Fr Bonnie's Reflections

THE PURPOSE OF THE WORDS OF THE LAW: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR C. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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We are living in a world that is governed by laws. There is hardly any aspect of life that does not operate according to some stipulated paradigms. These paradigms in turn provide the platform for functionality. A law can be seen as a system of rules and guidelines that are recognized as regulating the actions and operations of the entity to which it is enforced. Laws are essential in life for right ordering of persons and things. We actually cannot function without laws; they could be human, divinely instituted or natural laws.

Laws are not ends themselves but possible means to some desirable ends. For instance the law prohibiting drivers from taking alcohol is not meant to merely stop road users from the pleasure of liquor, but to safeguard them from accident as a result of possible intoxication. People generally detest laws and often see them as burdensome and destructive of freedom to do whatever they want but not realizing that there cannot be true freedom without laws.  Without laws actually there will be a harvest of chaos, confusion and utter anarchy. Imagine if there were neither traffic lights nor traffic wardens in big cities like Manhattan in New York, Toronto in Canada, London in UK, Dubai in UAE, Cairo in Egypt, Abuja in Nigeria etc. The resultant traffic malaise in these and similar places will be catastrophic. Imagine if the sun refuses to shine, imagine if the moon and the stars reconsider their natural operations!

Today in the first reading, we are presented with the reading of the Words of the Law to the Israelites who had just returned from exile. In the gospel reading on the other hand, our Lord Jesus Christ read from the scroll, the oracle of the prophet Isaiah. In the second reading St. Paul  seems to speak to the two communities gathered to hear the word of God from the book of the Law and the prophet in the first reading and the gospel respectively to maintain unity in their respective diversities and talents.

Beginning with the first reading, we are told that Ezra who was serving as a priest and scribe to Nehemiah the prophet at the time brought the book of the law before the assembly of the people consisting of men and women and those who could hear with understanding and read to them from morning till midday standing on a wooden pulpit raised above the people. The content of the book of the law was so powerful that the people were touched as they made gestures of acceptance, raising their hands in worship to God and weeping bitterly.

From the narrative above we discover that Ezra brought the book of the law but from where? The answer is that the book of the law had been abandoned by the people it has been with them though unbeknownst to them. Furthermore abandoning the book of the law which contains divine instructions meant abandoning God. In fact the remote cause of the people’s exilic experience was the abandonment of God and the choice of other gods (Amos 5:27). To this, the psalmist would say “those who choose other gods increase their sorrows (Ps 16:4). No doubt the exile was sorrow multiplied for the people of Israel. In exile the people were disconnected from the words of the law, in exile the people lost connection with God and all that pertains to Him; they were simply unconscious of God and His laws. Coming back from exile was not enough they needed to come back to God and to do this Ezra read the book of the law to their hearing.

The reading of the words of the law took place on a wooden pulpit that stood above the people. This is an indication of the supremacy of the Words of the Law which came from above. We remember that Moses got the law from God from the heights of Mount Sinai (Exodus 20). The Word came down from above to dwell among us (Jn. 1:14). Furthermore the wooden pulpit here prefigures the wooden cross on which the Word made flesh died for the salvation of not only the Israelites but the whole world. Hence our Lord Jesus would say “When I am lifted up from the earth (onto the cross) I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

The book of the law was also read to men and women and all who could hear with understanding. There is a difference between hearing and understanding. From the narrative we are told that the people were attentive to what was read and so they understood and were consequently moved to worship and transformation. If we pay attention to the word of God not only hearing through our ears, but understanding with our hearts our lives will be ultimately transformed. Then the word of God would have accomplished the task of cutting through us like a double edge sword (Heb.4:12) and it would thus not return without accomplishing its work (Isaiah 55:11). The challenge here is for us to pay attention the law and allow the word of God to accomplish great things in our lives. As we were told, the words of the law moved the people to appreciation, worship and repentance. Their eyes were opened, they experienced a new lease of life, and they were transformed. You cannot encounter the word of God and remain the same because His name and His Words are above all things (Psalm 138:2). The Words of the Law on that day created not only a transformed and penitent community, but also a celebrating community. The word of God does the function of not only flogging us, it also consoles us, it lashes us and loves us. Hence after the ceremony of crying, Nehemiah called them to a ceremony of celebration as the joy of the lord is their strength.

The opening of the gospel periscope tells us about one Theophilus to whom the account of the life of Jesus was addressed. It will be useless searching to know who this Theophilus was. The name means God’s lover or Lover of God. Hence Theophilus here represents all those who love God. It represents all of us who through baptism became children of God. The next phase of the narrative tells us about the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ after the desert experience of fasting, prayers and temptations. He began his public ministry at his home town Nazareth. He was very much like a newly ordained priest going to his home town to celebrate his first mass.  Jesus left home as the son of Joseph the carpenter but now he comes home as the son of God the messiah. He left home as a carpenter of woods but now he arrives as a carpenter of souls. He left home alone and came back with a lot of followers. This sudden change could have been amazing to his townspeople and entering the Synagogue on the Sabbath day they did not hesitate to give him the scroll when he came to read.

Jesus mounted the pulpit, very much like Ezra did in the first reading, and opening a portion from prophecy of Isaiah (61:1-2) he read the oracle which says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

We see in this, the moving power of God’s spirit on Jesus Christ. In fact all the messianic actions came through the power of God’s Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that has been in action from the time Mary got the news that she would be the mother of the Saviour (Luke 1:35) and the time she visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), continued to manifest not only at the baptism of the Lord and the time he entered into the desert to pray but also upon his coming to Nazareth to inaugurate his public ministry. We see in the passage what we may see as the messianic manifesto. Any worthwhile government upon taking up its mandate announces its manifesto which contains what it would do for the people. Hence at the beginning of his ministry Jesus announced the action plan of his mission on earth:

  • To announce the good news to the poor: The poor here refers to those who are in dire need of divine sustenance, those who are deficient of divine connection. The poor here refers to those whose spirits are yearning for God.  Jesus Christ would say that they are blessed who are poor in spirit (Matt 5:3).
  • To proclaim release to captives: Reflective of the Babylonian captivity, the captives are those who have been taken away from their homeland. The captives here refer to those living outside divine coverage, those who have been snatched away from God by sin. There is a mental picture of those who made up the assembly that Ezra addressed in the first reading.
  • Recovery of sight to the blind: Blindness is a great challenge physically. There is also another sense wherein someone can be considered to be blind spiritually. This is the sense our Lord was referring to in his manifesto. Like the assembly in the first reading they were suffering from spiritual blindness and the words of the law helped to open their spiritual sight to see clearly and thus appreciate God.
  • To set at liberty those who are oppressed: Oppression is one of the misfortunes of being in captivity. Oppressive situations are borne out of disconnection from God. The exilic experience of the people of Israel describes this situation very well. Hence with the liberating power of Christ the oppression and oppressors would become tales.

 

  • To announce the acceptable year of the Lord: In a sense this refers to the Jubilee year which also announces freedom for salves and debtors (Leviticus 25). With this announcement Jesus indicates that he would grant freedom to all the salves (of sin) and all those in debt (to God). The coming of Christ becomes then a special jubilee, a favourable time, the acceptable year of the Lord for the liberation of humanity.

      At this juncture, we come back to examine the purpose of the Words of the Law. As we pointed out earlier in this reflection, any worthwhile law functions in bringing about right ordering in any context it is applied. God’s law goes beyond right ordering to effect in us salutary values  that are beyond right ordering. The responsorial psalm tells us the purpose of the Words of the Law:

  • To revive our souls.
  • To give wisdom to the simple.
  • To gladden our hearts.
  • To give light to our eyes.
  • To bring about truth and justice.

 

The reading of the book and Jesus’ declaration of his Messianic manifesto are coming to us at the beginning of the calendar year as well as at the beginning of a new “Liturgical Semester” to help us build formidable structures as we progress within the year. We are called upon to make personal the messianic action plan of our Lord. For instance I can put myself in the position of the poor, the captive, the prisoner and one who needs divine liberation. It is only by assuming such positions that the work of the messiah will be effective in my life and in your life.

Have an awesomely blessed Sunday and a rewarding week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

LESSONS FROM CANA: HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

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One characteristic feature of wedding ceremonies is the abundance of food and wine. Wedding planners are always careful about drinks because they add so much gusto and keep the ceremony going. While some people may not like to eat food in a wedding ceremony, almost everyone would need a drink even if it is water. In most weddings in Nigeria, someone is usually appointed to safeguard and manage the store where drinks are kept for the guests; nobody get into that store without permission. This caution significantly points to the need to have drinks flowing throughout the duration of the ceremony. In most places, the celebration continues until the last bottle is emptied!

Today we begin the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time of the year with the event at Cana in Galilee where Jesus changed water into wine. This event is a continuation of the Epiphany of the Lord. If we understand Epiphany as God’s manifestation of Himself in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ then the event at the wedding at Cana in Galilee becomes a continuation of the Epiphany which we saw also happening during the Baptism of the Lord. The new born King was shown to the Wise Men from the east they saw his divine splendor and worshipped him (Matt 2:11). At the Jordan after baptism the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit came down in form of a dove and the voice of the Father was heard confirming the divinity and mission of Christ (Matt 3:16-17). Today, the miracle at Cana in Galilee was productive of divine manifestation. St. John confirmed this when he said: “Jesus performed his first miracle in Cana in Galilee; he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him”. (John 2:11).

From the inception of the narration of the event we were told that Jesus was invited to the wedding feast (as well as his mother and his disciples). The first point here is that JESUS WAS INVITED. Essentially Jesus would not come unless he is invited; he never forces himself in! This reminds us of the words in the gospel of John:”But as many as received Him,to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name”.(John 1:12). Sometimes we fail to invite Jesus yet we expect Him to do something new in our lives. The fact remains that Jesus can only save those who have invited him to come into their situations and circumstances. If Jesus was not invited to the wedding the account of a miracle at a wedding in Cana would not have been a reality. This also explains the words of the Saviour as recorded by John in the book of Revelation (3:20) where we see the Lord standing and knocking at the door and expecting us to open and have him invited for dinner not at our table but in your hearts.

The next stage of the narrative is the running out of wine during the wedding ceremony. What an embarrassment! What happened? Someone could ask. There may be many answers. The presence of Jesus, the new phenomenon in town could have attracted more guests to the wedding. No doubt after his baptism where some unusual things happened, many people began to follow Jesus. At the time people were wondering how he came to be a master with so much wisdom and power without going through their conventional rabbinical schools. It could be that people were following him to see what amazing things he could do. This in a sense explains why the wine ran out so fast. Now the mother of Jesus enters the scene “from nowhere”. Some scholars would say that it could have been her relation’s wedding and she was privy to what was going on in the kitchen and at the wine store. She discovered that the couple were about to experience shame on their wedding day. With this sensitivity she ran to Jesus as the last resort to tell him that the wine had finished. Jesus never had any dealing with wine as a trade so why did Mary come to him? She knew that Jesus Christ was capable of saving the situation with his divine powers.

There are so many things to learn from the scarcity of wine at the wedding mentioned in the narrative. Jesus came as the second Adam to undo the mistake of the first Adam through his redemptive act. Mary stands here too as the second Eve to show forth the proper work of a helper fit for the man. At the garden of Eden Eve approached Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit that led humanity to sin, gloom and shame but at the wedding at Cana Mary (the 2nd Eve) approached Jesus to save a situation that was about to lead the celebrants to gloom and shame. The celebrants at the wedding actually represent all of us. Sometimes in our lives we are at zero point in various ways; we are thrown into chaos, gloom, scarcity and bereft of all that makes life worthwhile. We are often lonely, disillusioned, confused, dejected and rejected. Sometimes it seems that the world will crash on our heads! Sometime we just lack that wine that should keep us going.

When Mary told his son about the scarcity of wine he replied “Dear Woman why do you involve me, my hour has not come!” Some critics have said that Jesus was rude to the mother but that is false. If we take a closer look at various points Jesus addressed a woman in public we see similarities like in these passages: (John 4:21, 8:10, 19:26, 20:31; Mt. 15:28; Lk. 13:12). Furthermore it was a courteous way of addressing a woman at the time. If we look at it side by side with the event at the Garden of Eden we see Jesus being more apt and sensible in the request of Mary than Adam who welcomed the idea of eating the forbidden fruit as soon as Eve mentioned it to him. Jesus did not after all refuse to do what the mother asked.

Now we pay attention to the miracle that took place. Before changing the water into wine, Mary gave the disciples an instruction that still stands till date. She said “do whatever he tells you”. We remember that the problem at the Garden of Eden was that of disobedience; that was actually what brought humanity into disconnection with God (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instruction concerning the fruit at the middle of the Garden. Here at the middle of the wedding celebration and faced with scarcity of wine, Mary enjoined the disciples (representing us) to pay attention to what Jesus tells them. This means that without obedience it will be difficult to receive miracles. Now before the miracle again the people had to bring something; six stone jars of water!  It was only at the creation that something came out of nothing. God cannot affect miracle from nothing; you must have something with you at least a little faith (Mark 11:22). Elijah was able to feed alongside the widow and her son for the whole duration of the famine because the widow brought a little oil and flour (1Kings 17:14). Elisha was able to assist the widow whose husband died with debts from the little oil she had in her house (2 Kings 4:2-4). Our Lord Jesus Christ was able to feed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:11). So for any miracle to happen there must be something present. At the wedding they had six stone jars each filled to the brim with about 30 gallons of water and with this present Jesus changed the water into wine and it was the finest of wine. On that day they had 684 litres of wine (30 gallons X 6 Jars X 3.8 litres). If they had the wine in our modern day 750ml bottles then they could have had 900 bottle of wine coming in the midst of despair and hopelessness.

We generally have so much to learn from the event that took place at Cana in Galilee: inviting God into our lives (as Jesus was invited), being sensitive to the needs of other (like Mary sensed the shame that could follow the scarcity of wine), being able to do the will of God at all time (like Mary asked the disciples to do whatever Jesus asked them to do), coming to God with something upon which He would work (like they provided six jars of water).

Furthermore this wedding at Cana points to our marriage with God which is all about being one and connected with Him. In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah spoke extensively about God’s reconnection with his people using nuptial terms. Among other things the prophet maintained that our land will be married. But married to whom? It is here that we see God taking us as special bride to himself. This them is taken up again in the New Testament with Jesus Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as his bride (Matt 25:1-13; Jn 3:27-30; Rev. 19:7). This marriage between Christ and his Church is productive of unity in diversity. This is where the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor.12:4-11) which we read as the second reading draws its strength. For St. Paul we are different parts making up a body and to each a special function is given. We are simply instructed that as members of the body of Christ we should be responsive to our particular callings and to contribute our quota in the growth of the church. Our unity as members of the Church is reflective of the marriage union where a man and a woman becomes one.

We are admonished to take an active look into our communities and our families to know how effectively we are responding to the call to be united with one another and with Christ our head. Let us be attentive to the lessons from Cana as we conduct our lives and affairs in the New Year.

Happy Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

IDENTIFYING WITH THE CLEANSING WATER: HOMILY FOR THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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Advertisement is a very big industry that turns out billions of dollars every year. It simply describes how business ventures make their products and services known to prospective clients and keep their enthusiasm alive. Coca-Cola for instance spent about $2.5 billion in 2006 on advertisement; a large chunk of from its annual income. For effective advertisement, advertisers are prone to making use of celebrities. The reason is obvious; for instance when Michael Jackson advertised for Pepsi the company recorded a very high annual return because it simply told the world that Michael Jackson prefers Pepsi; so his fans joined him.

By entering the Jordan River to be baptized, John the Baptist appeared to have had a celebrity (Jesus Christ) coming to advertise his “product” (baptism) in the Jordan. Beyond advertisement Jesus Christ our Lord came to John for baptism, which was the baptism of repentance, to clearly show the importance of baptism not only that of John but also the sacrament of baptism which was prefigured in that of John in the Jordan River.

Indeed from the baptism of Jesus Christ has a lot teach and a lot to learn. It is basically a continuation of the Epiphany of the Lord. If we understand Epiphany as God’s manifestation of himself through our Lord Jesus Christ, this actually took place on the day our Lord was baptized by John. From the gospel account of today we are told that as soon as Jesus stepped out of the water after baptism, the heavens opened and the Spirit on God descended on him like a dove and a voice was heard saying: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased”. Here God manifested himself in his Trinitarian dimension within the context of the Baptism of Jesus Christ. We also learn here a kind of divine confirmation of the sacrament of baptism; an assurance that God will always open the gates of heaven for all those who receive this sacrament and live according to its demands. It is on this account that St. Peter (1 Pet.3:21) would say that baptism now saves us not just by the washing away of dirt from the flesh but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

From the above passage from the letter of St. Peter, we have a clearer understanding of the Church’s position that baptism cleanses us from original sin makes of Christians (those who believe in the death and resurrection of Christ), children of God and members of the Church. It further helps us as St. Peter also indicated, to form a good and active conscience which alerts us whenever we are about to go astray or step into sin. From all these, we understand that without baptism we have no Christ in us because it is the sacrament at initiates us into the Christian fold.

So far we have seen that our Lord Jesus Christ approached John to be baptized not because he needed to repent from any sin as he was sinless. Rather by stepping into the Jordan to be baptized he identified with our fallen state or as St. Paul would put it, God made him who had no sin to become sin for us so that through him we can become righteous (2 Cor.5:21). Having seen the entire picture of the baptism of Christ by John and our own baptism what remain is the question as to how we have been able to function with the baptism we have received as Christians whether as infants or as adults.

Having being cleansed of the old nature of sin in us by the water of baptism how do we identify with this cleansing water? It is basically not enough to be baptized; there should an on-going transforming touch of the baptism we have received. By virtue of our baptism we should be reminded often of the need for us to dissociate ourselves from sin. We are reminded that our baptism saved us from being eternally severed from God. Considering the saving power of baptism we should distance ourselves from the attractions to sin. The Church is thus wise enough to call upon all the baptized during the Easter Vigil ceremony and indeed during every baptism ceremony to renew the vows of our own baptism to renounce sin, the devil, his works and promises.

The celebration today calls to mind our own baptism. It reminds us of the grace we received through the waters of baptism and it also challenges us to move ahead to identify with the water of baptism by actively disconnecting ourselves from sin, by adhering to the continual call for repentance. Let us also keep in mind that it is not all about being baptized; there is more to that. We are called upon to reflect the life of those who have received the sacrament of baptism; those who have the mark and seal of Jesus Christ in their lives.

There is also a call on those who are not yet baptized to make haste and receive their cleansing. Parents and caregivers are called upon to have their children and wards baptized. Baptism should be a facility open to all who desire it and those who are in charge of dispensing this sacrament should see it a great spiritual work as it brings people into the Christian fold. May our lives be renewed more with the celebration of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do have a wonderful Sunday and remain specially blessed.

Fr. Bonnie.

BEHOLD HIM AS HE APPEARS: HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

BEHOLD HIM AS HE APPEARS: HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

BEHOLD HIM AS HE APPEARS: HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

ImageThe word Epiphany comes from the Greek Epiphaneia which means appearance, apparition, revelation or manifestation. In the Church’s understanding Epiphany has to do with God’s revelation or manifestation of himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a significant event through which God showed that He is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (Gal.3:28). After the visit of the shepherds (presumably Jews) to the new born child through the direction of the nativity angels, wise men from the East (Gentiles) also encountered the glory of God’s manifestation through Jesus Christ with the direction of the magnificent star.

Epiphany from our understanding here involves two important and inseparable strands namely, divine call and human response. God calls us to see and appreciate His gift of inestimable value (John 3:16).We respond by going to see and appreciate God’s gifts. How do we appreciate God’s gifts? We do so by giving God our own gifts. The greatest of these gifts is the gift of our whole being.

Today our attention is turned to the wise men from the east. There are many legends surrounding identity of these men. Some people refer to them as “three” wise men on account of the three gifts they brought not that the account of Matthew (2:1-12) recorded that they were three. In some translation they are called magi which refers to a caste within ancient Zoroastrian religion that were so knowledgeable in studying the movement of the heavenly bodies; some would thus liken them to astrologers while others still refer to them as kings.

We are more concerned about their mission than whom they are. The bible reported that they saw a star that was different from the usual as it indicated the birth of a great king. God has many ways of manifesting his presence. The letter to the Hebrews made reference to this when it says that:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb.1:1-2).

Here we are presented with the fact that divine manifestation has been going on at various time and in various ways, but the one we are celebrating today sums up the whole gamut of divine revelation wherein the Word is made flesh and shown forth to the entire world. In the past God manifested himself to many people including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zachariah in some mystical ways. But at the birth of Jesus Christ this manifestation takes a different shape. It was not like a vision or apparition but concretely tangible in the person of Jesus Christ born in a manger in that enclosure in Bethlehem.

Going back still to the visitors from the east we ask: “why were they called wise men?” Apart from their learning through which they acquired knowledge, they were also imbued with wisdom which ultimately comes from God. Another question will be: “was their wisdom before or after the visit to the new born king?” We have to explore these in what follows as to why they were referred to as wise:

1. They were called “wise men” because they could read the signs of time and were able to understand divine signs.

2. They were called “wise men” because they left the comfort of their homes and occupation to search for God. Hence they understood that God is above everything and He is worth searching for just as we cannot exchange Him for anything at all.

3. They were called “wise men” because they remained steadfast in their search, even when the star disappeared they were not discouraged. They sought assistance from Herod whom they presumed was wise.

4. They were called “wise men” because they listened and followed the advice of God through the angel not to return to Herod and to return to their base through another route.

5. They were called “wise men” because they offered gifts with great significance to the mission of Jesus Christ.

Wise men and women are still searching for God. When God calls they answer and make themselves available to Him. To answer God’s call there is need for one to leave one’s position to a new one. In all the examples of God’s call one thing remains consistent, the person called is expected to leave his or her position to a new one. There is a constant need for us to change our positions. The wise men left the comfort of their location in the east to respond to God’s call through the star they saw. In this New Year we are also called to change to a new position from the unproductive old one that had been the cause of our stagnation, pain and failure. For us to move to this new position we need to be insightful enough to see the star and to follow it to where it will lead us. We need to be in constant search for God. An attentive mind may quickly ask: “where can we search for God?” We can search for God in the following places:

1. In ourselves. God is in us. We are created in His own image and likeness.

2. In our fellow human beings. Whatever you do unto others that you have done unto me (Matt. 25:31).

3. In God Himself through His words and the sacraments.  

There is a quick lesson we need to learn from the journey of the wise men. From the account we have from Matthew (2:1ff) they saw the star and followed it but by the time they came into the city of Jerusalem they could not see it again. It was then that they inquired from Herod about where the king of the Jews will be born whose star they saw earlier. Herod was ignorant of this notwithstanding his status as the king and he consulted the men of letters who confirmed the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Now immediately the wise men continued their journey to Bethlehem and their search for the new born king, the star appeared again and went ahead of them until it came to the place Christ was born. The lesson here is that we should never be discouraged when a situation does not seem to be favourable like it was in the past. These wise men were not discouraged; they stayed in the game. When profit is no longer forth coming like before in your business, stay in the game. When your family life seems to be facing turbulent times, stay in the game. When no one seems to appreciate your input at your workplace, stay in the game. The wise men could have turned back when the star disappeared and when the King could not understand what they were talking about; they stayed in the game and their mission was fulfilled as the star came out again. Sometimes your star would seem dim; do not worry, it will rise and shine again but you have to remain in the game.

Today as we celebrate the epiphany of the Lord; which tells us of the showing forth of Jesus Christ to the world, we ask ourselves what we show forth in our lives. What type of epiphany do we engage ourselves in? There many things people are showing forth in our day and age. Some have nudity to show, some have wickedness to show, some hatred, and other vices. We are challenged today to become imitators of God by showing forth love. That was actually the culmination of the epiphany; the manifestation of God’s love in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Have a fulfilling feast of epiphany and a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie

A NEW YEAR AND A NEW YOU: REFLECTIONS FOR THE NEW YEAR! Rev. Fr Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

ImageIn our limitations as human beings we depend on time for our existence. Seconds turn into minutes, minutes open up to hours, hours step up to days and days pile up to a week and weeks give us a month and months proceed to a calendar year. There are no pauses; life keeps moving. People come in and out of existence; there are nights and days, the year begins (as new) and it later ends (as old). Change is generally constant.

      No doubt people are eagerly waiting for the birth of a new year and there is normally a great feeling of enthusiasm connected with the coming year. With this disposition people formulate positive oracles in anticipation of better times. It is not uncommon to hear such things as: “This is my year of double honours, this is my year of divine elevation, and this is my year of abundance!” And so on. These are formulations that are done with deep positive mental attitude. Indeed nobody would like to paint the New Year with negative colours.

I do not contend the importance of such utterances like the ones we have above; even as a form of emotional analgesic for the coming year. My worry is actually directed at to us the “heir apparent” of these promises. The central question is: “with what disposition are we expected to receive these potential new realities in our lives in the New Year?” Put in another way: “Do we expect New Realities without a NEW US?” In the synoptic gospels our Lord Jesus Christ did instruct that new wine ought to be put in new wine skins (Matthew 9: 14-17, Mark 2: 18-22; Luke 5:33-39). This actually means that the new realities we desire in our lives in the New Year should be received with new lives. Often we pray and ask God to change situations for us but we don’t want to change. We want God to step up and speed up things for us, but we want to remain where we are and what we used to be as those changes occur.

      This negligence of inner transformation has been the bane of our growth and development in so many areas of our lives. How would someone expect divine elevation when he or she does not have time for prayers, Masses and the sacraments? How can one receive divine abundance in the New Year when the individual does not know what charity is all about not to talk about practicing it? How could someone anticipate double honours from God when he or she has no time to honour things of God? We line up some “wonderful” plans for ourselves with the view of living out our lives in the New Year but we end up worse that we were in the previous year. Why? The simple reason is that our plans were merely rational; there was no deep inner conviction and readiness.  We can only receive as much as we have given.

      This same negligence of inner transformation has been destructive of our polity. For instance in Nigeria my country we have had and we are still generating programmes that are focused on social change: “War Against indiscipline, Structural Adjustment Programme, War Against Corruption, Rebranding Nigeria and a whole lot of others. Some of these programmes succeeded only at the conceptual level without producing functional fruits. This is largely because internally generative transformation was lacking; new wine were poured into old wineskins.

      Further insights have shown that our plans and aspirations in form of resolutions for the New Year fail on account of our conscious and unconscious attachment to the past. The past here has to do with our mistakes, failures, acts of disobedience to divine and human laws, our inattention to good conducts and a whole lot of other dysfunctional attitudes and lifestyles. In the oracle of the Prophet Isaiah the word of God says:

Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.(Is. 43:18-19).

The point here is that we are often saturated with the past that the new realities find it hard to be admitted into our lives; like pouring water into a cup that is already filled with water. Our anticipation of better things and greener grounds in the New Year should necessarily be made possible by our disconnection with our unproductive past. It is actually the NEW US that will make the NEW YEAR plausible for us.

      Some people will be making resolutions for the New Year. But the question that arises immediately is: “how many of us will keep to our resolutions. Concerning New Year resolutions, two dispositions are evident. A resolution can be made either from the head or from the heart. The one that is made from the head is the one that is entirely rational. It is like calculating how many litres of water that can fill a drum and being inexact at the end of the day. Rational resolutions will end up rationalized. The resolution that comes from the heart is the one that touches one’s inner being. It is the kind that is transformative, the kind that seeks the face of God in all things.

      God stands as the author and finisher of all that concerns us. In God our New Year is blessed and doors are opened for us. God’s plan for us is benevolent and not malevolent (see Jer.29:11). But there is a precondition for God’s blessings and it is obedience to God’s words (Deut. 28:2-13). Obedience here entails dropping the past and all its pump and promises, it involves removing the old garment and going for the new garment that will attract and sustain new realities in our lives. It involves discarding the old wineskins and bringing in new ones for the sake of the new wine we are awaiting in the New Year.

      The New Year is not some kind of a magical vista that automatically activates a whole range of favours unlimited. We should rather prepare for it, adapt ourselves to it and be confident and courageous to make a change. It is more about a NEW YOU in the NEW YEAR. The following points can be helpful to us as we make our resolutions for a NEW US:

  • Forgive those who wronged you and ask for forgiveness from those you wronged. Be at peace with God and your neighbours.
  • Beware of time wasters: television, telephones, internet and friends (some friends are just not necessary for you this New Year). Invest your time on more productive activities
  • Make a list of the things you want to achieve this New Year and follow them up consistently one at a time.
  • Make prayer a way of life and not an option. Remember that to kneel is to win.
  • Look before you leap. Check well before you act or talk.
  • Make Charity a way of life it pleases God a lot. Remember that what you sow is what you will reap. Sow good seeds!
  • Take care of your health it is a gateway to wealth. Exercise often and watch what you eat. Check the commodities you have in your house for their expiry dates as some may have outlived their times.
  • Do not be careless with your life or that of another person. Life is precious.
  • The way you end and begin a New Year will determine how the year will run for you. Begin with God he is the ideal beginning and he will grant you a glorious sail through the year and a happy ending.

Have a wonderful New Year 2013…. May God tighten blessing for you.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

WHAT MADE THEM HOLY? REFLECTIONS FOR THE FEAST OF HOLY FAMILY. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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The Family is the world’s smallest community. It is the basic platform of the human society from which larger communities, nations and the human race came forth; even animals and plants belong to families. We are all products of families; even that child that was born and abandoned in the waste bin by a senseless mother is a member of a family; though a discordant one. We often say that: “charity begins at home (that is from the family)!” And so it is with other realities like hatred, rancor, strife, anger, immodest life and others. In essence we can say that the family as the early learning centre is the root of all good and evil.

Today we are called upon to reflect on the Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This reflection is very important within this season of Christmas which is a family oriented celebration. It is also very expedient as family and family life in our day and age need to be revisited, reconstructed, revived and given new direction.

The first question that faces us as we do this reflection is: “what “made them holy?” This question leads us to another: “what constitutes holiness?” To be holy among other meanings has to do with being set apart and dedicated to something sacred or divine. So to answer the question, what made them holy includes but not restricted to their steadfast dedication of their lives to God and their commitment to divine direction. They were able to achieve these within the framework of their vocation as members of a family. This family is called holy because it loved God above all and the members were ready to do the will of God at all times. The family is called holy because each and every one in the family revered, appreciated, and celebrated the presence of God in their family. Joseph accepted and carried out God’s plan (Matt.1:19-24; 2:19-21). Mary fully and unreservedly accepted the will of God for her with striking humility (Luke 1:38). Our Lord Jesus Christ had the doing of his Father’s will as the indelible script of his mission on earth (Matt. 26:39; Luke 22:42; Jn. 6:38). In all these instances we can collectively agree that the first step to holiness is the readiness to submit oneself to God’s divine will. The ability to let go one’s interests and plans and concentrate on God’s own plans and will.

The holiness of this family was not without trials, temptations and difficulties. They had their sorrowful moments but they kept their faith in God. The flight to Egypt when Herod was planning to kill the infant Jesus few days after his birth was a great trial for the family (Matt. 2:13-15). The missing of Jesus when he was twelve years old on their way back from Jerusalem was a trying moment for the family (Luke 2:43-49). One common denominator is that these and other trials and temptations that the family faced, they were not distracted nor was their love for God and for one another reduced, neither was their connection to peace and carrying out the will of God.

The situation of many families in the world today raises profound questions and gives room for intense reflections. Pope John Paul II was attentive to the plight of families and thus said in the encyclical Familiaris Consortio:

The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more     than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture. (FC.1).

In most families today people are staying together not living together because peace is farfetched. In most families people are disconnected and alienated from each other because love cannot be found. In most families parents take orders from their children while the children give their attention and allegiance to television, telephones, electronic games, internet and other prodigies of modern media of communication. In most families prayers and faith in God are outdated practices while respect and obedience (to God and humans) exist as archival materials.

The first reading today presents Hannah to us as a woman of prayer and faith in God. Her ardent supplications and trust in God brought her conception and the consequent birth of Samuel. Most families today are facing the same challenge of childlessness. On account of this some have decided to end their marriage unions, while some have despaired and dissipated finally. Hannah thus stands as an example of dedication and commitment to God in spite of the storm. On the other hand some families have become “abortuaries” where “unwanted” pregnancies are removed like pimples. Some give reasons like: “I was not ready for the pregnancy”. But this should have been a question before the event that led to it and should have been formulated thus:”Am I ready for the pregnancy that may result from this?” Some families have been on the constant practice of taking their worries and other challenges to other gods. This is blunt inattention to the word of God (Psalm 16: 4): “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows”.

The various families in the world are called upon to reflect the values that formed the foreground of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Our families need to be hallowed especially in a world like ours that is overwhelmed by so much profanity. We need to set our families on the part of holiness not by how many times we attend masses or other devotions but on how often we are able to love, forgive, assist, and bear with one another. There is every truth in the fact that the easiest way to destroy the world is to destroy families. This is actually the tactics of the devil and those who are knowledgeable in the things of the spirit are attentive to this work against it.

Like cars and other automobiles, families need servicing every now and then. This feast of the Holy Family comes at the right time for families to gather together and revamp their structure in order to make a fresh and more reintegrating beginning as the New Year draws near. This is an auspicious time for families to take some time to evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. This will be a time to accept our mistakes, make amends and work towards a better and more rewarding life in the family. Whichever family you find yourself is divinely willed; it is not by accident that you are a member of your family. There is a purpose for your being where you are now. Some people waste their lives blaming their families for the ill situations in their lives. Thus, cursing the darkness instead of bringing in a light. Though your family background may not be good enough, but your background has no right to keep your back on the ground.

As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family let us make effort to imbibe those undying virtues that hallowed the little family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We don’t actually need have large family members in order to have God at the centre of our family life. Just like the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph our families can become hallowed through our commitment and attention to God in faith, hope and love.

Have a blissful celebration of the Holy Family.

Fr. Bonnie. 

“HOME ALONE” AT CHRISTMAS: HOMILY FOR THE CHRISTMAS DAY. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

ImageThe movie “Home Alone” is a 1990 Christmas comedy series of four films. The first two series were written and produced by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus. The story is a about an 8-year old boy named Kevin (acted by Macaulay Culkin) who is incidentally left behind while his family travels to France for Christmas. One important fact in the plot is that Kevin actually wished that he had no family because of the punishments he received for his insubordination. On the day of the planned journey to France, an electrical fault alters the alarm system and waking up late, Kevin’s family hastily rushed to the airport with another family that was doing the journey with them. Kevin stays in the basement where he is locked up as a form of punishment.

Kevin wakes up to realize that he is home alone, hence his wish came true. He was overjoyed and began to do all the things that he was forbidden to do. He goes about eating junk and watching films beyond his age. He plays with his brother’s toy gun which he never had access to; he actually took charge of the house. Kevin’s joy at being alone suddenly turns sour with the appearance of two die hard burglars who are so proficient in sneaking into people’s houses to steal. With this new development Kevin is harassed, scared but resolute in his plan to fight the intruders especially with booby traps. At the end of the story Kevin succeeded in creating the condition that brought about the arrest and imprisonment of the burglars. In Home Alone 2 Kevin travels with the family for another Christmas holidays but got lost at the airport and mistakenly boards a plane to New York where he spends the Christmas again confronting the burglars who escaped from prison.

From my knowledge and experience Christmas is better celebrated in the company of other people especially one’s immediate family. That is actually the reason why some people travel from one part of the world to the other to join their families to celebrate the Christmas. Christmas is essentially a family-oriented celebration. It ushers in a time when families gather together from different locations and are inebriated with uncommon yuletide gusto. The Christmas festival essentially suggests, activates and celebrates togetherness, fellow feeling and community. The clearest example of this is the Holy Family of Nazareth during the birth of Jesus Christ and the flight to Egypt.

Beyond being with one’s family at Christmas, there is another form of communion that is essentially indispensable for us at Christmas. This communion explains and defines the celebration; a communion that underpins the reason for the season. I mean the communion with Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Like Kevin, some of us have always being home alone at Christmas. To be home alone in this context means being separated from the ideal purpose of the Christmas celebration. To be home alone means to be left in the basement of divine disconnection while others fly away with the object of the celebration. To be home alone at Christmas is to celebrate ourselves rather than celebrating Jesus Christ. To be home alone is to neglect the needy at Christmas. To be home alone is summarily to celebrate a “Christless Christmas!”

The air is now filled with the glamour of Christmas. There is this sudden “madness!” Everything seems to have the stamp and imprint of celebration because it is Christmas. New things have to be bought because it is Christmas. Prices of goods and services have to appreciate because it is Christmas. Lies have to be told, people have to be cheated, morality has to be immolated, prayers have to be abandoned; all these and more have to take place because it is Christmas. Incidentally those who operate from these angles end up being alone at Christmas. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned us in the gospel of John (15:5): “Cut off from me you can do nothing”. This directly tells us that without Christ in the context of our Christmas celebration we are alone and when we are alone we can do nothing. Doing nothing here means that our operational aptitude will lack divine substance and support. We will be wallowing in abject despair; running from pillar to post.

As we celebrate the Christmas let us have Jesus Christ as the focus of our celebration; let us bear in mind that the celebration in not ours but rather his. As we eat and make merry this Christmas let us acknowledge the fact that nearly one billion people all over the world will go to bed this Christmas day without food (the reason why I will eat only once later today in solidarity with the hungry at Christmas). As we wear our colourful and expensive clothes and other accessories let us remember that some people somewhere could make a big celebration out of our old clothes, shoes and other things. As we enjoy our beautifully decorated homes let us remember that many people are out there in squalors exposed to cold and heat as the Christmas celebration heightens. As we take our friends and children out to parks and other exotic places, let us remember that there are many children in orphanages and homes for the poor who would sit in there as the Christmas day comes and goes. As we power up ourselves for the celebration of Christmas in full health, let us remember that there are so many people in various hospitals lying down there on their sick beds as the Christmas day unfolds and recedes. As we move around today visiting families and friends let us remember that there are people in prison most of whom are suffering for crimes they did not commit and who will not have the privilege to move around as they are in chains!  

If we do not pay attention to the above details, then we will be home alone at Christmas. Christmas trees, lights and songs cannot give us the essential company we need; in fact they will soon become obsolete and needful of removing as the Christmas passes by. The family and friends with us at Christmas will sooner or later go back to their respective destinations and we shall be left alone again. It is only with Jesus Christ that we shall have lasting companionship at Christmas and after.

The experience of one of my friends makes a lot of sense here. This friend of mine was meant to travel to the United States of America for the first time. He was very happy to be among the few that were picked in his office in Nigeria to attend an international conference in the State of Florida. On their departure date he packed his bag with the things he bought for himself as well as for some relations he intended to visit after the conference. He was almost running late and needed someone to drop him at the airport in Abuja the capital city of Nigeria. I offered to drop him off. On reaching the parking lot at the airport it suddenly occurred to me to ask him if he had all he needed for the journey and he assured me that everything was in place. The answer did not satisfy me so I asked him further “Do you have your international passport with you?” At this question he froze and started a frantic search for his passport which also contains his visa to the United States. After turning his bags upside down it was obvious that he forgot his travelling documents including his ticket on the dining table in his house.

There was nobody in his house to bring them along and so we had to travel all the way back to his house to collect the documents. By the time we went through a heavy traffic to the airport the flight was set to leave; in fact he was hopelessly late for the journey and consequently he missed the flight that day and the next schedule available was in five days and the conference would end by that date. Like my friend we could have prepared everything and left the most essential for Christmas namely our hearts. There are so many people who will be preoccupied with cooking and its accessories and end up missing the Christmas Mass or worship as the case may apply. Actually Christmas means Mass of Christ. It is not Bonniemass or Johnnymass but Christmas. Let us give Jesus Christ our lord his day and in full; let us abide with him and not be left alone at Christmas.

Have for yourself a merry Christmas.

Fr. Bonnie.    

THE FINISHING TOUCHES: HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT. YEAR (C). Rev. Fr Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

 

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Anyone who knows about the building of structures will understand the concept of FINISHING or FINISHING TOUCHES. It is often said that the beauty of a structure lies mostly on the finishing. The finishing of any undertaking whatsoever shows the dexterity, competence, patience, and expertise of those who were involved in the undertaking in question. There is always a finishing in everything; sports, education, travels, relationships, and ultimately in religious creed. If I may use a common saying in competitive sports: “it is not over until it is over!” Put in another way we can say: “ it is not over until the finishing is done!”

Attentive to the description above, we can say that the advent period can only be over when we do the finishing touches. The readings today draw our attention to the needful finishing we need to do before we launch into the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Particularly our attention is drawn to the inputs of two women who stand close to the Nativity that is Mary and Elizabeth. Last Sunday we were asked to rejoice because he is near; today on the other hand we have been called to share that joy with others. We are told not only to accept this divine invitation to rejoice, we are also asked to become vehicles for the spread of this message of hope and joy. The best way to enjoy anything is to share the thing in question; after all it is often said that: “THERE IS JOY IN SHARING!” In other words, one of the finishing touches we are required to do is to spread this joy we have received to others.

Our attention is drawn to Mary and Elizabeth as they show us what it takes to undertake finishing touches in view of the coming of the Saviour of the world. In a very dramatic way, we reflect over the visitation which was the most prominent final acts before the birth of the Lord. Mary was visited by an angel called Gabriel (the same seniour angel that came to Zacharia). She was given the massage that she had been chosen to be the mother of the messiah; something that will happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s acceptance confirmed the divine oracle in Isaiah (7:14). And as soon as she accepted, she was inundated by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore she had the privilege of a “divine gossip”, which made her to understand that her cousin Elizabeth had been blessed with a child and lost her title as barren to that of an expectant mother.

The gospel today began with the journey Mary made to the house of Elizabeth upon hearing the good news of God’s divine intervention in the family of Zacharia and Elizabeth. Mary’s visit was divinely motivated as we know that she was already filled with the Holy Spirit. Her visit to Elizabeth is one of the major finishing touches needed on the road to the nativity of the Lord. The necessity of this journey was confirmed when Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary. She testified under the influence of the same Holy Spirit that overwhelmed Mary that as soon as she heard the voice of Mary the Child in her womb leapt for joy. Some theologians would say the Holy Spirit filled voice of Mary brought about (through God’s grace) the untying of John from original sin; hence he leapt for joy at being liberated. Others would say that at the greeting of Mary John could see his mission as forerunner very well and could not wait to start announcing the filling of valleys, leveling of mountains and hills and smoothening of rough paths (Luke 3:4-6).

Mary’s visit on the other hand was a mission to share twofold joy. The joy of her cousin in view of the blessing with a child as well as the joy God had put into her by choosing her to be the mother of the saviour. Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s greeting as well as  Mary’s song ( the magnificat) is an indication of the sharing of this joy. It seemed that all these had to take place before the birth of our Saviour as confirmatory of God’s hand in the whole affairs.  

Today’s message is an ardent call to put finishing touches before the Saviour is born. John had earlier called for the construction of a spiritual super highway that will usher in the messiah. Now we are called upon to put the finishing touches on the spiritual construction work we had done. Some things may still be out of order, some edges may still need more straightening, some beautification may still be lacking. This final finishing touches need to be done in Bethlehem as the location of this birth. Obviously Micah in the first reading is actually referring to our hearts not just the town of Bethlehem. That small hidden part of our being (like Bethlehem little to be among the clans of Judah) namely our hearts will become the birthplace of our saviour. To make this to become more effectual we need to go back to the first reading and replace Bethlehem with “my heart” and Judah with “my being”.

There may still be some imperfections in your life, there may still be some attachments to inordinate things, and there may still be some elements of unforgiveness in your life and so on. This is the right time to do the needful finishing touches in your life so that your heart will be ready to accommodate the birth of the saviour. At this point we could ask ourselves some questions like:

  1. “Have I gone for confession in order to be worthy enough to celebrate with Christ at Christmas?”
  2. “Have I made peace with my neighbours and those whom I perceive or who perceive me to be their enemies?”
  3. “Do I have room for Jesus Christ to be born in me?”
  4.  “What gift will I offer to the new born king?”
  5. “Will his coming at Christmas make me better or worse in my relationship with Him and my neighbours”?

By the time we give answers to these question we would be better placed to know our strengths, weakness, opportunities and challenges in view of celebrating a blissful and Christ centred Christmas. As we light the fourth, may God give us the grace to see clearly the areas in our lives that need to be amended before Jesus Christ is born in us!

Have a happy Sunday and a fruitful celebration of the Nativity of the Lord!

FR. Bonnie.

 

REJOICE HE IS NEAR! BUT NOT YET HERE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

REJOICE HE IS NEAR! BUT NOT YET HERE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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