Fr Bonnie's Reflections

THE DEMAND AND THE PROMISE: HOMILY FOR THE 6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR C Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

The African has high regard for the words of a dying person. It is believed that such people are given some insight into the future and for that reason anything a dying person says is often taken to be normative. Often a dying person would make a demand and make a promise. For instance one dying man called his children together and bringing a broom he asked who among them could break the broom. Expectantly all of them indicated. Consequently they all tried to break the broom but non succeeded. He then asked them to single out the broom and to try breaking and it was easy. Then he said to them: “stay together like the broom and when you do that, nobody can destroy you”. We can see the demand and the promise.  

Today just like last Sunday we have part of the valedictory words of our Lord Jesus Christ. These statements are so powerful because they contain some monumental intentions of our Lord Jesus Christ; his final demand and promise. Frist he talked about love. Someone may say “love again!” Yes! We can have it as a theme over and over again because it is the core and basic aspect of our connection with God. Psalm 136 says that love is eternal. St. Paul says that it endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7). St. John calls God love (1 John 4:1).

Today our Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that we can only obey or if you like keep his words only if we love him. Love becomes the torchlight for obedience and it also attracts God to the extent that he will desire to build a home within the one that shows love. The divine arithmetic here shows the following:

Love + obedience =God presence.

The negative form of this arithmetic is:

Hatred + disobedience = Absence of God. (When we operate without God we are simply lost).

       To achieve the mission of love Jesus promised the apostles the coming of the advocate, the Holy Spirit who will be there to remind them of all he had said. An advocate is one that speaks for another especially in a law suit. Here the advocate is more than a legal aid. He is more of a special guide and a teacher that does not make mistakes. By the promise of an advocate the disciples got admission into “Holy Spirit Comprehensive Academy.” Here they become students under the pedagogical tutelage of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit here has the mandate of leading them to the entire truth.

Finally Jesus promised peace to his disciples. This peace is what the world cannot give. In our world today there are innumerable promises of peace at various quarters. Politicians promise the citizens that during their tenure in office there will be absolute and unmitigated peace. Parents vow to build peaceful homes. Nutritionists, dieticians, pharmacists, and so on promise people inner peace when they take one product or the other. Friends and relations often agree at some points to allow peace to reign among them. Television, telephone, internet and other electronic devices promise us peace. But on a closer examination we see that some of these peace projects begin and end abruptly because there was basically lack of extensive foundation. The foundation upon which peace or any other worthwhile thing can be built is love followed by obedience and the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The spiritual methodology runs thus:

Love› Obedience› God’s presence› Holy Spirit› Peace

From the above we see clearly that the world cannot give peace except it begins from Love which is God through obedience, God’s presence and the action of the Holy Spirit. Often what we have in the world is not peace but absence of war which can be seen as tolerance and tolerance has no spiritual foundation.  In a spiritual sense we rather talk of fortitude and acceptance. The promise of peace by Jesus was an indication to the disciples that they will face a turbulent and peace-evading situation and this showed itself when Jesus Christ was arrested and forcefully taken away and the disciples were scattered and all links to peace was destroyed.

By loving God and obeying him through the leading of the Holy Spirit we are led to authentic peace. There is a highway to the attainment of peace and we need to go that way. We actually need peace in our individual lives, we need peace in our families, we need peace in our communities, we need peace in our nations and we need peace in the world. However someone needs to make peace to work; someone has to let go, someone has to forgive, someone has to reach out. If we don’t love we cannot get love we rather get lost. If we don’t obey, God will not come to us and we lose the direction of the Holy Spirit and ultimately peace. Peace without God is piecemeal.

I am wishing you a glorious Sunday.

Fr. Bonnie.

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THE RULE OF LOVE: HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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One song I will not forget easily is Millie Jackson’s “love is a dangerous game to play if you don’t play the rules”. My first encounter with the song was many years ago when I was still in primary school. A friend from my neighbourhood invited me for the birthday of his most elderly brother who was then in his early twenties. It was a very interesting outing and I did lots of Michael Jackson dance to the admiration of all.

At a point the Disc Jockey (DJ) went soft and brought in some soul and R&B. The first was Mille Jackson’s “love is a dangerous game”! Instantly all the grown-up boys and girls stood up to slow-dance. At that point all the small children, including my friend and I and others, were asked to leave the party room and the door was shut behind us. As I walked down to our house my little mind was very curious about our eviction from the party and particularly when the song “love is a dangerous game featured. I imagined how dangerous love could be and wondered what the rules were.

Later in life I sat down to listen to the music over and over again with a more critical and broad perspective and I discovered that Millie Jackson was not very right because from my understanding love is a wonderful life to live (not a game to play) if one lives by the rules. In fact we can reformulate the epoch-making song and have it thus: “love is wonderful life to live only if you live by the rules!” The rules of love was not exhaustively provided by Millie Jackson’s song but our Lord Jesus Christ made them explicit for us today in his discourse on love.

The gospel periscope presents us with one of the major teachings of our Lord Jesus which he gave during the last supper with the twelve. The last words of a dying man in most African communities and beyond are seen as sacrosanct and binding on those to whom they are addressed. In this context our Lord Jesus Christ chose to dwell on the theme of love before his arrest and eventual execution. Notably he did not just jump into the discourse on love. He began by demonstrating his idea of love by washing the feet of the apostles thereby expounding the rules that govern authentic love which includes humility, selflessness, care, sacrifice and fellow feeling.

Before the Passover meal with the twelve he was asked to define the greatest commandment of all by a Pharisee-lawyer (Matt. 22:34-39) and he said (vs 37):

You SHALL love the LORD your GOD with ALL your HEART with ALL your SOUL and with ALL your MIND and the second is like it; you SHALL love your NEIGHBOUR as YOURSELF.

This passage is for me very instructive because of the deep significance as well as its ponderable resonance with the gospel passage of today. Our lord began by saying that the greatest commandment entails that one “SHALL love the Lord”. This is not a matter of choice or makeshift. It is actually what one is required or obligated to do. It has the same force like when in the commandment God gave to Moses (Exodus 20:3) we hear: “You shall have no other gods before me”.

Furthermore the passage provides that this love must be given with ALL of one’s HEART, SOUL and MIND. This means that the love must be given fully and without reservation. When you remove HEART, SOUL and MIND from a person nothing significant is left. Next, our Lord Jesus Christ denoted that we ought to love our neighbours as ourselves. If we all give God ALL our HEARTS, SOUL and MIND in love then loving each other is made easy because ALL our important components have been given to God and in God’s hands they shall meet and become powerfully linked. The dearth of love in our day and age in on account of the fact we have actually not given God ALL.

Sitting with the apostles today at table during the last supper our Lord Jesus Christ asked them to love one another as he loved them. He loved them to the end (John 13) and went further to demonstrate this lover by taking a subordinate position to wash and clean their feet. This is what love actually entails; being able to be at the service of one another unconditionally. Celine Dion was right when in one of her legendry songs she said: (note that the words in bracket are mine)

  • Love doesn’t ask why

        (it flows for its sake)

  • it speaks from the heart

       (not from the brain)

  • And never explains

(the only reason for love is love)

  • Don’t you know that love
  • Doesn’t think twice

(no calculation of gains and losses)

  • It come all at once

(it flows naturally and spontaneously)

  • From a distance

(it has no barrier)

 

Before ending the teaching on love our Lord Jesus Christ admonished the apostle to let love to saturate them to the extent that when people encounter them they will immediately recognize them as his disciples. (This eventually happened at Antioch in Syria (Act 11:26) where they were first called Christians).Jesus was from this proposing the fact that love should be an identity which the disciples should bear wherever they are seen. Love becomes then a Christian badge or identity card which each and every Christian must carry around all the time.

Today we have a divine injunction to love or we face the misfortune of losing. To love is to replicate and represent God for as the scripture says God is love (1Jn.4:8). The world is lacking love because it does not know nor understand God (Hosea 4:6).Today families are divided, communities are running amok and nations are in turmoil because of the absence of love. We cannot truly love when we are more concerned about what becomes of us.

We cannot genuinely love when we are more concerned about our convenience. Our love for God must express itself in our love for one another. That was why our St. John said “if you say you love God but have your neighbour you are a liar” (1 John.4:20).Love is more than a noun (what we say) it is a verb that indicates what we do. Today we go home with the message that to love is a must and to hate is forbidden. Love is actually the key that will open the door that will lead us into the kingdom of God. For this reason St. Paul admonished that if we have every possible gift of outstanding character but lack love we are fundamentally empty and it makes no sense at all (1 Cor.13:1-3).

Have a wonderful Sunday and may the love of God rule your life.

Fr. Bonnie.

THE POWER TO LEAD VS THE WILL TO FOLLOW: HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER (GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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Most of the things we do today are the things we learnt from our immediate social environment. Albert Bandura (1977) proposed the social learning theory which till date is the most influential theory of learning and development. According to him people generally and children particularly learn through observing their immediate environment. We are simply the products of our social pedagogy.

Bandura demonstrated the above with an experiment. An adult was asked to play violently with a doll by pummelling it and hitting it with a hammer and other harmful things while a child was allowed to observe. Thereafter the child was allowed to play with the doll and he repeatedly did exactly what the adult did and even more aggressively. In another control experiment another child who did not watch the violent play of the adult was brought in to play with the doll and he was mild and affectionate while playing with the doll. Albert Bandura concluded that people look up to higher models (especially leaders) for learning within the environment.

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday and from the gospel reading today (John 10:27-30) our Lord Jesus Christ declared among other things that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one can snatch them from my hand…I and the father are one”. We have a lot to learn from these ponderable words of our Lord. Firstly, by calling us sheep we understand that he is the Shepherd. Of course we understand this from John (10:11) where our Lord said: “I am the Good Shepherd”. Note well, he used the definite article “the”. This simply shows that there is only one ideal shepherd the others are thieves that have come to kill and destroy (John 10:10a).Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Shepherd with a difference because he is so protective of the sheep to the extent that he lays down his life for his sheep against any external aggression (John 10:15).Furthermore, this quality (the good Shepherd) is what our Lord Jesus Christ shares with God the father who is also known as the Shepherd of His people Israel (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34:11-15).

To have a more profound understanding of the image of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, it will be worthwhile to look into the relationship between sheep and Shepherd within the Jewish setting. A herd of sheep is normally under the guidance of a Shepherd. Now the Shepherd can either be the owner of the sheep or a hired hand. The hired hand is usually interested in the pay but the owner who had invested so much on the herd, goes the extra mile to tend the sheep. He has the following characteristics:

1. Individual Knowledge of the Sheep: The Shepherd knows the sheep individually and even call them by personal names. He knows when they are hungry and feed them, he knows when each is sick and attends to it. Simply put everything about the sheep it comprehensively known to the Shepherd. When we relate this to the claim of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that he is indeed the GOOD SHEPHERD PER EXCELLENCE. He knows us personally; Isaiah (49:16) says our names are written on the palms of his hand. He feeds us when we are hungry not only with physical food (Matt.14:13-21), he also feeds us with spiritual food; his body and blood (John 6:54). He is further attentive to us when we are sick physically and spiritually (Matt.9:5-10).

2. Leading the Sheep to Right Spots: It is one thing to lead others and another thing to lead them to the rightful places. Most people are lost today because they were led to the wrong places by those they depended on. A good Shepherd is one who knows the best spots for the sheep and leads them there (Psalm 23:1-2).This is one of the greatest attributes of our Lord Jesus Christ who came to lead us into eternal life (John 12:50).

3. Defending the Shenep: Without a shepherd the herd of sheep is defenceless and susceptible to destruction by enemies. It is thus the work of the shepherd to see to it that the sheep is protected. This is a superlative work of God as we learnt from David (Psalm 23:4) where he says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for there you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me”.

In appropriating this role of the Good Shepherd which he shares with God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel today maintained that no one can snatch the sheep from him (John 10:28). This simply means that he is apt as the Good Shepherd in defending and protecting the sheep. One peculiar thing about our Lord in this role is the fact of laying down his life for the sheep; dying so that the sheep could live (John 15:13).

4. Maintaining Unity Among the Sheep: A discordant Shepherd cannot have a coordinated and united herd. Real unity is not a mechanical act of fixing and re-fixing. It comes from genuine disposition of fellow feeling. The Shepherd sees to it that he is one with the herd and that the herd is also united as a community. On this account our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for unity and oneness among the sheep as he is one with the father (John 17:21). He further anticipated the convergence of all under one herd and one Shepherd (John 10:16).

      Often we find ourselves in one way or the other overseeing the affairs of a group as a leader. Faced with such tasks we ask ourselves if we work towards integration of the community and its member under our care and how effectively united is the community under us?

      From the point of view of the shepherd we move to acknowledge the expectations from the sheep or if you like those who are led. Good followership makes leadership easier. Often we are destructively critical about those who are leading us while we fail to make conscious effort to do our own part. The will to follow should involve the following:

1. Ability to listen. Our lord Jesus did make it clear that the “sheep that BELONGS to me LISTENS to my VOICE I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). The bane of our spiritual journey had always been our inability to listen to the voice of God. Our world is actually filled with a lot of noise coming from various distractive sources: friends, relations, neighbours, television, telephone, internet and other means of communication in our highly technologized world. To denote the importance of his message our Lord Jesus Christ would often say: “Let him who has ears to listen let him hear” (Mark 4:9; Matt. 13:9).

2. The Ability to Follow. It is one thing to listen and another thing to put what is heard into action. In one of his parables Jesus Christ spoke about the seed that falls by the roadside as representing those who hear the word of God but it does not get to germinate in them (Luke 8:5). God would always like us to be attentive to him as he leads us and not shifting grounds from his ordinances (Joshua 1:7). When we deviate from the Good Shepherd we enter into the wrong hands.

 

3. Ability to Return after Going Astray: Being a follower is not always an easy task; sometimes we stray from the right path like in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). It is not all about falling away it has also to do with coming back to the right path after straying in the manner of David (2nd Sam.12:1-3).

 

4. Ability to Maintain Unity with the Shepherd and others: Every follower is a fraction of the whole that makes up the community. There is need for mutuality and unity with the leader and fellow followers. This unity is borne out of love and selflessness.

Coming back to some basic platforms we can identify Shepherds at various segments in the life of our community:

  • Parents are Shepherds in their own way. The choices they make can help or hinder good development on the part of their children. The children like little lambs are watching and learning from their parents. Parents should thus be watchful of their actions.
  • The government is the Shepherd of the state in their own way much as their authority comes from God (Romans 13:1-2). Their policies and plans should in essence be at the service of growth and development of the state and the citizens.
  • Religious leaders are Shepherds in a very special way as they have proximate divine mandate to direct the religious and spiritual well-being of the people. To disengage in this vocation of leading souls to God is detraction from the right path.

We conclude by urging ourselves to be the best we can be wherever and whenever we are called upon to lead or to follow. Furthermore we pray for vocations today asking God to well it up in the minds of younger people in our contemporary human society to be desirous to serve God in various religious capacities so that the work of evangelization will continue and become more effective in our contemporary human society.

Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.   

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LOVE BY THE CHARCOAL FIRE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

LOVE BY THE CHARCOAL FIRE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

LOVE BY THE CHARCOAL FIRE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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I have this story in my book “101 Inspirational Stories and 101 Motivational Thoughts” by an unknown author. I think it fits in here. Once upon a time, there was an island where all the feelings lived: Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, and all of the others, including Love. One day it was announced to the feelings that the island would sink, so all constructed boats and left; except for Love. Love was the only one who stayed. Love wanted to hold on and endure until the last possible moment.

   When the island had almost sunk, Love decided to ask for help. Richness was passing by Love in a grand boat. Love said, 
“Richness, can you take me with you? “Richness answered, “No, I can’t. There are lots of gold and silver in my boat. There is no place here for you.”

    Love decided to ask Vanity who was also passing by in a beautiful vessel. “Vanity, please help me!” “I can’t help you, Love. You are all wet and might damage my boat,” Vanity answered. Sadness was close by so Love asked, “Sadness, let me go with you.” “Oh . . . Love, I am so sad that I need to be by myself!” Happiness passed by Love, too, but she was so happy that she did not even hear when Love called her. 

    Suddenly, there was a voice, “Come, Love, I will take you.” It was an elder. So blessed and overjoyed, Love even forgot to ask the elder her name. When they arrived at dry land, the elder went her own way. Realizing how much was owed the elder, Love asked Knowledge, another elder, “Who helped me?” “It was Time,” Knowledge answered. “Time?” asked Love. “But why did Time help me?”Knowledge smiled with deep wisdom and answered, “Because only Time is capable of understanding how valuable Love is.”

Love has been observed to be the most popular and often used word in the world; and at the same time it is the most misunderstood and most misapplied phenomenon in the sense that most people confuse it with mere feelings or thoughts that could pass away anytime.

“I love you” is one phrase that is often used in many contexts. Many people just say it, some people believe in it, few people mean it, while a handful are ready to put it into action! As our story indicated, love if it is genuine is longsuffering and proved by time. It is not what one says but what one does that actually denotes love; love is a verb not just a noun! There are indeed litanies of professions of love in the world but little activations! Time and trials are platforms that form the measure of love.

Today we are presented with an interesting episode from the gospel of John (21:1-19). One can actually draw out a lot of themes from the gospel ranging from love, penance and reconciliation, Holy Eucharist to faith and waiting on God. Ultimately we shall still touch on these but using the theme of love as our guide since as St. Paul says, Love conquer all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

The gospel today began with the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ to some of his followers for the third time by the Sea of Tiberias one early morning. Earlier on Simon Peter, Thomas the twin, Nathaniel, and James and John the sons of Zebedee went to catch fish by the best to fish; at night. But they caught nothing. Now the Sea of Tiberias is one and the same location as the Sea of Galilee where our Lord called his first disciples which included Andrew, Simon Peter and James and John (Matt. 4:18-22; Mk.1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). From the account of Luke (5:1-11) we learnt that they toiled all night and caught nothing and when after using the boat of Peter to preach he asked them to cast their net and they caught so much as they did today. In all the accounts above they were given a new vocation to become fishers of men no longer fishers of fish.

It is understandable from the foregoing that these apostles went back to the old trade. They were supposed to be catching souls for the risen Lord, or wait on him (Psalm37:7) but they went to catch fish and that was why they caught nothing. Their mission did not have God’s permission they were on their own. They disconnected from a divine direction. This also happens in our lives. We become unproductive, scratching without success when we launch into what God had not asked us to do or what he had asked us to stop. Many people are not progressing because they are lounging in the wrong places and in the wrong trade.

Peter and the rest of the apostles were obviously disappointed and dejected when they laboured throughout the night and came out with nothing. In the morning our Lord Jesus Christ emerged at the shore of the river waiting for them to berth. God is not unconcerned about your fruitless labours. Be sure that he would meet you at that point where it may seem that nothing can be done about the situation. Jesus Christ thus appeared and asked “Children have you any fish”. Of course he knew they had nothing that was why the question was not “how many did you catch”. This also one of the rare occasions Jesus called them Children. He used the word to communicate to them how senseless their act was. Often we say that someone is acting like a child to denote immaturity. God knows when you have nothing and He also knows what you need and when.

In the night the apostles struggled and caught nothing. In the morning with Jesus they were asked to cast their net at the right side. This is very instructive. Without Christ we will be making the mistake of going the wrong way, the wrong side. But with Jesus Christ we are shown the right side; even the right place. When they OBEYED and cast their net, they caught so much fish (about 153) but in spite of the quantity the net was not torn. Obedience leads to blessings and God’s blessings do not come in small quantities they are always abundant and intact.

By the time they got out unto the land they saw a charcoal fire with fish already roasting on with bread by the side. Jesus Christ already prepared a breakfast for them. The word of God says that He (God) will supply all our needs according to the riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). God really cares about us and that is why the psalmist would say that young Lion suffer and go hungry but those who trust in God lack nothing (Psalm 34:10). Thereafter they ate the palatable combination of bread and fish from the hand of Jesus Christ.

After the meal a very important interlocution began between our Lord Jesus Christ and Simon Peter. This dialogue has its foundation on love. By the side of the charcoal fire Jesus asked Simon Peter three consecutive times if he LOVED HIM. Here we encounter a charcoal fire which reminds us of the charcoal fire during the arrest of Jesus Christ where Peter denied him (Matt.26:33). Hence by the charcoal fire at Gabbatha Simon Peter denied our Lord three times and by the charcoal fire by the Sea of Tiberias Simon Peter affirmed his love for Jesus Christ three times.

The evident point here is that Peter had professed his undying love for Jesus Christ when he said even if the others should fall away I will stand by you (Mark 14:29). He evidently did not abide by this promise and went ahead to deny the Lord at the most needful time. Jesus asked him three times if he loved him and three times he said he does and by so doing undoing the three historic times he denied the Lord. At two moments our Lord told him to feed the lamb and once he was told to tend the sheep. He had already been given the eternal headship and key at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:18-19). Simon Peter was fast to profess his love for our Lord Jesus Christ but failed woefully to carry out the mandate of that love at the needful time when trials came.

Love is divine because it is in the nature of God. St. John would thus tell us that God is love (1John 4:8). Love should be activated not just professed. Love is not some kind of feeling or emotion. Love is responsive to God’s word and it does not glory in evil things. Our love for God shows itself in our love for our neighbours (1 John 40:20). It is fittingly the summary of the Laws and Prophets (Matt. 22:37-39). Love if it is genuine forgives even when it hurts deeply. This was what our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated towards Simon Peter. He forgave him by coming to him and others at a desperate moment, he forgave him by orchestrating a big catch of fish, and he forgave him by providing breakfast by the same charcoal fire where he denied him. Our Lord granted forgiveness to Peter before asking him if he loved him and not the other way round.

We have so much to learn today from our Lord Jesus Christ. He granted us forgiveness on the cross and had shown us the example of forgiveness (Luke 23:34). We are called upon to forgive one another and also to ask for God’s forgiveness and reconciliation through the sacrament of penance. But it will be difficult for us to forgive unless we have love ruling in our lives. Based on this Simon Peter confessed that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Being forgiven and forgiving others (Luke 6:36) we have a stronger ground to approach the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Today the Church has become for us the charcoal fire where we get the fullness of God’s love through the sacraments. May the warmth of God’s love through this charcoal fire keep us warm as we pass through the cold path of life and be able to enjoy fully the bliss of the resurrection.

Happy Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

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THE RESURRECTION OF FAITH, PEACE AND DIVINE MERCY: HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER. REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD

THE RESURRECTION OF FAITH, PEACE AND DIVINE MERCY: HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER. REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD.

THE RESURRECTION OF FAITH, PEACE AND DIVINE MERCY: HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER. REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM PhD

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There was this missionary who was in the habit of going around the town and sharing spiritual flyers to people. Soon one little boy joined him in carrying out this mission of touching lives through flyers that were really elating. They did this every Sunday unabated. One fateful Sunday it was raining profusely and the missionary decided not to go out for the distribution of the flyers he made that week which was captioned “Hold on! There is still hope”. He was however surprised when the little boy showed up not minding the heavy rain. The missionary was shocked that the boy could make it but asked him to drop the idea of giving out flyers that Sunday. It happened that the boy insisted that he had raincoat and an umbrella so the rain would not be a hindrance.

After some moments of argument the boy’s persistence made the missionary to allow him to go. He was excited as he ran into the rain and instead of their normal visits to parks and walkways he went from house to house knocking and dropping the flyer to whomsoever opened the door. He spent so much time doing this and at the last house he visited he knocked for about five minutes but there was no response. He made to go but decided to knock and wait further. He was about giving up when an old woman opened the door. Smiling he gave her the flyer and saying “this message is from God”. The boy left and was deeply happy that he had accomplished the task for that Sunday.

At the Church the next Sunday an old woman indicated that she had a testimony to share. She went ahead to tell the congregation that she had been coming with her husband to the Church every Sunday until she lost him while they were away on a trip. She then said that she had been coming but nobody had noticed her mourning cloth or the absence of her husband. She went on to say that she had been lonely, (her only child died years ago before he even turned 20). She was indeed troubled and hopeless without any sign of remedy until that Sunday when she decided to end it all by hanging herself. She had fixed the rope and was about putting her neck and kicking the stool off her feet when someone kept knocking on the door. She took some time thinking that the person would go away but the person continued. She came down went to the door and found a little boy with a flyer who said to her “this message is from God”. Opening the flyer she saw the caption “Hold on! There is still hope”. She sat down and read. After reading the flyer, she saw reason to live and to be happy. She saw herself as a blessed and lucky woman. She went up and disengaged the rope and was thankful to the little boy who dared the rain to come to her rescue. Incidentally the boy and the missionary where in the Church and they were utterly speechless.

There are some moments in our lives when the whole world seems to be crashing on our heads. It could be a situation of confusion, fear of the unknown and more severely absence of peace due to some experiences or encounters which at times seem to signal that God had abandoned us. At such moments some people tend to be utterly confused and restless. Others in a bid to find solace take to some activities that end up aggravating and increasing their problems.

The above situation could have been the apt description of the apostles faced when our Lord Jesus Christ was arrested, bullied, killed and buried. They were devastated and scattered (Zech.13:7). However the resurrection was meant to mark a turning point for them (to bring them back from where they have been scattered- Isaiah 54:7) but they were still afraid, confused, faithless and lacked peace. St. Augustine defined peace as the tranquillity that comes from order and order is the proper arranging of all parts. This means that peace results when things are properly ordered within and outside of an individual.

From what happened when Jesus Christ was arrested one could attest to the fact that the apostles lost every sign of order as they lost hope and were ultimately disturbed; peace went on vacation and they were scattered (Matt.26:31) . They actually took refuge at the upper room where they locked the doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). The upper room became for them a comfort zone; but how long will they continue to be inside a locked room? Often we build upper rooms for ourselves not for prayers like on the day Pentecost (Acts 2:1) but for hiding on account of fears.

Coming to them on the evening of the resurrection day, the initial words of our Lord to them captured the situation they were in. To them he said: “Peace be with you!” This phrase should be understood as addressing their situation. Jesus couldn’t have wished them peace if they were enjoying peace. Hence he meant to tell them to replace their troubled minds and confused heads with peace from the power of the resurrection. When our Lord appeared to them he said “peace be with you” not just once but twice and yet one more time after eight days when the doubting Thomas was present.

The emphasis on PEACE showed its expediency. It is also understandable that one challenge led to the other. With the absence of peace the apostles became hopeless and faithless. It needed the physical presence of Jesus Christ to lead them out of fear into faith from devastation to peace. There is actually a link from disillusion to fear and lack of divine touch and connection. We could thus say that there was at that point the absence of faith, peace and divine mercy but the resurrection of Jesus was meant to lead them to the realisation of all these divine benefits.

  Our Lord Jesus Christ came to undo our past and to restore our loses. By the power of his resurrection our fear is defeated and our faith is renewed. Thomas in the gospel of today stands as a representative of our doubt and faithlessness. He was not around the first time our Lord appeared to the others. We are not told where he went. He missed that first encounter with the risen Lord; we also remember that on that first meeting our Lord breathed on them and said “receive the holy spirit”  (John 20:21). After he also sent them on the mission to evangelize and forgive sins.

Being absent from the encounter with Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit of God, (though he was lucky to be present on the day of Pentecost Act 2:1ff) Thomas was not renewed with other so he continued to live in the past condition of fear, doubt and lack of peace. No wonder he stood his ground that he would not believe unless he sees and touches. This is contrary to the divine injunction that our faith should be certain even when we have not seen and should also be an assurance of the things we hoped for (Heb. 11:1ff).

 When we are disconnected from God through our absence from the sacraments and from hearing the word of God we live in fear and lack the needed peace. When we are disconnected from God we run the risk of being unable to receive the infusion of the Holy Spirit and the divine commissioning. Like Thomas we fall into doubt and disbelief because we missed the divine action.

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the highest expression of divine mercy which began with his death on the cross which marked the paying of our debts and our liberation from sin and death. It was actually divine mercy that can describe the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst. It was divine mercy that moved him to die for us even when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8; Psalm 78:32). That same divine mercy brought about his resurrection because if he did not rise from the death we could have been at lost with vain hope (1 Cor.15:12-14). With God’s mercy on us we are expected to show mercy to others (Luke 6:36).

If one looks round the world one would discover that one of the problems facing our worlds is disaffection and inattention to mercy for one another. The uprisings and wars around our globe are end products of lack of mercy and pardon. God not only sent his Son to die on account of our sins and cancelled our debt he also granted us pardon and mercy. No wonder that on this day our Lord in his commission told the apostles to forgive sins; that is to grant pardon. This is an indication that with the resurrection of Jesus Christ divine mercy has been granted to us. It is one of the indications of the sacrament of penance through which our sins are forgiven and we are granted mercy and pardon.

Let this day be for us a day to reflect on God’s search for us in spite of our sinfulness (like the boy in our story defied the rain to share the life changing flyers). Let it be an opportunity for us to drop the garment of fear of anything and rejoice over the resurrection of Christ. Let it be a moment of faith for us to undo the doubts of Thomas. Let it also be for us an opportunity show mercy to others especially those who have wronged us knowing fully that God is always forgiving us and granting us divine mercy without which we cannot stand (Psalm 130:3).

Have a blissful Sunday and remain awesomely blessed in the week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

AFTER THE STORM…: HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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How do you feel getting something done very well after so many challenges? It could be a very difficult test or examination, a job description, a contract, an interview, a trying time etc. Most people come out from such with smiles, sighs of relief, and hilarious shouts. Others tend to be outwardly calm but inwardly excited while for others, post-victory feeling could be indescribable. Indeed after the storm comes calmness.

 The latter view could be linked to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Friday we were thrown into so much sorrow. Our Lord Jesus Christ was condemned to die. He was bruised, flogged, cajoled, abandoned, mutilated, and finally killed. It was all gloomy and confusion was rife. The apostles were devastated. The best among them goofed. Peter who was given an enviable position as the key bearer denied the Lord even before a little maid who could qualify as his daughter. Judas who was overlooking the treasure of the community sold the master for thirty pieces of silver (about $155). And of course the others took to their heels when the situation became unbearable.

All these and more became past tales with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day. Indeed we have reason to rejoice because as St. Paul would say death is destroyed and victory is complete (1 Cor. 15:54). It is also victory over the plans of the devil.

From the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ the devil had been looking for ways of stopping the salvific work of the redeemer through different persons and situations though without success until the appointed time when our Lord was subjected to suffering and death on the cross. So when we hear about Herod plotting to kill the infant, the Scribes, Sadducees, Pilate, the Priests, Pharisees, the towns people of Nazareth and their like we should actually see these as orchestrations of the devil to frustrate the work of our redemption.

After the death of Jesus the devil also saw the need to stop him from rising from the dead through the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin who went to Pilate to ask that the tomb be guarded by Roman soldiers (Matt 27:62-65). This was a situation where mere mortals wanted to prevent a divinely programmed redemptive plan.

This whole arrangement of supposing that the disciples will come to take the body of Jesus away and say that he rose from the dead showed the anxiety on the part of the devil that after all the resurrection will make a show of the futility of his plans. It is important to note that nobody, spirit or human, can thwart the plans of God. At the appointed time; the divinely instituted moment the soldiers strategized to beat Jesus back into the grave should he attempt to rise. However there was an earthquake (Matt.28:1) and an angel came and rolled the stone that was covering the tomb away. The soldiers were so terrified that they became like dead men and at that instant our Lord rose majestically and triumphantly. The soldier woke up only when it was too late and they could only go to report themselves as sleeping when the disciples took the body of the Lord away; an incredible tale that is unbecoming of Roman Soldiers.

The testimony of the women who went to the tomb early and met an empty tomb was ascertained by Peter and John who went to confirm the empty tomb. It is also our faith that our Lord has risen and that also marks our own resurrection. We are a resurrection people. There is no way our Lord could rise and we remain unaffected and unchanged by the power of his resurrection. To this end St. Paul would admonished us that if we believe that we have been raised with Christ we should seek for things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the father (Col.3:1f).

The resurrection of Jesus is productive of a lasting identity for us. There is need for every aspect of our lives to be marked with the character of the resurrection. Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth (part two) indicated that the Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead. May his resurrection open new vistas of elevation for you.

Happy Easter.

Fr.Bonnie.   

THE TOMB IS EMPTY, ALLELUIA: HOMILY FOR THE EASTER VIGIL. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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In most cases when something is said to be empty there is usually a negative connotation for instance “my fuel tank is empty, the wine bottle is empty, the treasury is empty etc. On this day however the word EMPTY takes up a triumphant and victorious character.

When very early in the morning on the first day of the week some women went to the tomb with some spices to anoint the body of Jesus they found out that the stone used to close the mouth of the grave had been rolled away and going in they found the tomb empty; they were confused and disappointed. But two angels were on ground to tell them that the one they seek is alive and not among the dead; hence that the tomb is empty is after all a wonderful indication that the Lord has risen to life.

From the event above we understand emptiness from a different perspective. It speaks of a plus instead of a minus situation. In fact there is more to it than the absence of our Lord Jesus Christ from the tomb. When humanity failed in Adam we became empty by losing our connection with God. To vouchsafe our redemption our Lord Jesus Christ emptied himself of his equality with God and took our human form (Phil.2:7-8).This he did so that we can be refilled. The tomb became empty so that our lives may be filled with the power of the risen Lord.

Furthermore the emptiness of the tomb is an indication of the futility of life without Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ is absent from any segment of our lives we wallow in abject and senseless emptiness. Attentive to this the preacher said “vanity upon vanity all is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2; 12:8). The empty tomb is also an indication of the futility of the power of the devil. It shows that the promises of the devil are but empty promises (Luke 4:3-13). By his resurrection Jesus emptied our lives of sin and evil and filled us with good things. (Psalm 107:9; Rom.15:13).

Arguments for and against the empty tomb had preoccupied biblical scholars for a long time. It will amount to recycling issues if we jump into that this night; in fact the joy at the resurrection of the Lord is so much in me that there may not be any chance for such baseless arguments.

It will be more gainful to explore what actually happened between the time of the burial of Jesus Christ and his resurrection on the third day. When Jesus died his body was buried in the tomb but his spirit descended into hell (as we proclaim in the creed: “He descended into hell”). The hell referred to in this passage is not the lake of fire described in the book of revelation (20:14). Hell as used here refers to hades which in Greek means a place of the dead. We see this very clearly in the book of revelation (20:12) which tells us of the fact that the dead would first be judged before their fate is determined. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (4:8-10) tells us what this descending into hell means and St. Peter supports his view (I Pet.3:19) by telling us that he descended into hell to preach to the souls there.

It is our belief that nobody entered into heaven before Christ’s ascension into heaven. This means that those who died with good lives before the resurrection of Christ were kept in the place of the dead. In the office of the reading today we have an ancient homily which describes how our Lord Jesus Christ went to wake Adam and Eve up from the sleep of death in the limbo of the fathers. He emerges with the tree of redemption (the cross) as contradistinguished from the tree of sin in the Garden of Eden. With the descent into hell our Lord accomplished the work of announcing the good news to all creation (Matt.24:14) because he alone qualifies to announce the good news to that realm.

At this point it will be worthwhile to look into what the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands to effect in our lives. Put in another way what are the benefits of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the life of an active Christian or what is rising from the dead (Mk.9:10).

  • In I Cor.15:14-18 St. Paul did say among other things that if Christ did not rise from the dead we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe. He also said that if Christ did not rise from the dead then our faith is meaningless. Hence the rising from the dead is a confirmation of our faith and we are alive again.
  • The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is a clear indication of the fact that sin and death have been conquered. We are no longer subjected to the law of sin and death, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free (Romans 8:2). The resurrection moved the stone of sin that covered us from receiving the light of God’s grace. There is a sense wherein we see the tomb as representing our hearts and the stone as sin covering it from divine contact. The resurrection of Jesus Christ removes this obstacle and we are given access again to God’s grace.
  • It means that we have been liberated from the stranglehold of our enemies. Those who have been after us are now been pursued by God. God is now troubling our troubles and worrying our worries. Power has changed hands and we have been lifted to a new level. The tears of the passion have given way to the joy of the resurrection. In fact we have been liberated from three conditions:

a)       From Stand-still: As children we have a game called “stand-still”. Those who play this game usually tell each other to stand-still and the person is expected to stand still or pause until the person releases you. There are actually many people out there who are standing still not because they want to stand-still but because the devil has orchestrated it in some ways. The power of the resurrection is releasing such people this night.

b)       Drop it for me: This is also another game we used to play as children as a form of a bet. In the game, if you are holding something and your partner in the game sees you the person will say drop it! And you are obliged by the rule of the game to drop it no matter what it is; no negotiation. There is no doubt that many people have been dropping things that should rightly belong to them by obeying evil suggestions. This situation is hereby reversed by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. From this moment you shall have what rightly belongs to you.

c)     Salute me: This is yet another game we played as children. Here you force allegiance and subordination from your partner in the game by being the first to ask your partner in the game to salute you. It is a fact that some people have been paying allegiance to the devil by failing to give God true and enduring homage and worship that pleases Him (John 4:24). With the resurrection of Jesus Christ this situation has been reversed. God alone deserves our attention and homage.

As the tomb lies empty, may our lives be emptied of evil and rot; as the stone was rolled away may the power of the resurrection roll away all known and unknown obstacles in our lives. As Jesus rose triumphantly, may we rise from all physical and spiritual entanglements.

Happy Easter!

Fr. Bonnie.

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THE GOOD IN THE FRIDAY: HOMILY FOR THE GOOD FRIDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

I found this story very interesting. One day St. Peter was standing at a balcony and from a distance, he saw Judas Iscariot coming with a wooden box. When Judas came closer Peter asked him where he was going with a wooden box and what plan he was trying to hatch and reminded him how he betrayed their Master. Judas Iscariot answered and said that he was coming to see Peter. Peter became confused and asked him what was inside the wooden box and he asked him to come and see. Peter came down and opening the box he saw a cock. Infuriated he asked Judas what that meant and before Judas could reply the cock crew and Peter remembered what happened the night our Lord was betrayed and Judas smiling said to him: “I am not the only bad man here; you are also a bad man you denied the master!”

One important fact we all should reckon with is that we all are worse than we think but we constantly see others as the worst branded sinners. Like our Lord Jesus Christ would say, we fail to see the log in our eyes but see the speck of dust in our neighbour’s eyes (Matt. 7:3). Today is what it is because of OUR SINS. Not the betrayal of Judas Iscariot alone but also the denial of St. Peter, the evil plot of the chief Priests and the Scribes, the judgment of Pilate and Herod, the jeering of the crowd, the brutality of the soldiers and indeed the sins of all of us. To this viewpoint St. Paul would add: “We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23).

Faced with some situations in life some people often reassure themselves of a better time by saying: “it is well!” There is no day that is as sublime as today to say boldly that IT IS WELL. The whole creation had been waiting for this day to come. This is the day that marks the triumph over the devil through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Hence this Friday is good because our debt had finally being paid and fully. We do no longer owe; Jesus Christ our Lord by his death on the Cross had cancelled the debt we incurred through sin. St. Paul brought this out very vividly in his letter to the Colossians (2:14) where he established clearly that our unfavourable records were cancelled by Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.

The central object today is the Cross. It will thus be worthwhile to dwell more profoundly on the Cross of Calvary. There are two prominent platforms in the whole of the Bible: the tree at the middle of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16-17) and the tree of the Cross of Jesus Christ (I Pet.2:24; Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29). The Cross functions in undoing the powers and effects of the tree in the middle of the garden. The tree was attractive to the eyes but its fruits led humanity to disconnection from God. The cross, on the other hand, had no attraction (the only fruit is the one crucified on it, Jesus Christ). It is despised by all but through it, humanity is redeemed and reconnected with God. Hence our Lord Jesus Christ would say: “when I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). This simply means that the tree at the middle of the Garden of Eden dispersed all people from God, but the Cross of Jesus Christ in the middle of sinners (represented by the two thieves crucified by his left and right) brought humanity back to God.

  • Humanity failed God by the tree at the middle of the garden and humanity got redemption by the tree of the Cross at the middle of sinners.
  • Satan seduced humanity by the old tree but on the platform of the cross (the new tree), Satan was defeated.
  •  By the old tree, God pronounced curses and human nature was wounded but by the new tree, humanity received blessings and healing.
  •  By the old tree of Eden, Adam and Eve were chased out but through the new tree, we received divine convocation (Jn 12:32).

The Cross from all indications is the symbol of our victory. No wonder then we have today the ceremony of the veneration of the Cross. After the African Cup of Nations which went in favour of Nigeria, we saw the players struggling to hold the Cup high and to kiss it. The Cup in question symbolizes a particular victory won. The Cross is more than Nation’s Cup or World Cup. In the cross, we have THE VICTORY, not A VICTORY.

Having explored all that was done for our sake, the pertinent question would be; “What can I offer to the Lord to make him happy?” This story will be fitting here. A mother came to visit her daughter in her school. The girl was not expecting the mother to come; in fact, she never visited her only her elder sisters did. This day her mum came for a women convention and the venue was close to her daughter’s school and she decided to stop by and give her a few things she bought on her way.

This girl was told that her mother was waiting to see her at the reception but she told the people who gave her the message that her mum was in London and the woman in question could not be her mum. She refused to attend to her visitor and walked away to a place nobody could see her. After a long time, she felt that her mother had gone and while taking a walk with some of her friends her mother came behind her and touched her and asked her why she had refused to come and see her. Obviously, her mother had scars on her face that made her look very awkward and the girl could not stand introducing such an “ugly woman” to her friends as her mum.

By the time this woman was able to get the attention of the girl and her friends she narrated to her how when she was a little baby their house caught fire and she (the baby) was alone in the house and how she (her mum) jumped into the house in spite of the fire and rescued her (the daughter) without any hurt at all while she (her mum) was seriously burnt while protecting the little baby from the fire. She concluded by saying to the girl “my girl I look ugly and awkward like this because of you; I got burnt so that you can be saved and live”. After saying this she turned and left.

What the mother of the school girl did for her child is so effectual and touching. However, this cannot be compared to what Jesus Christ did for us on Calvary yet we still deny him and betray him at needful times. The schoolgirl in our story could hug her mum and dance around her at the comfort of their home but outside her home in the presence of her friends, she denied her mother who staked her life so that she could live.

How can we sufficiently appreciate what Jesus Christ did for us? His suffering for us was real. During the shooting of the life-changing movie “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson (2004), the man who acted Jesus Jim Caviezel confessed that Jesus Christ must have suffered more than we actually imagined. Mel Gibson wanted to make the movie as real as possible so he tried to use the actual things used by the Roman Soldiers at the time to punish criminals. For flogging, they used a whip (flagrum) which had several strands on which are attached pieces of bones and irons. The Jewish flogging then was thirty-nine times (2nd Cor. 11:24) but the Roman soldiers had no limit. When they flog the bones and irons would be dug into the body and they would draw the whip letting out blood. During the movie, they used the same whip but covered the body of Jim. However, it happened once that the elastic covering shifted and the whip landed on the bare body of the actor. The impact was so much that the shooting of the movie was suspended to allow Jim Caviezel to recover.

We are expected to be more desirous in keeping God’s commandment; to love, to forgive and to be reconnected with God. The best way to appreciate our Lord Jesus Christ for the wonderful work of our redemption is to change our ways of life and live as those who have actually been redeemed!

May this Friday be absolutely GOOD for you.

Fr. Bonnie.

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