The foreign embassies in Nigeria are normally very busy from Monday through Friday with a lot of young Nigerians seeking visas to travel out to America, Europe and other parts of the world. Very often most of the intending travellers have no idea about what it entails to stay in foreign countries. The only thing they anticipate is the entry visa. Often as many cases have indicated, some of these travellers get stranded; some get involved in unlawful activities leading some to imprisonment, injury and even death. The underlying issue here is that most people do not understand the true nature and nurture of living overseas. It is not really as sweet and as beautiful as the streets lights, sky scrapers, cinemas, parks and shopping malls!
Last Sunday’s gospel reading was focused on God’s radical call and the anticipated radical human response. In This Sunday’s gospel our Lord Jesus Christ goes further to give us the job description for those who have responded to the divine call as well as the entailment therein. From the gospel periscope we see clearly that it is one thing to answer the call and another thing to do the work in line with what is required to carry out such a radical mission (just as it is one thing to travel overseas and another thing to stay and survive there). These details would be explored later.
Before launching into the mission description in the gospel, it will be pertinent to point out the repetition of words like JOY (REJOICE) AND PEACE in all the readings including the responsorial psalm and the alleluia verse. Joy and peace are well known to us as rare fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22). They are rare because they cannot be obtained without connection with the Holy Spirit; surely they cannot be bought. We are invited to appreciate the fact that there is JOY in serving God (Nehemiah 8:10b) just as it brings true and lasting peace (Jn. 14:27; 20:21).
The gospel reading (Luke 10:1-12.17-20) began by telling us that our Lord appointed seventy others and sent them ahead of him to the places he was about to go. The choice of seventy others is very much like in the case of Moses whom God asked to appoint seventy elders to assist him in his work (Numbers 11:16-17). These seventy were appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ to complement the work of the twelve whom he sent out earlier (Luke 9:1-6).
This appointment tells us that the spreading of the good news of the kingdom of God goes beyond the twelve. In our context we could also say that it goes beyond the clergy. Hence all the baptized who share in the common priesthood of Christ are in various ways called to the mission of spreading the goods news by words and by deeds. In this regard the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no.897) maintained that: “all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church. That is the faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the people of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World”.
Those involved in this were sent out two by two. This arrangement is instructive. By going two by two they become company for each other and will be able to become two better heads in the work of evangelisation. No man is an Island even in the work of spreading the good news. In the early Church we see this playing out with the apostles. In Acts of the Apostles (3:1-10) we see the company of Peter and John. Also in Acts (13:2) the Holy Spirit advocated for the setting apart the company of Paul and Barnabas for the work they will do. Often most people think that they can do all the work by themselves unaided! (This is often motivated by the material returns). But our Lord Jesus Christ said the work is enormous and more labourers are needed and they have to work mutually like a community.
There is also need to note that those on this mission are being sent out as labourers not as workers. Workers are more of professionals involved in skilled occupation; they make up the working class and receive stable big salaries. Labourers on the other hand are mostly unskilled people who do manual jobs and receive unstable salaries. Labourers simple minded are more committed in their duties. They are satisfied with just enough for the day!
Being labourers without steady and enormous salaries they were asked to not to carry purses, bags, and sandals. This instruction couldn’t have been an easy one in that mountainous, dusty and often cold environment. The reason behind the instruction is to make those who are being sent to know that God is their provision (Phil.4:19) not just a provider (Gen.22:14). They are meant to depend entirely on God for the mission not on the material aids they could go with. This also suggests that they should travel light for the journey. Being loaded with bags and other things could become obstacles on the way. In addition they were asked not to salute anyone on the road. This may sound anti-social but the simple fact is that they are being discouraged from meddling with frivolities as they will still greet the people they will minister to in their houses not on the road. The road here stands for an arena of distraction; in fact distractions are more on the roads than anywhere!
They were asked to undertake family evangelization going by the fact that they were asked to be going into various houses. We all know the conventional saying that charity begins at home so it also conversion and faith in God. We remember in the apostolic times most conversions were family based like in the case of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:1-48). Here we see the family as the ideal ground for the fruition of the gospel message and for this reason the Church refers to the family as a domestic Church (LG. 11). Our Lord Jesus Christ told them to pronounce peace on any house they enter. The connection between peace and the good news cannot be over emphasized. Peace prepares the mind to listen and understand the message of the kingdom. This explains why our Lord Jesus Christ encountering the apostles in the upper room after his resurrection first wished them peace (John 20:19). Furthermore they were asked not to perambulate from one house to the other and to eat whatever that is set before them. Often people circulate from one place to the other in view of greener pasture or better livelihood.
The job description given to these labourers of the good news included healing the sick and preaching about the nearness of God’s kingdom. This job description has so far being misappropriated and commercialized by many people. Today the message is more of miracles of abundance of wealth (even without work). Today the message is about the annihilation of all enemies even those who are in need to mercy and forgiveness. Only very few people are interested in conversion and repentance, just a handful are mindful of works of mercy to the poor and needy, justice, fairness and forgiveness.
There is no gainsaying the fact that not all who hear the word of God will accept it. There could be rejection of the word of God at various quarters but this should not discourage those who are on this mission even our Lord Jesus Christ was rejected by his own people (Luke 4:14-21). In fact the rejection of the messenger and the message is often a confirmation of the fact that the word of God struck some hearts and caused disquiet in some people. Remember that the word of God is alive and active, sharper than a two edged sword (Heb.4:12).
The return of those appointed and sent on the mission was triumphal. They were filled with joy because their work was fruitful; even demons were subject to them. Why was their work successful? Their work turned out to be successful simply because they followed the instructions that they were given. It is always very gainful to pay attention to instructions and follow them. If they had busied themselves with material provision and distracted themselves on the road the result could have been different and negative. One of the secrets of success in life is paying due attention to instructions. On the other hand one of the destructive elements of our time is inattention to instructions. From the gospel reading we discover that those who went on this mission and paid attention to the instruction got more empowerment from our Lord when he said “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:19). God will always upgrade us when we pay attention to him.
The final purpose of the mission is not just to rejoice over the triumph over demons but on the fact that we are on course to heaven. It is possible to lead others to heaven and still not enter into it. On account of this our Lord Jesus Christ told the returnees from the mission to rejoice rather based on the fact that their names are written in heaven.
We all have been called and appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ in many capacities to function as labourers in the plentiful harvest. You are on mission not only when you mount the pulpit but also your conduct in the pew, the things you say and do are missionary platforms. If we pay attention to the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ concerning the nature and nurture of the mission to which we all have been called we shall not only be successful but our names will also be written in heaven.
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!
I once met a catechist I knew years back as a seminarian while on apostolic work in a parish. The meeting was a very celebrative one as we were meeting after many years. As I saw the catechist I remembered his son who was a committed youth in the church and who was also aspiring to become a priest. Quickly I asked him about his son and the response he gave to me was shocking to me. According to him, after series of unsuccessful attempts to be admitted into the seminary, the son decided to go ahead to train as a Pentecostal pastor and within the space of six months he got his “mantling” (commissioning) as a pastor and had since opened his own Church! I was very much overwhelmed considering the number of years I spent in the seminary preparing to become a priest vis-à-vis the six months that saw him through to be a pastor and to own a church as well. To this many would say that with God all things are possible!
Looking at the above, I recall the words of the letter to the Hebrews (5:4) which says that “nobody takes this honour upon himself each person is called to it by God as Aaron was called”. From all indications there are two classes of people who are involved in the work of God as ministers (with their respective motives): those who are called and chosen by God and those who called and chose themselves to work for God. These are reflected in the first reading (1 Kings 19:16b; 19-21) and the gospel reading (Luke 9:57-62). The first reading tells us about the call of Elisha which God orchestrated through the prophet Elijah, while the gospel reading relates to us an instance of self-call and two instances of divine call and the corresponding responses. In the second reading St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us that the divine call leads to freedom and is directed towards service to others. In effect we are here presented with the theme of radical divine call which requires radical human response on the platform of service to God and humanity.
My Scout Master is one of those persons I still remember as having influence on my upbringing as a child. I can’t even remember his name or indeed any material description about him; however the ideas and principles he taught are very fresh in my memory. (This tells me that life is more meaningful with the values you are able to communicate to those you encounter on the corridors of life). It was from my Scout Master that I learnt the acronym “OBC” which means “Obey before complaining”. He also laid emphasis on the Scout motto which says “Be prepared”. According to Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the association “Be Prepared” means “being ALWAYS in a state of READINESS in BODY and SOUL to do your DUTY”.
The story of the call of Elisha to become a prophet is interesting to me as it reminds me of the Scout Motto and discipline; it could further make an interesting theme for a movie screenplay. The conscientious farmer was going about his duty with twelve yoke of oxen when Elijah appeared and without saying anything threw a mantle or cloak upon him and left immediately. Elisha seemed to have known what the placing of mantle upon him meant so he left and went after Elijah but with a request. He begged Elijah that he should allow him to go and say goodbye to his parents. Elijah’s response was neither positive nor negative. From his reaction Elisha understood that going to say goodbye to his folks was unnecessary given the urgency of the call. He went further to do something that has a great significance; killing all the oxen, making food from them and sharing same out to the people and going after Elijah.
In the gospel reading on the other hand, we see our Lord Jesus Christ encountering a number of persons with regard to the call to follow him. In the gospel periscope we are told that as Jesus was moving with his disciples someone (unnamed) offered to follow him wherever he goes. Our Lord did not say yes or no but went ahead to say foxes have holes birds of the air have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.
It is important for us to pause and ponder on above response which seems to be an answer that is deeper than the question. Our Lord knew why the man wanted to follow him; he was in fact looking for material comfort. He imagined that Jesus Christ could have been a great man and that in fact his habitation must be a very great one; may be a huge palace with many cosy rooms and attendants at one’s beck and call. The man saw the following of Jesus Christ as a way of attaining material comfort; but he got it wrong. Notably when our Lord gave him the response he did not say anything again which confirms the fact that he was not intending to follow Jesus Christ with the intention to serve but to be served.
To another person (also unnamed) Jesus Christ said follow me! He agreed but wanted to go first and bury his father and to this Jesus Christ our Lord said to him “let the dead bury their dead”. Looking at this closely we discover that the individual involved here was called unlike the first person who was not called but wanted to get himself involved in view of the material comfort he anticipated. This man was ready to follow our Lord Jesus Christ but he was still not free; there was a hindrance; his dead father. Dead father here stands for dumb excuse not to be involved in the work of God. Many people still have a lot of “dead fathers” that are stopping them from being actively involved in the work of God.
The third person in this episode agreed to follow too but was as well hindered by his family affiliation as he told our Lord that he would want to go and say goodbye to his family (the same request Elisha made). Family here stands for various backgrounds that deter people from answering the call to serve God. Some parents and relations believe that the vocation to serve God is a reserve for individuals from poor backgrounds but history has proved this to be wrong from the examples of most saints we know down to the contemporary times. God’s call has no basis on family background and history and like I usually would say one’s background has no right to keep the person’s back on the ground in terms of rendering service to God and humanity.
God’s call is often radical and thus requires radical human response. From the story of the call of Elisha we discover that God’s call often come when people are actively involved in their various occupations not when they are idling away in some hopeless things. Moses was keeping his father-in-law’s flock when he was called (Ex.3:1-14), Gideon was called while he was beating out wheat in the winepress (Judges 6:11-24), Samuel was called while he was actively serving under Eli the priest (1 Sam.1:1-14) and in the New Testament most of the apostles were called from their duty posts the same way Elisha was called from his duty post. Being faithful and committed in ordering material things became a ground for the call to work for God.
From Elisha we are shown the attitude of radical response to radical divine call. Slaughtering the oxen and using the ploughing wood as firewood was an indication that he was not going to come back to that occupation. It is like burning the bridge after crossing; an indication that one has decided not to pass that way again. This is actually the liberation that St. Paul was talking about in the second reading. By cutting ourselves away from those things that hold and keep us we become free and give more time and attention to our call. Hence our radical response includes liberation and freedom from those things that keep distracting us and often make us always to be looking back. On the basis of this our Lord Jesus Christ giving an answer to the last person he called in the gospel said: “no one who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”. Looking back means distraction and loss of focus. We lose focus when we try to go back to the old trade, when we place family and friends before God’s work.
Radical response is a faith-based attitude. By doing so we like the psalmist make God our heritage. When God is your heritage you shall lack nothing (Psalm 23:1). By making God our heritage it means he has become our habitation and refuge (Psalm 91:1). God is continually calling us both clergy and laity alike. The Church’s celebration of the year of faith is a way of reminding us of our vocation as Christians to whom the door of faith was opened first during our baptism (Apostolic Exhortation Porta Fidei no.6). This door is expected to be incessantly opened by our radical response to God’s call.
Apart from the respective vocations we have, we all have been called to holiness, righteous living as well as to eternal life hereafter. This is a call we cannot afford not to respond to as our Lord Jesus Christ would say it will be unprofitable for us to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of our souls (Mark 8:36).
Do have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
Identification is one exercise that takes place every day and everywhere in the world. This is actually the reason why we have birth certificates (in some traditional communities in Africa children are given tribal or family facial marks for identification), institutional, organisational and/or national identity cards, international passports, access codes, thumb prints and so on. All these are simply put in place in order to give information about us or identify who we are!
It is a very basic instinct or desire in every human being to KNOW about certain things and persons. This desire to know is more avid when the person or thing in question has some special qualities. If we direct the attention to public figures we discover that people imagine and say a lot of things about them in a bid to understand who they are. I once sat close to two young men in a flight and they were having a conversation about one Nigerian actor who was featured in a popular Nigerian blog and who happens to be my cousin. One of them claimed to know the young man very well from his family and the other asked him where the actor comes from (that is the town) and he mentioned a town so unconnected with the actor and which happened to be the story-teller’s own town.
The young man went on to tell his listener some fascinating stories about the actor’s family and other things that indicated familiarity. At a time I could not bear the misguided identity the young man was giving about my cousin, so I politely begged to interrupt and respectfully corrected the young man by first introducing myself as the actor’s cousin and redirecting the faulty descriptions one of which was that the actor’s father died when he was a kid though the man is still alive. At first the story-teller wanted to argue with me but when I showed him some pictures in my electronic devise he calmed down, though shamefully!
Today in the gospel reading (Luke 9:18-24) we have an episode that is connected with the real identity of Jesus Christ. We are told that our Lord was praying quietly alone when the disciples came to him. Well praying was characteristic of our Lord Jesus Christ while on earth. He went into the wilderness to pray and fast for forty days and nights after his baptism (Matt.4:1-2) before choosing the apostles he took time to pray (Luke 6:12ff) he left Simon Peter’s house very early in the morning to pray (Mark.1:35) after the miracle of the loaves he went to pray privately (Matt.14:23),the disciples saw him praying and asked to be taught how to pray (Luke 11:1), he went up to mount Tabor with three of the apostles to pray (Matt.17:1-7),and before his arrest he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt.26:26).
We are not told of the content of his prayer in the gospel passage nor what was going on among the disciples. From similar encounters we can imagine that among themselves the disciples would have been confused about the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many people could also have been coming to them with arguments concerning the real identity of Jesus Christ.
This is most likely the case because before this time Jesus had performed many miracles and given great messages in quick succession: healing the man with withered hand (Matt.6:6ff), preaching the beatitudes, love of enemies, judging others, bearing good fruits, and building on solid rock (Luke 6:20-49), healing of the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10), raising the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16), forgiving the sinful woman (Luke 7:36ff), calming the storm, healing the man with demons, curing the woman with the issue of blood and raising the daughter of Jarius (Luke 8:22-55).
The question Jesus asked: “who do people say I am” was not an accidental question. First our Lord knew what was going on among them the same way he knew when they were arguing about who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33). The question could have come to them as a surprise but it was a lot safer because it had to do with what people were saying. Jesus was at this point, if you like at the middle of his ministry, trying to take stock as to the conceptions in the minds of the people about him so far before moving ahead.
From the answers our Lord Jesus Christ got we can see that people were accessing the identity of Jesus Christ not on the basis of WHO he is really but on the basis of WHAT he had been doing. It is wrong to reduce knowledge about Jesus Christ based on mere miracles which he even said we could do even more (John 14:12). The answers showed that the people were describing Jesus by relating what he had been doing and saying with those of the prophets. That was not bad though Jesus Christ is neither John the Baptist, Elijah nor any of the prophets (old or new). Often we make the mistake of giving answer to “What” rather than “Who”. There is a difference between WHO a person is and WHAT a person is. “WHO” has a lot to do with essential quality while “WHAT” is merely functional quality that is what a person can do. It is like introducing someone as my doctor. This means that if there is no illness or health issue the person becomes irrelevant.
The question became more interesting when Jesus turned it to the apostles: “you who do you say I am”. From a deeper analysis we can see that the answer is in the question. “I am” is the name of God if we trace it from the encounter of Moses with God in Exodus (3:14) where God indicated that His name is I AM. During the dialogue between Jesus Christ and the Jews we also heard him say “before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58). We are also conversant with the “I AM” statements of Jesus Christ I AM THE: WAY, TRUTH, LIFE, LIVING WATER,TRUE VINE, GOOD SHEPHERD etc. In essence Jesus was asking them who do you say God the Son is?
Peter’s declaration was very apt and complete: “you are the Christ of God”. He actually said you are the Messiah that is the Anointed one. Now this answer is all inclusive. If Peter had said you are the healer of the sick or the multiplier of bread it would amount to limiting the scope and work of Jesus Christ and his mission on earth. But when he called him Christ of God he opened up a limitless platform for the Messiah who is Anointed to be everything for us.
What followed after Peter’s response is also very instructive. Our Lord warned them not to tell anyone about who he is and went further to indicate the fate of the Christ which includes passion, death and resurrection. The question any attentive mind would ask is “why did Jesus ask them to keep his identity hidden?” This issue had troubled a lot of bible scholars and for many it could be referred to as the messianic secret. Going by the answers the disciples gave about who Jesus Christ is, one discovers that not even a single idea came closer to mentioning that he is the messiah though there had been public announcements about him in the preaching of John and during his baptism; but their minds were still blinded to the plans and portends of God. That was why in the next chapter of Luke (10:21-22) our Lord filled with the Holy Spirit thanked God for hiding THESE THINGS from the rich and learned but revealing them to mere children.
Next the passion and death of the messiah was destined to take place at certain time after all that had been said in the Old Testament about him had been fulfilled. To this end if the disciples would go about saying that Jesus is the messiah there will be conflict in the divine programme and due process. Finally in the gospel of John (12:23) our Lord declared: “the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified?” Hence there is a due season for the Messiah to be made manifest and declared among all nations.
The question our Lord Jesus Christ asked the disciples still remains relevant to us today: “WHO DO YOU SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?” The answer we give to this question would determine our values, lifestyles and eternal destiny.
· For some people Jesus is their refuge in TIMES OF TROUBLE (when there is no trouble Jesus Christ is not needed).
· For some people Jesus Christ is merely a shield and protection against their enemies (without enemies, Jesus Christ is irrelevant).
· For some people Jesus Christ is their healer when they are sick (when there is no sickness Jesus is kept in the cooler)
· For some people Jesus Christ is their guide when they are travelling (by the time they arrive safely Jesus is forgotten only to be remembered on another journey).
· For some people Jesus Christ is the key for success in exams (when exams are over Jesus Christ is locked up in the bookshelf until the next exams).
· For some people Jesus Christ is their PROVIDER (when the provision comes (employment, child, husband, wife, contract,etc) Jesus Christ becomes a stranger until another time).
What I am out to establish here is that even in our own time and day most people are still ignorant of whom Jesus Christ is; they only have an idea of WHAT he can do and could only call on him like someone will call firemen to confront a fire incidence and go until another incidence occurs. The prophecy of Hosea (4:6) had it that my people perish for lack of knowledge. We reduce Jesus Christ to a small section of our life while he can be everything for us. If we can understand him as the Christ of God (the Messiah) then we have all we need in life here and hereafter. Fulton J. Sheen would instruct us to understand and appreciate the difference between Christ of faith and the historical Jesus. To understand who Jesus Christ is we must be ready to do so by accepting him fully by faith not because he can provide for us or heal us but on account of the fact that we cannot do without him and he is all we need!
Have a blissful week ahead.
He is called old soldier and everyone in their neighbourhood seem to have one good thing or the other to say about him. On his face is this constant smile which makes his aging face amiable and innocent. Old soldier had been missing from Masses and everyone wondered what could have gone wrong. His grandson eventually came to tell me when I asked that he had been sick for four days. After the Sunday Mass I went to see him and to administer the sacrament of the sick on him. Old soldier spoke at length about his life and experiences when he was active in the army.
Among all the pockets of stories he told me one struck me so much. According to him, during the military regime in Nigeria it was a common practice to undertake public execution of criminals by firing squad. On one of such occasions, old soldier was included in the list of those who would execute a notorious gang of armed robbers that was terrorizing the country. On the appointed day of their execution,the criminals where gagged and tied to stakes. Old soldier and his mates were ordered to march out, get set and fire at the criminals. All his colleagues obeyed and fired but he did not release a single bullet. Now in the military it is an offence of high level to defy others from above and to do this in a public ceremony of this magnitude was unthinkable. I quickly asked old soldier in my curiosity why he chose to defy the orders. His response struck me! He said “am I God to take their lives because of their sins and mistakes? Am I not a sinner like them? Even those who condemned them to die are worst criminals and robbers yet they are still alive”. This decision by old soldier sent him to detention with hard labour for about three years before he was dismissed from the army. For him it was better for him to have served the term and got dismissed than to live forever with the guilt of killing a fellow sinner!
We happen to live in a world where each person sees herself/himself as more righteous than the others or better than the others. For instance many people condemn the corruption in high places but pay little or no attention to the pockets of corruption they orchestrate at their different areas of activity. We are ready to kill and maim someone who happens to steal a piece of meat but with our pens and mouths we plan and execute official robbery and siphoning of public funds. We condemn terrorists and their homicidal projects yet many people officially commit murder everyday not only through various forms abortion but also through defamation, character assassination, deception and dishonesty.
In all these we could then ask “who is the worst sinner?” Could it be just the one whose acts are made known publicly like the man that Nathan portrayed in the ironical story he told David in the first reading concerning the wicked rich man who forcefully took the ewe lamb (the only possession) of the poor man to entertain his guest or could we all reckon ourselves as sinners in the superlative sense and allow God to do the analysis? Surely the bible is very clear on this when in Proverbs (24:16) we are told that the just man falls seven times a day and seven times rises up again and in Romans (3:23) St. Paul stated that we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. When you point one accusing finger at someone you have three other fingers pointing at you and one finger pointing to heaven and witnessing to God.
Today is another typical Sunday where we have a connecting line between the first reading from the Old Testament and the gospel reading from the New Testament. In the first reading we are presented with the aftermath of the sin of David which was three-dimensional: lust, adultery, and murder. He saw a woman taking her bath; he lusted after her, committed adultery and later killed her husband to cover his acts when the woman became pregnant and the husband was in the battle field.
Nathan came with an ironical story that ended up rousing the anger of King David against whosoever could have been so wicked as to have taken away the only possession of a poor man. By his disposition, the King was pointing an accusing finger on the wicked rich man but unfortunately three fingers were pointing at him with the one pointing towards heaven convicting him that he was actually the wicked rich man. When Nathan finally made King David to realize that the act which he felt was hidden from everyone was known to God and man he was genuinely penitent and asked for forgiveness. David’s heartfelt penitential prayer is articulated in Psalm 51.
From this episode involving David we can learn that nobody is beyond the misfortune of falling into sin; even the conceivably great man or woman. Of course at his own time David was the greatest and was loved so much by God; however these attributes are not by themselves antidotes to sin. They should have rather made him to realize that to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12:48) and the corruption of the best is the worst kind of corruption.
In the gospel reading from Luke (7:36-8:3) we come across a woman who came to meet Jesus Christ in the house of Simeon the Pharisee who had offered to host our Lord. The woman who had no name (an indication that she represents all of us in our sinfulness) not only came uninvited but also went to the feet of Jesus Christ to CRY, CLEAN his feet with her TEARS, covered the feet with KISSES and ANOINTED the same feet with an alabaster of costly perfume. We are here left with so many things to ponder from the dramatic actions of the woman.
The woman in question was not invited to the banquet in the house of Simeon; in our contemporary outlook we could say that she barged into the party. However her motive was neither food nor drink! She saw the coming of Jesus Christ in her neighbourhood as an opportunity to “report herself” (in the same manner as some people use similar opportunities to go for confession).She was aware of the fact that the crowd will condemn her as a sinner but she wanted to confirm if she still had a chance before the great teacher of all times.
There are times when we could be so overwhelmed by our situations that we lack the appropriate words! This was the situation with the woman she lacked words but she could produce tears of penitence and sorrow for sin. She used her tears to wash the feet of Jesus, and used her hair to dry them and covered them with kisses. This reminds us of the washing of the feet of the apostles by our Lord Jesus Christ during the last supper with the apostles (John 13:1-20). In the context of the washing of feet of the apostles, our Lord said “not all of you are clean”. The woman was in essence demonstrating symbolically the mission of Jesus Christ which is to wash us from our sins and defilement. And this he did with love symbolized by the kisses. To kiss is a way of demonstrating that somebody or something is precious. She went further to anoint his feet with costly perfume which (if it is nard) is about the annual wage of a labourer which is at the same time about the amount the slave with the greater debt in the parable was owing the master. The woman like David did not argue about her sinful life she was more disposed for forgiveness and another chance to rewrite her story. She put in the best she had in order to be better realigned to God whom she had offended so much.
The central message in the gospel is not even about the woman, so-called a public sinner (though no sin was mentioned but it seemed prostitution was the most probable). The focus is more on those who indicted her and called her names. Simeon who was playing host to our Lord had in his thought said IF our Lord were to be a prophet he would have known who and the sort of person the woman was. This thought is typically Pharisaic. Outwardly Simeon had welcomed Jesus as a prophet but inwardly he was in doubt. He actually got it wrong. Our Lord knew that the woman and just like anyone there had been in sin but the reaction to a sinner should not be rejection but love which will serve as a light to bring the sinner out of darkness. For Simeon our Lord should have ordered the woman out of the banquet hall because of her sins that are known to people.
The parable of the two debtors was meant to demonstrate to Simeon that he was also a sinner like the woman though the latter’s sins could be said to be public. Good to note here that the worst sinner is not the person whose sins go public but the one who does not attend to his/her sins but concentrate on those of others. The woman here recognized her MANY SINS and did MANY THINGS to get the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ who in turn surprised her with forgiveness and went further to trademark her with faith-filled woman (no longer sinful woman). It actually takes faith to approach Jesus Christ in such a putrid condition and it also takes faith to perform those salvific and Christological acts. St. Paul takes this up in the second reading of today (Gal.2:16,19-21) where he indicated the fact that we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. For the woman to come with an alabaster of costly perfume was an indication that she was certain about what she hoped for (this is faith).
The reading aptly turns our attention to the fact that we all are sinners. We are also meant to understand that every sinner has a future just like every saint had a past. St. John would tell us (1 John 1:9) that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. In the book of Psalm (103:12) David assures us that as far as the East is from the West so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
One common denominator in the two readings is the fact of accepting our failings and being ready to turn a new leaf. David did not rationalize over his heinous act as some of us will begin to pile up reasons upon reasons like “it was the fault of the woman as she was bathing by that time of the day” or “when I called her she did not resist” etc. The woman at the house of Simeon did not utter a word of defence the whole duration of the talk about her sinfulness; she relied on what the Lord had to say about her.
No matter the depth of our sins God is still ready to wash us and reintegrate us into union with him (Isaiah 1:18). Of course he is not interested in the death of a sinner but in his repentance (Ezekiel 33:11). Sometimes we are blinded by pride, self-sufficiency and unnecessary feelings of shame that we lose the connection to our repentance. Unlike the woman most of us do not have the courage to go up to the Lord and unzip our sinful hearts to him. Today is the appointed day for us to walk up to the Lord and ask for mercy and pardon. Tomorrow may just be too late. If the woman in the gospel dismissed the idea of barging into the house of Simeon at that hour we may not have heard about her and per adventure she could have died without those words of the Lord on her and her future. “Oh that today you listen to His voice harden not your heart” (Psalm 95:7).
Have a blissful Sunday and remain doubly blessed!
There are sometimes when death makes life seem worthless and hopeless; of course the two are parallel to each other. Death is no doubt a facility that is open to everybody; however the experience of bereavement could be very painful especially when children or young people are involved. At such points we would wish the situation was different or better still that it was all a dream; the same way I would wish that Chidera my god-daughter did not die in the plane crash or that the event took a different dimension as my book on her would narrate.
There are many gory tales of death; an entire family had died in an air disaster; an only son, daughter, and parents had also died in some gruesome ways leaving some people torn apart in anguish and mourning. Actually if you have not lost someone dear to you to death, the whole scenario of bereavement will sound very abstract. Today the first reading (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the gospel reading (Luke 7:11-17) present a very similar situation of loss and eventual restoration. In the first reading, the only son (and child) of a widow at Zarephat who was serving as a host to Elijah during the famine suddenly took ill and died and in the gospel a widow from the town of Nain was mournfully moving with the throng in a funeral procession to bury her only son.
In the first reading Elijah had come to the widow at Zarephat not by accident but through divine direction. From the account of I Kings (17:7-9) we are told that God directed Elijah to go to Zarephat the Sidonian town where a widow HAD BEEN DIRECTED to supply him with food. Elijah went to Zarephat and just by the gate he met a woman gathering firewood. Elijah immediately understood that she was the widow and asked for water and eventually a piece of bread. The widow told him earnestly that she could provide water but for a piece of bread she could only boast of a handful of flour in a jar and a small quantity of olive oil in a jug and she was about preparing it for herself and her son to eat and then await the inevitable; death! Through divine instruction Elijah told her that the flour and the oil will not finish until God sends down rain upon the earth and so it was. Elijah moved into their house and they had so much to eat during the famine.
So far we can pause and learn some lessons before going on to the next episode. Whenever there is a genuine divine mission there is always a corresponding divine provision. In the book of Exodus (23:20) God promised to send an angel ahead to ensure security. Elijah was on a mission as a prophet to show forth the power of God over strange and powerless gods of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:22ff).For this to happen at the appointed time he had to be provided for and that was why God sent him to the widow at Zarephat.
The widow could be seen here as the channel to the next episode and she played her part very well. During her time widowhood was not a state anyone wished or prayed for. A widow like an orphan is generally defenceless and vulnerable. This widow had only one male child no other relation or neighbour was mentioned.
The question that could possibly arise here could be “why did God choose her to play a host to Elijah among other widows at that time?”(See Luke 4:25-26).Divine providence is what comes to my mind. Divine providence could only be possible in a heart that is docile to God. From the interaction the woman had with Elijah we understand the type of person she was. When Elijah asked her for water and bread she respectfully gave an honest response. When the prophet told her that neither the flour nor the oil would finish until God sends down rain again, she did not doubt but obeyed (See 1 Sam 15:22). When in the next episode her child died she humbly acknowledged her sinfulness before the prophet.
In the next episode the only son of the widow took ill and later died. It was then that the woman came to Elijah to tell him that his coming to her abode had caused calamity to her as she believed that her sinful past caused the illness and death of her son. One can imagine the state of mind of the poor widow to have lost the only valuable possession; her only child. Her cries and wailing were so effectual and moving that Elijah took the dead child up to the upper chamber where he lodged. Placing the dead child on the bed he CRIED TO THE LORD in prayer of lament and after stretching himself upon the child three times he CRIED TO THE LORD asking for the restoration of the soul of the child and it happened instantly that the child came to life and he handed him over to the mother. Suddenly her mourning changed into merriment, her sighs became smiles, and her sorrow turned to celebration. There was an instant restoration!
In the gospel of today (Luke 7:11-17) we come across a similar situation as the one in the first reading. This also involved a widow whose son who is described as a young man died and they were on a funeral procession to the cemetery. This widow had support (a large crowd from the city) unlike the one in the first reading who was not attended to by anyone. The reason could be that as it was famine at that time, people were dying every day both young and old so the death of the son of the widow was not something very unusual.
In this periscope Jesus Christ was not invited to perform any miracle; he was not invited but he was moved with compassion at the loss and pain the widow was passing through. Our Lord Jesus Christ could see the present and future desperation the widow is and will be passing through. Our Lord was empathetic with the woman and said to her “DO NOT WEEP!” When the undertakers carrying the body stopped when Jesus asked them to by touching the bier he said “YOUNG MAN I SAY TO YOU ARISE. Instantly he arose and began to speak and our Lord gave him back to his mother in the same way Elijah gave the widow a living son though she gave him a dead son. The widow of the town of Nain who was mourning was now dancing. The widow who saw her sorrow increased now saw it diminished. Her tears of sorrow became tears of joy. The funeral music stopped and the music of celebration commenced, people pulled their mourning clothes and jumped into garments of celebration, the procession diverted from the burial-ground to the playground.
Often in life we are very much like the widows. We seem to have lost everything and still losing that which is most precious to us! Like the widow in the first reading we are convinced that our past sinful lives are haunting us in the present; nothing seem to be working out; it is all calamity after calamity no respite seem to be in view. In all these we should realise that PROVIDENCE is still at work and God will surely remember us (Numbers 10:9; Psalm 27:10). Often we have a large crowd around and about us yet no one can help our situation; but when Jesus Christ comes, our sighs will become smiles. Sometimes, though we are physically alive but morally and spiritually we are dead; there is no life in us. There is need for us to march up to the upper chamber of faith like Elijah and lay our dead situation before God and call upon him not just once but always and He will act (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13).
We still have a lot to learn from the story of the widows and their restored sons. In the first reading Elijah told the widow at Zarephat that the jar of flour will not finish and the jug of oil will never run dry until God sends rain upon the face of the earth. Now the jar of flour and the jug of oil were provided by the widow. This is an indication of the fact that God will always grant increase not out of nothing but from what we are able to provide. There must be something before a multiplication. It happened when Elisha multiplied loaves of bread (2nd Kings 4:42-44) and when our Lord Jesus Christ fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt.14:13-21) in all things instances something was in place before multiplication.
Often we want God to give us every good thing we ever imagine in life but we are not ready let go even the smallest fragment of our possession which still came from God. If the widow at Zarephat did not let go her jar of flour and jug of oil there would not have been the miracle of abundance; her generosity brought about increase on the little she had. Those carrying the dead young man to the cemetery had the patience to stop and wait on Jesus to effect the restoration of the life of the son of the widow of Nain. There is need for us to let go and let God. Furthermore we need to wait on the Lord or we waste! Surely our restoration is something that will happen.
Have a blissful week ahead.
Food is a universal commodity. There is no place in the world that food is not served and eaten. The only difference is that various peoples and cultures have different types of food. We basically eat in order to keep pace with life and maintain body metabolism. Today we are talking about food but a different and special type of food.
Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most important treasure of the Church as it is situated at the centre of the Church’s life and ministry. The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated within the context of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This sacrament is thus the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ together with his soul and divinity really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine.
This sacrament was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ during the Passover meal with the apostles the night before his death (Matt.26:26-29; Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25). Before the actual institution our Lord Jesus Christ took time to give an extensive teaching on the importance of his body which he called real food and his blood which he called real drink ( John 6:55). Hence we taught that in him one can find complete menu that is productive of eternal life: “I tell you the truth if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have life in you” (John 6:53).
On the day of the institution proper we are told that: “…he took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Take it he said this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them and they all drank from it. Jesus said this is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant.” In the gospel of Luke (22:19) our Lord asked them to do what he had done in memory of him.
From the words of the institution of this Holy Eucharist we discover that our Lord Jesus Christ had commanded that the ceremony be done in his memory or if you like in remembrance of him. This point to the fact that whenever the Eucharist is celebrated our Lord Jesus Christ is made present that is his body and blood soul and divinity are substantially present.
This brings us to what happens during the CONSECRATION of the bread and wine. At the instance of the pronunciation of the words of consecration by a validly ordained Catholic priest TRANSUBSTANTIATION takes place. The word TRANSUBSTANTIATION is combination of two words “TRANS” (change) and “SUBSTANCE” (what makes a thing what it is). What happens here is that during consecration the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The change here is inward not outward change; hence the bread still retains its outward size, colour, taste, and texture and the wine also retains its colour, taste, and fragrance but inwardly these are changed into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is significantly a mystery and a miracle how bread can lose its “breadness” and become the body of Jesus Christ and how wine can lose its “wineness” and become the blood of Jesus Christ. This is what reason alone unaided by faith cannot fathom. It is important also to note that once there is a substantial change, it remains that way even after the celebration. That is why in the Catholic Church we preserve the remnants in the tabernacle for subsequent use which includes but not restricted to Eucharistic Adoration.
Some miracles have been recorded in the Church’s annals indicating the ponderable presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. These are traditionally called the Eucharistic Miracles. Some of them (especially the verified ones) are presented here:
At about the 8th Century AD a Basilian Monk was in doubt about the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus Christ during the Eucharistic celebration. One day while he was saying mass at the instance of the consecration the bread physically changed into real flesh and the wine changed into real blood. After more than 1300 years the flesh and blood are still preserved and can be seen by pilgrims who visit Lanciano in Italy. In the later year (1981) it was discovered upon scientific inquiry in laboratories that the flesh is a tissue of the heart and the blood is type AB the same as the type found on the Shroud of Turin (the clothe that was used to wrap the body of our Lord Jesus Christ at his death). Another outstanding discovery is about the blood which is in five clots. It has been verified that each of the clots weigh the same as the five put together. Even two of the clots have the same weight as five of them put together.
In 1263, a priest from Prague was going to Rome on pilgrimage for faith strengthening. He stopped over at Bolsena and had to celebrate mass. During consecration when he raised the host it instantly turned into flesh and was dripping blood on the corporal. Upon close verification and authentication of the miracle Pope Urban IV in the following year 1264 instituted the Feast of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi which we are celebrating today. It was also at that period that St. Thomas Aquinas composed the two most popular hymns of the Holy Eucharist: the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris.
There are still other Eucharistic miracles that are recorded though not yet authenticated which may take space and time here. The host had been found hanging on the air after being thrown from the window by miscreants who came to destroy a church. In South Korea the sacred host turned into flesh in a communicant’s mouth and so many others.
It will be worthwhile at this point to examine the effects of the Holy Eucharist on the recipients. A story will set the pace. A group of Americans and Russians were undertaking an exploration in Atlantic Ocean. Usually during lunchtime they would sit together and share their respective traditional snackS. One day a Russian came with the Russian black bread which is actually hard and sweet. One American was attracted to the bread and decided to take a bite, as he did he snapped a tooth and with anger he threw the bread over board muttering: “lousy Communist bread”. The Russian laughed and replied: “I think it is your rotten Capitalist tooth”. The point here is that the Holy Eucharist which is Jesus Christ complete as a meal is powerful but it can only be effective on the person who has the spiritual capacity to carry him. Like the food we eat helps us in various ways for body growth and metabolism so is Jesus Christ our Most Holy food.
As physical food occasions physical growth, the Holy Eucharist leads us to spiritual growth. In this growth our minds and hearts are connected with our Lord Jesus Christ who is really and substantially present in the sacrament. “Unless you eat the body of the son of man and drink his blood you will not have life in you” (John 6:53).
The ordinary foods we eat assist us to have physical strength to strive in the world. But the Holy Eucharist is productive of the most needed spiritual energy in our lives. Through this sacrament spiritual vigour is given to us that even assists our physical and moral strength.
The material food we eat helps us to maintain and sustain material or physical life which could fail any moment. But the Holy Eucharist aids and moves us to eternal life. In John 6:54 OUR Lord Jesus Christ said “whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day”.
As the material food we eat help us to build our antibodies against diseases, so does the Holy Eucharist function in keeping us away from the contagion of sin.
The attitude of most of us to this the Holy Eucharist is a cause for concern in our day and age. There are a good number of us who have been disconnected from the Holy Eucharist for many years without qualms of conscience. Some of us are professionals in receiving while conscious of some mortal sins. Inadequate preparation is yet another issue. The point is that the Holy Communion is not just a RIGHT for those who have completed the Holy Communion class; it is rather the reception of the whole of Christ onto a spiritually dependable heart. There is need for each communicant to answer these questions before approaching the sacrament “Why am I approaching the sacrament, am I READY inwardly?
I wish you a wonderful and blissful celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The reflection on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is usually a very exceptional one for every Catholic Priest because it involves an attempt at elucidating (with limited insight) the depth of God; if you like attempting to uncover the substance of the Godhead upon which lays a great mystery. This most profound mystery of the Christian faith eludes complete comprehension by human mind alone unaided by faith. Specifically, the puzzle revolves around a crossroad: “how there can be three persons subsisting as one God?”
The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons- The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Seen in another way, it states that “God is One in essence and Three in person”. The divine arithmetic is 1+1+1= 1. This is entirely a-logical (beyond logic) because logic has no relevance here as the result will be fallacious. However in the realm of God what is humanly impossible is divinely possible, what is humanly insurmountable is divinely surmountable, what is humanly fallacious is divinely a truism. The bible actually made us understand that the Father is God (Phil.1:2), the Son is God (Titus 2:13) and that the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). The Trinity does not tell us about three different ways of looking at God nor three different roles played by God but of three distinct persons in one God.
Attempts have been made by various people at different times to demonstrate or describe the Trinity. There are thus various descriptions and nobody can say that any of them completely understands the Trinity. Today I will be making such an attempt by using some elements of the physical and spiritual sciences to establish our understanding of the Holy Trinity. Obviously, things created bear the imprint of the creator in one way or the other.
In applying the physical sciences in demonstrating the Most Holy Trinity, we will be making use of analogies. To state the fact very well, they are mere analogies, hence they do not perfectly exhaust the mystery of the Trinity if they do then the doctrine of the Trinity will no longer be a mystery. Actually, the perfect explanation of the Trinity is the Trinity!
We can at this juncture move in to inquire what the spiritual sciences speak about God. Our source remains the bible. Notable the word Trinity is not used in the bible, but this does not vitiate the fact that the Trinity does exist. The word Trinity (tri-unity) was coined by Tertullian about the third century while attempting to establish the distinct persons in one God. Following the error of Arius who was teaching that Jesus Christ was created (made) by God, the Council of Nicea in 325 declared that our Lord Jesus Christ is “God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father.” From the scriptures, we have allusions that aptly understand the Trinity:
Some people (in the manner of Arianism) would argue that Jesus Christ is not God. And we reply through the bible.
We also establish that the Holy Spirit is God against those who are doubtful in the manner of Macedonians and Pnuematomachians:
Genesis 1:2: “The spirit was moving over the face of the deep” This was before God began active creation. The Holy Spirit has been with the Godhead from eternity. Hence the Holy Spirit is God.
With all these and more we have sufficiently, comprehensively, and painstakingly established that there are three divine persons in one God; the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.
At this juncture it will be good to ask what we are able to learn from the Trinitarian union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From the Trinity we learn
1) Unity in diversity: They are three distinct persons yet they are one in essence. We are distinct individuals from various backgrounds, levels, ideas and dispositions. However we are united in one Christian community. Our diversity should be at the service of a functional unity because as Paul would say in Christ our diversities give way to unity.
2) Community in functionality: There is no time the Father works without the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is why you will hear the Father saying twice “Let us”. Our Lord Jesus would also attest that he does whatever he sees the Father doing. We should learn to work together as members of the same community. No one is an Island. We need each other for growth and development.
3) Equality in personality: In the Godhead there is absolute equality given the fact that they have one essence. Within our human experience we all share in one humanity but often we notice that we keep creating unjustifiable barriers of inequality between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Often some people see others as less human than they are. From the Trinity we learn to see ourselves as equals sharing the common gift of life given to us by God.
4) Sharing with and helping one another: Wherever the Father is the Son and the Holy Spirit will also be found; this applies to each of the persons of the Trinity. There is an eternal sharing and helping relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. If we recognize the fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God we should also reflect this quality of the Trinity.
5) Faith and Trust: There is absolute faith and trust among the persons of the Trinity. If we reflect on the cry of Jesus on the Cross “My Lord my Lord why has thou forsaken me” we can see that there had always been that faith and trust in their function and this situation looked unusual. Yes the Father “forsook” the Son at Golgotha so that we can be found and rescued
6) Keeping to our positions in life: Each of the persons of the Trinity has an allocated function and position which He does in union with others. There has never been a time one Person assumes the position of another or attempts to usurp another’s position. This is and should be instructive for us. Someone had defined humility as knowing one’s position and keeping it.
May the exemplary life of the Trinity permeate our lives so that we can become what God wants us to become. Happy Trinity Sunday.
In the one Godhead there are three distinct persons The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. If the creation was essentially and prominently the prerogative of The Father we can say: “The office of The Father: Creation Affairs”; of The Son we can equally say: “The Office of The Son: Salvation Affairs” and today we have rightly indicated: “The Office of The Holy Spirit: Sanctification Affairs”.
The word “Pentecost” means fiftieth. Among the Jews it designates the fiftieth day after Passover. In the Mosaic times it was related to the Feast of Weeks (Deut.16:9-10). Here it was celebrated as a religious holiday that takes place at the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was a thanksgiving to the Lord God for his providence. At the same time it commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai.
From this brief description we understand that the feast of Pentecost was an annual festival among the Jews like we have various festivals around us like the new yam festival and numerous others. In the apostolic understanding it refers to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the others who were present at the upper room on that very day the Holy Spirit was came down as a fulfilment of the promise of Jesus Christ.
Before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that first day of the week ten days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit has been in operation though not manifestly acknowledged as we do now. In the book of Genesis (1:2) we are told that at the first moment of creation “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. This by implication was the first Pentecost which we can actually call Cosmic Pentecost. To describe it further, it means that at the inception of creation the life-giving Spirit filled the universe bringing about order and the unfolding of God’s design. That is why we normally would recall Psalm 104:30 in our prayers when we say: “When you send forth your Spirit and they are created and you renew the face of the earth”. Furthermore in Genesis (2:7) we see another Pentecost this time an Anthropological Pentecost when God breathed on the man he had fashioned from the ground and he became a living being. That breath was actually a communication of God’s Spirit into the being He created in His own image and likeness. Note that among the other creatures it was only the man that God breathed upon. That breath was not just the normal breathing process we share with animals; it is God’s Spirit.
Going further in most of the books in the Old Testament we discover the power and activity of God’s Spirit. It was through the Spirit of God that the Patriarchs were able prepare the foreground of the salvation history: Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Joshua as well as the Judges, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Jehoshaphat, Samson, Othniel, Ehud, Samuel etc and the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, etc. For instance Ezekiel could recount how the Spirit of God took hold of him and brought him to a valley of bones (Ezk.37:1-2). At the inception of the New Testament we also come across the activity of the Holy Spirit during the Annunciation and conception of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ. The angel said to Mary in Luke (1:35) “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.
Prefiguring the event of today in the gospel of Matthew (3:11) John the Baptist did say that Jesus Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This was confirmed by our Lord himself with the promise of the Holy Spirit when in John (14:26) he told the apostles that the Holy Spirit whom the father will send will teach them everything. Finally in Acts (1:3-8) Jesus Christ enjoined the apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which will make them witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and in the whole world.
Before going into the experience on the day of Pentecost it would be worthwhile for us to understand who the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is neither an angel nor a bird. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Holy Spirit is God having the same substance with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit has been there with the Father and the Son from eternity before the creation (Genesis 1:2). The Holy Spirit works closely with the Father and the Son, so wherever the Father is the Holy Spirit and the Son are there. Hence in all the divine activities we see in the bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament the Holy Spirit had been at work with the Father and the Son. The personality of the Holy Spirit came to be known through the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had not been known and identified as a person. That was why our Lord Jesus Christ would say in John (14:16-17) that the world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. The Holy Spirit can be identified from the functions he performs. He is known as the Helper, the Counsellor, the Advocate, the Mentor, the Director, the Teacher, the Guide and the Leader.
In Act (1:4) our Lord Jesus Christ told the apostle to stay in Jerusalem until they are clothed with the power from on high, namely the Holy Spirit. On that first day of the week which eventually was the feast of the Pentecost the apostles and some other disciples were gathered together in ONE ACCORD (remember that Jesus prayed that they be one; Jn.17:11) in the Upper room PRAYING (they were not playing or sleeping). As they were praying suddenly a loud sound like that of a powerful wind filled the house and suddenly something like tongues of fire came down upon them and they received the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterances.
We have to note that at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost the recipients were not just babbling aimlessly. They actually spoke distinct languages that people heard and understood. Every man heard them speak in his own language (Acts 2:6). This event calls to mind what happened in Genesis (11:1-9) where some people found a plain in Shinar and desired to build a tower that would reach to the heavens and God came down and confused their language. On the Pentecost day those gathered in the Upper room spoke in different languages and they could understand each other but on the plain of Shinar those who gathered in their name (not in God’s name as they wanted to make a name for themselves) spoke one language but there was no understanding.
The Pentecost experience has not ended. By Pentecost we mean the ever recurrent renewal we need in our lives. By Pentecost we mean that inner transformation and change that will enable us become what God wants us to be. By Pentecost we mean active spiritual encounter that unites us in one accord like those who gathered at the Upper room. By Pentecost we understand the outpouring of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and piety, fear of God (not of man), fortitude and counsel. We actually need Pentecost in every aspect of our lives. We need Pentecost in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in the world as a whole. We need to climb up to the Upper room of our hearts from there get connected to the wave length of God’s Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the propeller of our Christian life and without Him we cannot give God true and right worship (John 4:24). Furthermore He helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). With the Holy Spirit we are free from senseless fear of anything at all. We notice the difference between the Apostles who were afraid of the Jews and the Apostles of whom the Jews were afraid of as they went fearless to preach in the open places after receiving the Holy Spirit in full and confirmed manifestation. It was through the powerful touch of the Holy Spirit that Peter could heal a cripple, through the influence of the Holy Spirit Paul could undertake long and dangerous journeys without any flicker of fear. On this St. Paul would say in Romans 8:15 you did not receive the Spirit of slaves to make you fear but the Spirit of Sonship. Hence through the Holy Spirit you are sanctified and confirmed. May the Holy Spirit of God continue to bless and increase us with His effervescent presence.
As we celebrate the Pentecost there is need for us to be cautious about the Spirit that we believe that is operative in our lives. John told us to test spirits because not all have come from God (1John 4:1).There are indeed many spirits but one Holy Spirit. There many people who are moved by various spirits. It could be the spirit of anger, liquor, flesh, envy, gossip etc. But few are obviously moved and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an agent of confusion or disconnection rather He breeds and brings peace, love, joy, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness and patience.
Happy Pentecost Sunday and remain blessed.
In the minor seminary I was thrown out of the choir by one Friday Dike, the choir master. When my school guardian, Patrick Opurum (OP), confronted him he told him that I was creating another choir out of the choir as I was singing out of tune. After many years as I developed the aptitude of singing, I realized that the choir master was right, but he could have helped me to align my voice with the rest in order to have one choir. The beauty of a choir is the ability to have harmony in the midst of many voices; this harmony creates symphony, it creates unity and ultimately oneness!
There is power in one! One can be said to be the maternal home of all numbers; that is why it is aptly said that a journey of millions of miles starts with one step. One is a phenomenon we cannot possibly run away from; there must be one before any other. One serves as a dependable representation for a variety of things. One has strong relevance in almost everything in life; hence there is power in ONE. Have you imagined why soldier ants are so powerful? It is simply because of the unity they maintain among themselves that constitute them as ONE POWERFUL FRONT. The strongest army is not usually the largest in number but the most skilful in harnessing arsenals into ONE formidable force. If we relate this to a choir we can say that a good choir is a representation of the POWER OF ONE, just like a peaceful family, an ideal community, a functional government!
In the gospel reading today (John 17:20-26) our Lord Jesus Christ makes a strong empathetic supplication to the father in favour of the apostles and by extension all you will be privileged to be included in the sheepfold. The prayer had far reaching spread covering then and now. The prayer was not baseless like some of the prayers we say. It was based on the eternal unity in the Godhead that allows diversity while maintaining essential ONENESS. In our prayers also we must always make reference to higher models.
Being one and remaining one had been the greatest problem in our human society started from various families, through various groups, communities, tribes, nations and the world generally. Families that were once united are today in shambles with ugly fragmentations leading to antagonism, apathy, mistrust and even belligerent onslaughts. Many communities that should be mutually linked are dispersed on account of the erosion of the walls of unity. Many nations are going through excruciating internal turmoil as a result of the collapse of unity.
This is not to say that in religious circles the situation is even better. If the truth must be told, most uprisings in the world have strong religious overtures. Our Lord Jesus Christ was aware of the fact that the Christian faith would not have an easy ride hence said:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.(Matt.10:34-36).
This statement is a sort of fore-warning information showing that the acceptance of the faith would not be an easy thing as there will be internal and external oppositions. We can now understand why our Lord took time to pray for unity among those who will be gathered together in his name.
Unity or if you like oneness had been a challenging issue in Christendom. I grew up to be taught that I am a Catholic and that I have nothing to do with people from other denominations. I had to pray like a Catholic, play like a Catholic, sing like a Catholic, dance like a Catholic, have Catholic friends, and attend Catholic schools. This time table while being protective does not at the same time make room for interaction with people from other Christian denominations at least on the platform of our common profession as Christians which was the prayerful wish of Jesus Christ that we all be one in spite of our differences. In most communities Christians of various denominations are at war among themselves and these warring factions had been taken to various levels in the community life to the extent that non-Christians are shocked and disappointed.
Among various societies, organisations and sodalities in the Church the situation is not even better. Often we notice unhealthy competition among these groups to see who gets more members, who gives more money to the Church and who has more support from the priest. Often some groups see the others as unspiritual and worldly while the latter view the former as merely assuming to be righteous. This may not be completely wrong as the only thing spiritual about some organisations in the Church is their opening and closing prayers other things would revolve around levies, scouting for membership and eating food. For some others their meetings are all about how to avoid contacts with the other groups and how to create an image of distinction even when there are rots within. In all, walls are erected and unity is unfathomed.
In the face of all these instances of divisions within and outside the Christian Faith one wonders how the priestly prayer and wish of Jesus Christ have resonated with us. There is need for each and every one of us to begin from ourselves. It has been discovered that most of the problems we encounter in our relationships have roots in our self-concept which is the way we see ourselves: our beliefs, values, and attitudes. For unity and oneness to be achieved we need to drop some things and pick up others. There is need for a positive change in the way we do our things especially as it relates to others. We cannot be doing the same thing the same way over and over again and get a different result, which is pure insanity.
Today we have a duty to incarnate the priestly prayer of Jesus Christ in our lives and contexts. This oneness will be productive in opening lots of doors for us especially as we are praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell in anarchy and division. He is the Spirit of peace and He would only abide on peaceful grounds. May the love of God above all lead us to that unity which Jesus Christ earnestly prayed for today and MAY WE ALL BE ONE!
Happy Sunday and a blissful week ahead!