about a great crowd following him in the Gospels.Most times a crowd is made up of an anonymous group without a defined direction. Sometimes a crowd could constitute a nuisance to some meaningful activities at other times the crowd could be a source of confusion or like in our context here, an obstacle. The woman with the issue of blood had to contend with the crowd (Luke 8:44). Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, also had a tough session with the crowd (Mark.10:46-52).

From the narrative, we learn that the crowd could not allow Zacchaeus to see Jesus Christ. But he did not give up! He refused to focus on the crowd but instead focused on seeing our Lord Jesus Christ. If we continue to pay attention to the crowd, we may run the risk of missing the mark. The crowd cannot lead you to God. The crowd will often discourage and even spite you.

Zacchaeus had to break our from the crowd to find meaning in life. He had to go ahead of the crowd to meet Christ. The crowd can be a disconcerting phenomenon, and we need to think outside and above the crowd. You cannot find salvation in the crowd but outside the crowd.

  • The Sycamore Tree

The Sycamore tree is essential in the entire narrative. In fact, without the Sycamore tree, the story would have ended with Zacchaeus getting frustrated and giving up. But the Sycamore tree brought the story to a grand ending. The Sycamore tree at the time of Jesus was a vital type of tree that served as shade and aesthetics. Here it represents a place of succor; in this context, we can call it a tree of faith, a tree of hope, a tree of divine assistance and a tree of salvation.

Climbing the Sycamore tree, Zacchaeus becomes taller than the crowd that previously blocked him. From the Sycamore tree, Zacchaeus could see Jesus Christ clearly, and Jesus could also see him and appreciate him. In fact, the Sycamore tree helps him to rise above the crowd as well as above all the obstacles on his way.

The Church is the new Sycamore tree with two principal branches namely the Word, and the Sacraments. From this tree, we can see and appreciate the beautiful words and saving works of Jesus Christ in the Word of God we hear. From this tree also our Lord Jesus Christ attends to us through the graces we receive from the Sacraments. The new Sycamore tree provides us with abundant saving graces. From the base, we receive the sacrament of initiation (baptism), and others follow accordingly.

The New Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus represents any thoughtful Christian that is on the journey of faith. You become an ideal Zacchaeus when you make a personal decision to go out from your comfort zone to encounter Jesus Christ. Ideally, most of us are dwarfs, (short men, and women), not physically but spiritually. Our spiritual dwarfism renders us incapable of seeing and encountering Christ personally and away from the crowd. Our dwarfism makes us helpless before the crowd.

As the new Zacchaeus’ there is a need for us to break away from our comfort zones and the crowd and run to the new Sycamore tree for a personal encounter with  Christ without whom our lives will turn into a crisis.You might be thinking that the crowd will not let you, you rather should believe like Nathan and Zacchaeus, that the crowd will not hinder you.You can indeed stand out of the crowd and turn the barrier into a banner of success. Moreso, our Lord Jesus Christ can stop his journey because of you, because you are also a child of faith; a descendant of Abraham. And when he passes through your life short things will begin to grow tall.

Have a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE PRAYER THAT PIERCES THE CLOUDS VS THE PRAYER THAT PIERCES THE PROUD! HOMILY FOR THE 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C).

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“Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend.” – John R.W. Stott.

Humility does not entail thinking less about ourselves; it is about realizing that we are nothing without God (John 15:5). Humility is not weakness; it is meekness. We admire humble people and even praise them, but we often have a hard time being humble ourselves because we don’t want to appear weak and defenseless. In line with this, Helen Nielsen says: “Humility is like underwear; essential but indecent if it shows.

Last Sunday saw us climbing the mountain of prayer and raising the staff of persistence. Today we are invited to adopt a humble disposition in our prayer beyond persistence. If you like, the liturgy of this Sunday is asking us to become humble supplicants. A prayer that lacks humility is not prayer at all.

The First Reading (Sirach 35:12-14; 16-18) can be called a poem on effective prayer. The writer gives us three just characters whose prayers attracts the attention of the just judge, namely God. We shall examine these for deeper understanding:

  • The Prayer of the defenceless: Here we see the poor, the widow and orphan. It may be tempting for us to assume that these are the physically poor, widows and orphans in our neighborhood. They could be! However, and more importantly these refer to those who make God their refuge and their strength; their present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1).
  • The Prayer of the diligent servant: The diligent servant is not necessarily an ordained minister but anyone who obeys God; someone who keeps God’s commandment without compromise. For instance, God calls Job his servant (Job 1:8; 2:3; 42:8). In the First Reading, today says that God willingly hears the prayer of the one that serves him; his petition reaches the heavens.
  • The Prayer of the humble: The humble represents those who put God first in all things. Those who recognize and depend on God in all things. We are told in the First Reading that the prayer of such people pierces the clouds. In the Book of Lamentations (3:44) we learn that God covers himself with a cloud that no prayer can pierce but here there is an exception; the prayer of the humble. Such people are unrelenting because they have God as their first, second and last choice.

The Gospel Reading (Luke 18:9-14) presents us with an interesting parable that tells us about the value of humility in contrast to self-righteousness and despising attitude borne out of pride. Two men go to the temple to pray; one is a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. These represent two extreme personalities as far as the context is concerned. We shall examine their individual characters and their personal dispositions to prayer.

The Prayer of the Pharisee:

In the context of the narrative, Pharisees are known to be upright people; “spotless and sinless.” In fact, they are called the “Separated Ones.” They are always praying at the designated times with their robes of distinction worn at all times to set them apart from others. They see themselves as “accomplished good and holy men” unlike the rest sinful humanity.

Entering the Temple, the Pharisee TAKES HIS POSITION;  this means that he has a designated place which is probably in front where everyone could see him. Next, he SPEAKES a PRAYER to HIMSELF; this means that he is so full of himself that he does not remember that God is the focus of prayer. He prays thus: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity- greedy, dishonest, adulterous- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income”.

The self-exaltation (not prayer) above shows the profound self-indulgence of the Pharisee. He starts with thanksgiving to God. Not for His goodness nor His love. But for the fact that he is not like the rest of men (who are sinful). He goes on to render an inventory that discredits and passes judgment on the tax collector while giving himself moral distinction. Using others as standards to measure one’s spiritual value is absurd. Our standard as Christians should be Christ himself. After his narcissistic babblings, the Pharisee goes home worse than he was before coming to the temple. He came with a presumed holiness and went back with a debunked holiness. He came with seeming justification and went back unjustified.

The Prayer of the tax collector.           

The tax man stands parallel to the “righteous” Pharisee both physically and morally. His is the wrong guy! The wicked and public sinner. He knows all these, and he does not disprove them. He comes into the Temple and takes a very lowly position, unlike the Pharisee. He does not look up to heaven but beats his chest in complete penitence. From his lowly position, he makes this short but profoundly transforming supplication: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

While the Pharisee says a self -exaltation prayer, the tax collector says a prayer of penitence. It is very probably that the tax collector entered the Temple before the Pharisee because the script of the Pharisee shows a reflection of the penitence of the tax collector. While the tax collector says: “mea culpa, mea culpa mea, maxima culpa!” (through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault) the Pharisee replies mockingly “tua culpa, tua culpa, tua maxima culpa!” (through your fault, through your fault, through your most grievous fault); perhaps pointing at him as he says that.

After making his supplication, our tax collector friend went home justified. Why? According to David, God does not spurn a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). He is the person that did pray between the two men. He came unworthy and went home worthy. He came with an unholy life and went back with a holy life. He came dissipated and goes home inspired. He came displaced and goes with a perfect placement. The prayer of the two men made two remarkable impacts, and we shall examine them in what follows.

  • The Prayer that Pierces The Proud.

The Pharisee’s “prayer” can be described as an abomination to God (Proverb 15:8). He comes before the righteous one to claim righteousness. Often we are like this Pharisee when we pray to impress and to show that we are better than others. Often we are like this Pharisee when we use prayer as a medium to express our selfish desires and to pass judgment on others.

I once read a joke about a couple who while praying uses quotations from the Bible to spite each other. All these are Pharisaic and unchristian. Such prayers end up piercing our perceived pride and claims instead of piercing the clouds. They are prayers said from the head and not from the heart.

Prayers said from the head are inspired by selfishness and pride. Pride is a vice that gives us a lot of spiritual limitations. St. John Vianney says that it is pride that prevents us from becoming saints. It closes the door of our heavenly home while opening the way to hell. God detests the proud of heart (Prov.6:16).

  • The Prayer that Pierces the Clouds.

“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” says the Apostle James (4:6). Humility is a golden virtue that quickens our connection with God. It is for this reason that the prayer of the humble pierces the cloud. Humility in prayers shows our dependence on God as we are nothing without Him (Phil. 4:13). It shows our love, faith, and trust in God. It takes humility to know God and to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The prayer that pierces the clouds is the prayer said with a humble heart, not with a proud head. St. Paul’s personal diary in the Second Reading (2 Timothy 4: 6-8; 16-18) tells us a lot about the gains of humble submission to God. He writes from the point of being sacrificed yet he is sure that God will rescue him from every evil and save him for his heavenly kingdom. The apostle Paul radiates humility in his ministry:

  • “I am the least of the apostles.” – 1 Cor.15:9.
  • “I am the very least of all the saints.” – Eph.3:8.
  • “I am the foremost sinner.”- 1 Tim.1:15.

 

Are you Piercing the Clouds with your Prayer?

In our day and age, we have more “Pharisees” (self-righteous people) than the time of Jesus Christ. Do we not have people condemning others as sinners and promising them hell fire?  In fact, the Pharisaic syndrome is more obtrusive with the proliferation of Churches with so many self-made “men of God” than ever. Many people have become God’s deputies on earth tagging those who will enjoy heaven and those who will perish in hell fire. Judgment is an exclusive reserve for God; many seem to forget. That you sin differently than other people does not make you better than them.

We need to be humble in our prayers if we mean to pierce the clouds. Humility is a virtue we need to cultivate and wear as a habit. Our lofty self-perception is often an opposition to the virtue of humility in our lives. Pride and excessive self-consciousness often make it difficult for some people to obey certain gestures in the Church, like kneeling, standing, the sign of the cross and others. Most of us are often proud to display our technological devices but lack the humility to hold the bible or rosary; even to own one.

As we continue our spiritual journey in life, let us adopt the virtue of humility in prayer. The Apostle Peter (1 Pet. 5:6), enjoins us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that he may exalt us in due time. Our Lord Jesus Christ ended the Gospel Reading today by saying that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted!

Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

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