REV. FR. BONNIE ANUSIEM Ph.D
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the outstanding Marian Solemnities (with Mary, Mother of God: January 1, Annunciation of the Lord: March 25,
and Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: December 8). The Assumption is at the same time a dogma of faith proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentisimus Deus of November 1, 1950. The dogma declaration runs thus:
The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
This remains a solemn dogma which is to be accepted on the platform of faith and as a consequent culmination of various divine messages in the Bible concerning Mary, which includes but not restricted to the message of the angel at God’s instance: “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you”. If the blessed Mother of God was conceived without sin (Immaculate Conception) there is logic, reason, and faith to hold that she was preserved from bodily corruption at the end of her earthly life.
The glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven did not happen by her own power. She had no power of her own to undertake such mysterious flight into heaven. It is purely the grace of God working in her. It is based upon this that we differentiate the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven (which is by his own divine power) and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which took place through the power of God).
There are no direct biblical references narrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, but there are strong biblical pointers as well as other events with inferential relationships.
As we celebrate the Assumption, let us know also that our lives need to be assumed into holiness. We need to reflect in our lives what characterized the Mother of our Lord, and who is our own Mother also.
Have a great day and happy Solemnity.
SURRENDERING TO THE BREAD OF LIFE: HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
I love to eat bread and I believe most people do too. Bread is actually among the commonest and most available snack in the world. Bread is thus a very flourishing commodity that cuts across the continents of the world. The Russians have their black (sweet) bread, in Italy they have the dry bread at every meal, and in France there is the brioche which is the sweet yeasted bread. In Germany they have the white bread. Americans have varieties of the product and in Nigeria we have so many types of bread from the most affordable Agege bread to the highly priced wheat, cake, fruit, and white bread. It could be said that around the world, a day is incomplete without a piece of bread. Of course we know that one of the immediate causes of the French Revolution was that the peasants had no bread to eat. In the entire Bible, bread is mentioned about 450 times.
In the first reading of today (1 Kings 19:4-8), we are presented with what happened to Elijah after his smashing victory over the prophets of baal at Mount Carmel. Jezebel the wicked wife of Ahab came after his life and he fled. However he got tired and weak on his way. In his desperation and fatigue under a shade he declared: “it is too much, Lord. Take away my life; I might as well be dead!” However while he was asleep God sent an angel to wake him up and invite him for a meal of bread and water. This was repeated twice and thereafter he got the strength that enabled him to undertake forty days and forty nights journey to encounter God at Mount Horeb.
In the gospel reading today (John 6:41-51) our Lord Jesus Christ continued his interlocution with the Jews who were searching for him basically for the sake of bread. I believe that the bread he miraculously multiplied was so sweet and nourishing that the people ardently desired a repeat of that miracle. However they were to receive the shock of their lives. Jesus was ready to give them bread, but this time the living bread which came down from heaven, which is at the same time his flesh. The Jews were not ready to accept this at all and thus reminded him of his paternity and maternity which they were very familiar with and per adventure very ordinary to them. Jesus went on to reveal to them the connection which he shares with God the father and his readiness to give eternal life to all who comes to him. He further established that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven. The living bread that is far more satiating and life-giving than the manna their ancestors ate in the desert and had died thereafter. The living bread is his flesh and through it the world is given life.
From the episode connected with Elijah in the first reading we locate ourselves as pilgrims in life on our way to God. In our lives, we often experience trials like Elijah. Sometimes we are even down and hopeless. Often we wish we were dead than living with challenges. Sometime we are being pursued by some “Jezebels” in various forms and shapes. We face a lot of “Jezebels” in our families, places of work, in our studies, in our relationships, in our businesses and sundry. Jezebel here stands for challenges of life, it stands for obstacles and lacks in our lives. There are times we have “Jezebel” experiences that we believe that we cannot manage. In such situations, we should be confident on these: “God cares about us and He is ready to support us!” (Prov.3:5; Romans 8: 37-39; 1 Pet.5:7). God displayed His love for Elijah by providing bread for him which actually gave him the strength to walk the forty days journey to encounter Him at Mount Horeb.
Drawing a relational line from the experience of Elijah to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ today, we see ourselves as privileged; perhaps more privileged than Elijah. Elijah ate bread and water and was able to reach Mount Horeb from the strength he got from the meal. In our own context we are given the living bread, which is more powerful, more generative of eternal life than the bread Elijah took. We are also given the blood of Jesus Christ to drink which is thicker and more effectual than the water Elijah drank. Furthermore Elijah was led by the strength from the bread and water to Mount Horeb, but the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is meant to lead us not to any physical location on earth, but to eternal life with God in heaven.
Our Lord made it clear for us that we can only have life from the living bread. Yes! Though we may have reasons to eat different kinds of bread available in different shops and supermarkets around us, there is this bread that is fundamentally very important for our well being. Beyond taste, texture, hygiene, size, packaging is the living bread which came down from heaven. This is the body (and blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with his soul and divinity that contains all that we need in life. If a small flash drive or chip can have gigabyte capacity of up to 8, 16, 32, 64, what more of the living bread which is Jesus Christ himself. Surely in our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist we are sure to get uncountable gigabytes of blessings!
As you approach the living bread today at the table of the Holy Eucharist, you only need to believe and you will be given all you need to walk through life and overcome all the raging “Jezebels”. As you approach the bread that came down from haven you need to anchor your hope on his power to translate your fatigue into favour, your shame into fame, and your challenges into chances. As Elijah surrendered himself to God when His human power failed him, you need to surrender yourself to the living bread today. He says in Matthew (11:28) come to me all you who labour and are over burdened and I will give you rest.
You may like to sing along with me this song:
You are blessed always and happy Sunday.
Revolting against God and Searching for Jesus Christ: Homily for the eighteenth Sunday in ordinary time year (B). Rev. Fr. Boniface Anusiem Ph.D
Revolution is a well known phenomenon in our human society. It can be described as a turnaround against an existing structure which can be socio-political, economic, cultural or ideological. In recorded history we are aware of a good number of revolutions; in fact from 2380 BC to 2012 there were more than four hundred revolutions. The prominent among them were the French, American, English, Russian, Turkish, Chinese, Iranian and quiet recently Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian revolutions.
In every revolution, there is a significant general reaction from a group. In all the revolutions known in history one could see a minority or suffering group suddenly rising up to oppose the measures of the majority or draconian group. Though individually we could fall into religious dyslexia and begin to question God on certain experiences, but for a group of people, nay a race to decide to join their voices and hands to revolt against the God who had been superlatively kind is only known among the Israelites within the context of their journey to the Promised Land. In the first reading today we are presented with the story of the revolt of the Israelites against God through their murmuring against Moses and Aaron and essentially against God who sent them to them as messengers.
The people just left the land of Egypt, the land of slavery. It was not long they miraculously crossed over the Red Sea. On reaching the other side of the Red Sea, they started revolting as a people. They started murmuring because they were hungry. In their revolt, they wished they died in Egypt where they had meat to eat. A closer examination of the content of the people’s revolt showed how ungrateful they could be. Fifteen days after crossing the Red Sea they began to accuse God of planning to do away with them in the desert. Two weeks and one day after an amazing crossing over to the other side of life they wished that they were on the other side of slavery and death. After a fortnight the people of Israel imagined that God had abandoned them to perish. We are often like the Israelites; quick to forget the things God had done for us. Very prone to undermining God’s power and might during the desert experiences of our lives. Yes life is not all milk and honey. Actually before we get to the “milk and honey landscape” we may necessary pass through the desert of difficulties. The desert stands for the period of trials. The desert stands for the period of challenges.
In the gospel reading of today, we are presented with the aftermath of the multiplication of loaves. It is expected that those who participated in the meal from the five loaves of bread and two fish went home with joy and recounted the event to those who could not come. Based on this news so many people came and began the ultimate search for Jesus. I can imagine the desperation during the legendry search for the Lord. This search actually reminds me of the usual final lap of the Reality Show in Nigeria called Gulder Ultimate Search. In all the eight seasons one notices the anxiety and desperation that overwhelms the usually last two or three contestants who search frantically for the hidden treasure at a given location. The person who finds it wins!
For the searchers of Jesus in the gospel periscope of this Sunday one treasure is at stake and that is bread and perhaps fish. They were actually committed searchers. They saw his followers leaving with a boat but without him; however crossing over to the other side of the sea they saw Jesus and wondered how he crossed over. Unknown to them he walked on the sea, just like the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea (though on dry shod). Meeting the people the other side of the sea he was confronted with the statement that they had been on the lookout for him. Their motive for searching for him was not hidden from our Lord and he told them directly and bluntly that their frantic search is directly connected with the multiplication of bread he did and not faith in the miracle itself. Here (John 6:26) Jesus Christ made it clear that there is a distinction between the outcome of a miracle and why such a given miracle was performed. Let us attempt to understand why the miracle was done. Jesus Christ did not perform the miracle just for the sake of giving the people dinner; he actually established from the miracle that God cares comprehensively about us. He went on to tell them not to be bothered about perishable food, but about the one that gives eternal life and that is the one he (our Lord) gives. Furthermore they asked what they could do to do what God wants and Jesus asked to believe in the one he sent.
The people did not give up on the last statement of our Lord as they pressed further by asking Jesus for a miracle to convince them to believe in him. They quoted the miracle of the Manna in the first reading. In essence the people were insistent for another miracle of multiplication of bread. That was why they took the pain and risk to cross over the sea to Capernaum. Our Lord then turned their attention to another kind of bread which upon partaking in it they will not be hungry again. Instantly they opted for that “miracle bread”. Contrary to their expectation, Jesus told them that he is that bread, the bread of life. This discussion will continue in the coming Sunday on Jesus Christ as the Living Bread.
Today we concerned with the revolt against God and the search for Jesus Christ. An attentive reflection of these two activities connects us with a common factor that explains why the people revolted against God in the first reading and the ultimate search for Jesus Christ in the gospel reading. This factor is simply the satisfaction of physical hunger with food (be it in form of bread, meat or fish). This is the same situation with most of us. When we are faced with some identifiable lacks in our lives, we tend to put God on the hot seat to provide answers why things should not be excellent for us. But when we get superlative or good times we tend to forget that God even exists.
On the other hand most of us join the band wagon to and fro the Church on Sundays and other days, but the question is “ for what specific motive?”. It is not uncommon that most of us butterfly from one church to the other, from one religious house to another in search of miracles. Some people are fundamentally attracted to those worship centres where it is perceived that there is someone (a man or a woman) who sees vision and can perform wonders. This is not actually the essence of our Christian vocation. The great miracle is that you know God; the greater miracle is that you worship Him, love him as well as others and the greatest miracle is that you finally succeed to be with him in heaven. If we understand these very well there will not be need for us to revolt nor search for Jesus because of perishable things but for values that are eternal (Matt. 6:33).
Have a wonderful Sunday and indeed a graceful Month of August.
JESUS THE SHARER: HOMILY FOR THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR (B)
BY REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PH.D
The word sharer reminds me of my junior and senior Seminary days. During meals someone from each table was expected to pick the pot of food from the pantry and then share out to the members of his table. This exercise actually calls for caution, right thinking and equity. This is because the sharer may fall into the table fallacy of partial or biased sharing or worst still starving someone out rightly. Actually to starve someone from a higher class to that of the sharer is an offense with multiple consequences.
Beyond food sharer in the Seminary, it is a good and worthwhile thing to share with others, especially what one possesses. There are many things we can obviously share with others; they could be tangible or physical (like materials things), they could also be intangible (like moral and spiritual support).
Today our Lord Jesus Christ is presented to us as a sharer; in fact he is the ideal sharer, the sharer per excellence. Sharing summarizes why he came into our context. He came to share not only the word of God with us, but also his total self: “body, blood, soul and divinity”. Last Sunday we were told that our Lord upon seeing the devastated crowd who came in search of him, set out immediately to share the word of God with them and he did this at length because he taught them many things (Mark 6:34).
The gospel today from John (6:1-5) is actually a continuation of the event of last Sunday. At the end of his sermon it was late and the people were clearly famished from the long trek in search of him as well as the long but interesting sermon on many things. The session over, the apostles were eager to send the people away so that they could actually get a rest. Remember they were still to get rest after their apostolic work last Sunday. They were not done yet with work; Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed the multitude. After the feeding with word of God, Jesus is now extending his care from the soul to the body. This tells us that God has comprehensive care over us. Remember His words in Psalm 27:10.
The request made by Jesus to Philip in view of buying bread was like a difficult and unrealizable task. This reminds us of his question earlier in the crowd: “who touched my clothes” (Mark 5: 30). Philip gave a very straight and simple answer it is impossible to get such supply above all we don’t have such amount in the purse. Philip here sounded like the financial secretary, we know that Judas kept the money anyway. However Jesus was trying to find out what Philip would say because he already knew what he would do. Often when faced with some situations in life, we behave like Philip. We say it is not possible, we claim and assume that nothing can be done about the situation. Philip actually represents most of us who cannot see beyond what human power and resources can do. We often like Philip see fear where we ought to see faith.
But in all these Jesus knew exactly what to do. In your life God knows exactly what to do. In your challenges and hazels, God knows exactly what to do. Philip thought that money can answer and address the situation, but this happened to fall beyond the region of finance to the region of faith. It was at this point that we saw a flicker of faith coming from Andrew. He said that he could see a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish, but that will not be enough for the crowd.
I am particularly moved by Andrew’s statement. Andrew stands for hope, Andrew stands for optimism, Andrew stands for positive challenge unto God. Andrew understood the fact that God needs something from you before He came bring about multiplication. Something has to go forth before something comes forth. If you search the bible very well you will understand this underlying principle. You must bring something before you can get a whole lot. In Exodus Moses and Aaron had to bring something (their staff) for miracles to happen (Ex.4:3-4; 7:9,19;). In 1st Kings (17:12) the widow had to bring her last oil and flour before she got the miracle of abundance. In 2nd Kings (4:2) the widow had to bring her last oil before she got the amazing “oil well” in her room. In the First reading today too (2nd Kings 4:42-44) the servants of Elisha had to bring some bread which he multiplied. Often times we come with nothing while asking God to grant us increase. You sure must bring something no matter how small it may be. Jesus had challenged us in Mark (11:22) that no matter how small our faith could be, it is capable of moving mountains.
I am moved also by Andrew as an INTRODUCER. That was his function throughout the gospel. He introduced Simon Peter to Jesus from the gospel account of John of their call to become apostles (Jn.1:40-42). When some Greeks came to look for Jesus he was the one that took them to the Lord (Jn.12: 20-22). He did also introduce the good news to the people of Asia Minor and Greece and was martyred at Patras in Achea in Greece. Like Andrew we are called by virtue of our baptism to become introducers of the good news to people. We are called to see and introduce good things to others and not bad things. We know John to be the one always staying close to the heart of the Lord but I believe that Andrew knew more what was inside that heart.
Back to the situation, Andrew practically challenged the Lord to multiply the five loaves and two fish; a small boy’s lunch (may be for him and his siblings or may be what he came to sell at the “religious rally”). One striking thing was that the boy agreed to let go the five loaves of bread and two fish. He was extremely altruistic and charitable. I wonder what was going on in his mind as he was giving out all he had. How needful it is for us to let go especially when we genuinely have and there is legitimate need. Yes, Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread and the two fish, but this could only happen with the disposition and good will of a small boy who was willing to give. The miracle was performed by Jesus Christ but it was made readily possible by the small boy. From the five loaves of bread and two fish a great multitude was able to have dinner. From the benevolence of a small boy a great crowd went home satisfied. Sometime ago in a Children mass while reflecting on this passage a child asked me: “Fr! What happened to the remaining twelve baskets”. My answer was spontaneous: “they were given to the small boy and his family”. Though we were not told who took the remaining basket, but it is reasonable enough to establish that the small boy was given the remaining basket or shared them with the apostles who still had not eaten because they were busy sharing.
Sharing is an expression of Love. When we hear that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26 ), we are simply being told that God gave us a share of His being. When we hear that God loved the world so much that he gave his son for our salvation, we are being told that God shared that which is so precious with us. The kingdom of God is where we can be through an attitude of sharing. Jesus shared the word of God, he shared bread and finally shared his life so that we can live not just now but forever. If Jesus Christ is a sharer of the things listed above and we are his followers, it follows then that we should be sharers of his word, sharers of his life, sharers of our blessings and material possessions.
According to the Millennium Development Goals annual report more than 850 million people go to bed every day without food and a child dies of hunger every 3 seconds around the world. The question is this: “don’t we have food to share?” Obviously there are many people out there who have so much to throw away and on the other hand there are so many others you have nothing to eat. Our refuge collection points boasts of loads of discarded food items and other commodities while so many stomachs are starving. There is call on us today to reproduce the caring and sharing Jesus and the small boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. There is a clarion on us to reflect the faith and optimism of Andrew while eschewing the “impossibility state-of-mind of Philip. Our world can be a better place we decide to share
An excellent Apostolic Work Report: Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (B). By Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D
The Seminary formation is structured in such a way that Seminarians are obligated to go on apostolic work at the end of every formation year. This I believe is structured after the mission of the apostles we saw last Sunday under the direction of our Lord Jesus Christ. Apostolic work for seminarians is usually an experience that has a lot to do with the future of their vocation to the priesthood. Often some Seminarians lose their respective vocations to the priesthood after an apostolic work experience; this is often based on the nature of their apostolic work reports.
Today we are presented with an episode which can best be described as representing the report the apostles got after their apostolic work in various towns and villages. From the gospel periscope we are told that the apostles returning from their apostolic work gathered around Jesus and gave reports on what they did and taught. Analyzing their report our Lord saw how hard they worked and recommended REST for them at a location that is DESERTED because MANY PEOPLE were coming and going that they had NO TIME TO EAT. Consequent upon this recommendation they left to a lonely destination by boat but the people got there before them on foot. When they arrived there Jesus saw the crowd waiting and he had COMPASSION on them because they were like SHEEP without a SHEPHERD. Based on this knowledge he TAUGHT them MANY THINGS.
Last two Sundays we were presented with the PERSON of the messenger of God if you like the prophet that is not accepted by his own people. Last Sunday we reflected on the nature, character and content of the mission of the ONE SENT. Today we are presented with the outcome of the mission or the ideal apostolic work report. It is courteous and needful for any messenger to bring back some reports that could be positive or negative. In the case of the apostles from the gospel periscope we can infer that they had a successful mission. This could be deduced from the fact that Jesus Christ asked them to take a REST after a well attended task. Furthermore people followed them from the towns and villages they visited; an indication that they touched lives and got followership. We can imagine them quoting Jesus Christ and the things he had done and that made the people to follow them so that they can have a personal encounter with Jesus. We can imagine them leading the people to new and interesting way of life which they desire to stay with for the rest of their lives. We can also imagine the people coming with more questions, sicknesses, challenges, worries and so on. We can imagine a crowd in search of answers to some questions of varying shapes and sizes. All these actually came back to the one who sent them namely Jesus Christ.
The apostles got excellent report from their mission because they were attentive to the instructions of last Sunday: “Take nothing for the journey”. There was no need for them to take ANYTHING (material) because they had EVERYTHING (God). Their detachment from material things and attachment to God brought about the success of their mission. They were attentive to the words of the Lord and the result was a harvest of souls now in search of the Lord of the harvest. The apostles went to preach the message of Jesus Christ and the people responded by searching for Jesus Christ. Think of someone you have been hearing about from someone else and one day you had the opportunity of meeting the person. You will be like “waoo I have heard so much about you!”
From the gospel periscope we are made to understand that the end of an apostolic work actually marks the beginning of another tasking one. That was why on their return the apostle could not get a rest because the reward for their hard work became more work. This actually resonates with the words of our Lord: “My Father is always at work so do I” (John 5:17; see also John 9:4 and 4:34). This is an important element in the work of a priest as Fulton J. Sheen established in his book: “the Priest is not his own”. This is as relevant as the experience of the apostles. A soldier does not go to sleep when there is still war to be fought. When the war is over, he could then take a rest.
The encounter Jesus had with the crowd at the other side leaves us with so much to ponder. We are told that the crowd guessed their destination when they left by boat and went ahead of them. Obviously the crowd had at this time became a nuisance but our Lord did not see them that way. He looked beyond the awkward close marking and saw people who had been at the cross road of life. People faced with innumerable spiritual challenges, people who are unable to chart the course of their lives, people who need answers to their prayers. In the event of seeing them our Lord could not but have compassion on them. This is an indication for us that God is not only aware of our pains and challenges; He is also compassionate with us in our struggles and confusions. Psalm 103:8ff tells us that the Lord is compassionate and love and does not deal with us in anger in proportion to our offences. Jesus did not judge and condemn them, but had pity and gave them the good news. He did not unleash aggression on them but showered them with parallel love which even graduated to giving them lunch thereafter.
Yes the people where like sheep without a shepherd. One is moved to ask where those in charge of their spiritual lives were. In few words where have their shepherds gone to? This quickly calls to mind what we saw in the first reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah. We are told that the Shepherds have caused the people to be destroyed and scattered on account of their negligence (Jeremiah 23:1ff). The approach of Jesus to the crowd confirms his position as the good Shepherd who cares for and nourishes the flock (Ezekiel 34:15). If you read the episode of Jesus’ encounter with the crowd alongside with Psalm 23 you will see and appreciate the care we receive from God.
Today we are challenged at various points. How do we carry out our apostolic work as baptized Christians who share in the priestly ministry of Jesus and as ordained ministers who have it as a sacred duty? Do we like the apostles make spiritual returns of souls or do we measure our success based on the material fall outs of our ministry. Do we eat or tend the sheep under our care? Do we undertake the “extra-mile” ministry? By this I mean leaving our things to attend to others even at those times we consider private? Like Jesus do we see the need in the lives of the flock or do we only feel the disturbance? Like the crowd are we still in search of Jesus; taking the pain to over to the other side to wait for him. Those who search for the Lord will find him (Isaiah 55:6) and those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).
Have a happy Sunday and a wonderful week ahead!
CHALLENGES AND CHANCES OF THE PROPHETIC VOCATION: HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)- REV. FR. BONNIE ANUSIEM PH.D
From a very tender age as junior seminarian, I became accustomed to the saying: “Many are called but few are chosen”. Back then I wondered in my little mind if I will be among those that will be chosen. Then I will start counting the big boys in my class as those who will be chosen first because of their sizes. I would often tell myself that I had to buckle up and grow fast (I was small then) to be among the “big ones” to be chosen. It was later that I learnt that it was not all about size or even personal effort; but the grace of God understandable as unmerited favour.
Today we have interesting prophetic episodes both in the first reading and in the gospel. In the first reading from the prophecy of Amos, we are presented with the verbal attack on Amos by the priest at Bethel called Amaziah. Amos’ oracle indicated an impending disaster that will befall the King and the people in form of exile due to their dissociation from God. Amaziah who was more of a political priest accosted the prophet Amos and asked him to leave the land of Israel to Judah and earn his bread as a prophet there.
From the scenario it is clear to us that religion at that moment was a commercially political. Amaziah’s position as the (chief) priest at Bethel could have been at the instance of the political scheme of king Jeroboam who must have brought in people who will tell him what he wants to hear. One can then imagine what the prophecy of Amos portends. From Amaziah we understand that Bethel (house of God; the site of Jacob’s dream (Gen.28:18-19)) was now seen as royal sanctuary and national temple. The people at the time were seeing the worship of God as a mere religious observance not as a spiritual activity. There is a difference between religious observance and spiritual practice. It is in this sense that one can be religious without being spiritual. Religious observance includes, though not restricted to conventions like strict attention to time, context, rubrics, and other religious rituals that are external to the religion in question. On the other hand worship as a spiritual activity has to do with an inner disposition which connects the worshipper with the object of worship (Jn. 4:24). In spiritual worship of God we talk about faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13; Heb.11:6).
Israel during the time of Jeroboam and Amaziah was deeply concerned with religious observances and not spiritual practice of their religion. Their worship was based on the external ritual obligations without a corresponding internal spiritual interface. Worship for them was at the service of royalty not divinity. It was more of a national affair than personal commitment. This is still very valid in our contemporary human society where people go to Church because it is Sunday and they have to carry out that religious obligation. People go to Church because others are going; some go to Church because they don’t want to be alone in the house. The question is how many are motivated by faith, love and their hope in God?
From the point of view of Amaziah the priest the prophetic ministry ought to be a commercial activity. That was why he asked Amos to leave the land of Israel to Judah and earn his living as a prophet from that region. From the words of Amaziah, he was not concerned about the prophetic message. He was more concerned about how Amos and his message would affect his business in Bethel. We see this happening in or day with so much commercialization going on with the message of God. People are asked to pay consultation fee before they could see a man of God. They are still required to pay sometimes heavily before they can be prayed for. These are the Amaziahs of our time. And they can go to any length to fight a perceived competitor or rival. Amos was of a different stock. He was called from the work of shepherding to become a mouthpiece of God. He had the mission of delivering the word of God as it is.
In the gospel today, Jesus SUMMONED the Twelve and began to send them out in PAIRS. He gave them AUTHORITY over unclean spirits. He further instructed them to take NOTHING for the journey except a STAFF, no BREAD, no HAVERSACK. They were to wear SANDALS but no spare TUNIC. They should stay wherever they are welcomed. They should preach REPENTANCE, cast out devils and anoint the SICK.
Before going into the explications I wish to call back what happened to me as a seminarian; I true confession really. I was posted on apostolic work to a certain popular town. My mates congratulated me on what everyone perceived to be a good posting. I was convinced that I was going to have a good time so I got a big bag and packed all the things I felt I would need: electric iron, electric boiler, clippers, a transistor radio and other things. After packing, I had a big bag and another hand luggage. On reaching the parish I met other seminarians posted to the same parish, we were five in number. I also saw people from the out stations that came along to pick us. Some of them came with cars, others with motorcycles and one person with a bicycle. The Parish priest wanted to be fair enough so he asked us to pick from folded papers where each will be going. I was the last to pick and opening the paper I saw myself picking the least out station and being carried by the man with the bicycle to a remote village without signs of civilization. Consequently my electrical and electronic appliances became useless. They actually occupied spaces for nothing.
Let us go back to the gospel. We are told that Jesus SUMMONED the Twelve. This means that he called them out from the rest of the disciples for a brief apostolic work. They were chosen from the lot to set afire what they had learned from the master so far. It is actually the Lord who calls, he also chooses. The letter to the Hebrew says that no one takes the honour upon oneself each is called as Aaron was called ( Heb.5:4). From our contemporary day and age we experience a situation wherein we make a harvest of apostles, pastors, evangelists, prophets, prophetesses etc. We see such people claiming to have heard God calling and sending them to some mission. Of course for most people like Amaziah it is all about earning bread!
The Lord sent them out in PAIRS. This has a physical and spiritual denotation. Physically there is need for fellowship in the ministry. This later turned into the concept of community in the early Church. Spiritually it assures us of God’s abiding presence; hence we are not alone. Our Lord did say when two or more are gathered in my name, I am in their midst (Matt. 18:20 ).They were given AUTHORITY not just power. Authority is not something that anybody can get anyhow. People acquire powers in various ways but authority is far-fetched. Powers fail and fade but authority subsists and even survives one who holds it for instance the authority of the papacy. A further instruction was for them to take a Staff which ascertains the fact that they have authority given to them.
They were asked to take NOTHING for the journey! Why? The simple answer is that they have EVERYTHING. Yes whoever has God has everything. God is not only their provider He is also their provision. God will definitely orchestrate assistance for them wherever they go often God plants Samaritans for us in the various routes we go. We remember that God asked ravens to feed Elijah during the famine in the land of Israel (1ST king 17:4). For the journey they were asked to wear Sandals. This needs to be understood as standing for the spreading goodnews of peace (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15 & Eph.6:15). Furthermore they were asked not to be moving around in search of comfort. This means that they should accept any situation that presents itself as part of their mission. This has been overlooked in our day wherein some people are looking for financially greener pastures overlooking the spiritually needful pastures.
Finally they were asked to preach REPENTANCE. Repentance here entails denouncing evil and sin and accepting God. Accepting God also entails knowing Him. This knowledge leads us to faith, love and hope. In our day the preaching is overly based on prosperity. Some preachers paint the picture of a world without the poor or needy. A world where you get whatever you want and anytime; indeed an Eldorado! Our Lord actually said that the poor will be with us always.
Today we are called upon receive the word of truth in our lives and not to replicate Amaziah. We are called upon to worship God in spirit and not like a mere religious obligation. We are called upon to reflect the missionary script given by our Lord Jesus to the apostles. Among other things we should know that if God has called, chosen and sent us, He will also provide for us. Thus there will be no need for struggling over material remunerations; they are distractions from the main purpose of our ministry as ordained priests and our vocation generally as Christians. There is also need to fight the Amaziah in us. This Amaziah comes in various shapes and shades. It stands for jealousy which is one of the viral attacks we face in our vocation. We should recognize that we are differently gifted and appreciate and encourage one another. Amaziah also stands for materialism that is rocking the foundation of our ministry.
Have a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
FAMILIARITY VS FAITH PRACTICE: HOMILY FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDIANRY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
BY REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM Ph.D
To be familiar with somebody or something is to have a good knowledge or encounter with the person or thing; it can further entail being informally friendly with the person or thing in question. This is the kind of connection we have with our families, relations, friends, colleagues, mates and our living spaces. Another way of understanding familiarity is to say that we are conversant with somebody or something. While it is advisable to be familiar with persons and things, there is always the danger of our familiarity blocking us from perceiving essential values.
The gospel of toady fits into the explanation above. Our Lord Jesus Christ began his ministry outside his local community Nazareth before making the historic pastoral visit (See Luke 4:23). A little more on this town will be helpful in our explication of the gospel of today. The Name Nazareth has more than one denotation. The most common understands it as meaning branch or shoot. From the Jewish map it lies at the northern end of Israel. At the time of Jesus, it had low estimation among the people. Nathaniel made us know the common saying of the time (Jn 1:46): “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It could be that it was then a place for the desperately poor, antagonistic and even violent people as we can see in Luke (4:29) where they attempted to murder Jesus Christ. We can imagine any town around us that has a never-do-well character attached to it; that was the nature and character of Nazareth at the time.
Jesus left Nazareth for more than one month. He left as a carpenter; he left as the son of a lowly woman called Mary. He left as a common Nazarene who was very much like other inhabitants of the town facing the same socio-economic challenges. However after the forty days retreat in the wilderness, Jesus came to Nazareth no longer as a mere citizen of the town, but as the messiah with power and authority. He came to the familiar ground with quite unfamiliar arsenals. He came not as a wood carpenter, but as a spiritual carpenter; he did not come to repair broken tables, chairs and farm implements, he rather came to repair the lives of the people. He came as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel (in the first reading) which promises the sending of a prophet among the rebels who turned against God. He came not only as Jesus (a common name at the time), but also as the Christ (the anointed one, a name that is peculiar). Our Lord visited not as a member of the community but as its master, teacher and Lord.
Our Lord visited on a Sabbath day. He entered the Synagogue and began to teach. In Luke’s gospel we are told that he stood up to read and they gave him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he read the prophecy of Isaiah (61: 1ff). Now why did they give him the scroll to read since they did not see him go through any rabbinical school or saw him understudy any teacher? This tells us more about how mischievous the people were. They actually gave him the scroll thinking that he will be unable to read and consequently he will not give any meaningful explanation; hence they were prepared to ridicule him with laughter. But to their amazement and chagrin he not only read the passage well, he went further to explain and interpret the passage in a very challenging way. You can now understand why they had to flash back to the familiar platforms they knew him with. They reminded themselves that he was the carpenter who operated from their neighbourhood (carpenters do not have knowledge beyond hammers and nails), they remembered his poor mother who was not among the women of substance of the time. They knew his cousins or playmates (referred to as his brothers and sisters) who were no more than common folks around. Searching through his maternity, paternity and relationships they could not understand how he got his wisdom and knowledge. We may not really blame them so much because they could only operate from the limits of their knowledge and insight. The people of Nazareth could not also accept the fact that their town is capable of offering something good. They already accepted the common opinion that nothing good can come from among them. Often in life we get what we believe in. The passage ended with Jesus’ amazement at their lack of faith in him. It was upon this that he announced that prophets are worthless among their own people. Because of their lack of faith he could only cure few sick people.
When we get so familiar with people and things, we tend to undermine their fecund and actual propensities. Some parents still do not believe that there children have grown and could cater for themselves. Most great men and women we know in our local and international history as shakers and movers in various fields were not really valued by people very close to them. There may not be need to mention names. I had an experience visiting a certain town in the southwest of Nigeria. As I was in the taxi that took me to the parish of the priest I was visiting, I saw the magnificent house of a known figure in Nigerian history. I was overwhelmed and excited. But the taxi driver who happened to be from the town was unexcited as he managed to answer some of my questions regarding the late legend. I was curious to know why he was not connecting with the story of the man and he bluntly told me that the people of the town disliked the man. He went further to say that the man in question took all their lands to erect plantations for himself and only employed the people to work as slaves for him. I was touched by his details and I wondered how such a man who was in the forefront of Nigerian independence and actually brought the west to lime light could be disliked with such passion; it is all about familiarity.
The rejection of Jesus today at his home town shows us the tension between familiarity and our faith practice. The rejection of Jesus has continued in our day and age though occurring in different ways. We have grown too familiar with the house of God (the church building) that we often fail to remember that it is the house of God. Some of us have grown so familiar with the church that we don’t mind making noise and chatting while the liturgy is going on. We have become so conversant with the church that we don’t mind making and receiving calls, sending and receiving text messages while the Holy Eucharist is being celebrated. Some questions need to be answered: “Do we receive the Holy Eucharist as a faith practice or as a mere familiar practice?” “Do we approach the sacrament of penance as a faith practice of as a conventionally familiar practice?” Do we connect to the word of God in faith or as a normal routine?”
We need to underline the fact that our Lord was unable to do more works in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. The same experience is valid in our day and age. Jesus is ready to do more for you but the quality of your faith can make him do less or none at all. There is need for us to move away from Nazareth. Nazareth here stands for doubt and faithlessness in God which gives rise to rejection of Jesus Christ. Nazareth here also stands for our inattention to God’s unlimited power in any circumstance in our lives. In Nazareth we will fail to see beyond the physical familiar grounds, in Nazareth we can only see Jesus as the mere carpenter of woods and not the spiritual carpenter of our souls. The Nazareth in your life may be as mind boggling and as weakening as the cross of St. Paul in the second reading of today. Like unto St. Paul God is telling us that His grace will be sufficient to lead us out of that Nazareth.
Have a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.