Fr Bonnie's Reflections

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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WHY IS THIS THURSDAY HOLY? HOMILY FOR THE HOLY THURSDAY. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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There are indeed many things happening on this day. Apart from the traditional Chrism Mass (which in some places had been shifted to an earlier date because of the numerous events of this Thursday) there is also the evening celebration which houses the institution of two sacraments: the Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist; yet there is also the deeply significant ceremony of the washing of feet.

Today is also known as (a.k.a) Maundy Thursday. The word ‘Maundy’ is derived from the Latin “Mandatum” which means commandment. Now the question would be where does this command fall since we seem to have a lot of events occurring? We can actually understand this commandment by indicating that our Lord commanded the apostles to love with humility by serving one another and to keep it up as a practice in his memory. We shall be looking at the high points of our celebration in what follows:

  1. 1.      The Washing of Feet.

Before undertaking this lowly activity the gospel of St. John indicated among other things that Jesus “LOVED HIS OWN TO THE END”. This is a clear indication to us that God’s love never fails and it is not conditional. It actually endures all things and never ends (Psalm 100:5; 136:1; I Cor.13:7).

The foot is the lowliest part of the human body that is in constant contact with the ground which is also the base of dirt. In our traditional communities when people come visiting us from very long distances we show concern for their long journey by offering them water to drink. The Jew at the time of Jesus would in addition to this, provide water for the person water to wash the feet (See Luke 7:44). Significantly this washing is done by a slave or servant because it is a lowly job.

In the context we are talking about when Jesus and the apostles arrived at the upper room after a long trek, he offered to wash their feet, as an expression of his undying love which moved him to die for the sake of his friends (Jn. 15:13). Jesus washed the feet of the apostles not because he wanted to make a show of humility, (as some of us would do and have it posted for the public to see), he was however practically exhibiting humility and encouraging the apostles to learn and do the same. That was why he said: “If I your Lord and Teacher washed your feet then you should wash one another feet, what I have done to you do to one another”. (Jn.13:14-15).

The above words of our Lord have an urgent mandate or command. We see this clearly in the account of St. John (13:34-35) where our Lord said: “I give you a new commandment love one another as I have loved you”. This he repeated again in John (15:12) where he says: “my commandment is this, love one another as I have loved you”.

We understand from the foregoing and within the context of the washing of feet that loving one another is a commandment not an option. It is something we have to do irrespective of our positions or ranks. In the ceremony of the washing of feet we are told that our Lord “rose, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist”. Rising is a practical show on an inner decision. It is different from saying I will arise; it is an activated decision. By taking off his outer garment our Lord shows us the importance of self-abasement, self-abnegation, and selflessness in service. At times there is need for us to put aside our exalted positions, at times we are called upon to keep our ranks aside in order to love deeply and more efficiently as Jesus did (Phil.2:7).

The tying the towel around his waist like a priest would tie a cord around his waist for the celebration of the mass, our Lord disclosed readiness to begin serving his people instantly. In some contexts in West Africa when a woman ties a piece of cloth around her waist there is a clear indication of urgent readiness to do something; it could be a fight, work etc.

The washing of feet itself points also to the sacrament of penance in which we are washed from our sinful pasts. By washing the feet of the apostle our Lord was symbolically stating his mission on earth which is the washing away of the sins of the world that ended up creating a gap between divinity and humanity. When Peter wanted a total body wash our Lord told him that he may not understand what the washing of feet meant but that he would understand later. We believe that he understood later as Acts 2:38 indicated.

  1. 2.      Institution of the Holy Eucharist

The Eucharist is the centre and summit of the Church’s life and ministry. It is the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the appearances of bread and wine.

Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted this sacrament for a variety of reasons.

  • It is a way of abiding with us as he said: “I will be with you till the end of time”. (Matt.28:20).
  • It is an institution of communion between him and us and among us.
  • It is a source of eternal life. John (6:54) says that “whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day”.
  • It is a source of spiritual strength and antidote to sin. It guides and leads us on our pilgrim journey to God.

 

  1. 3.       Institution of the Holy Orders

Last week a younger colleague after reading my blog on the Palm and Passion Sunday told me a short story of what happened afterwards to the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. According to him on its way back the donkey did not receive those accolades that characterized the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Nobody seemed to notice it as it was coming back home. Dejected and confused it asked the mother why nobody seems to notice him anymore the mother smiled and said “you were noticed then and praised because of the one who was riding on you. Without him you nobody will notice you without him you are nothing”.

The above can be said of those who have been called, chosen and confirmed to function as ministers of the Word and Sacraments. The priest is at most “another Christ” traditionally called “alter Christus”.Hence without Christ the priest is nothing. What is important in our priesthood is not the quantity we take home but the quality we bring in. We are called and chosen to care for “feet” and not to cut them. We are called to wash feet and not to wither them. What is important is not WHERE we are sent to work but the SOULS we are meant to save.   

It is worth noting that we are what we are based on the honour given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb.5:4). On that same Thursday evening our Lord instituted the Holy Orders while instituting the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This is actually logical because the Holy Eucharist has to be handled by a specified group of people just as the command to celebrate it as a memorial was not given by our Lord to a large crowd like when he gave the eight beatitude on the mount. This was rather a privileged mandate given directly to the apostles and by extension their successors. We can rightly say then that the Holy Eucharist cannot exist without the priesthood and the Priesthood cannot exist without the Holy Eucharist.

To conclude it may be worth doing to take note of the following points.

  • We need to learn from Jesus Christ the life of humility. It is all about setting aside our ranks and positions in view of showing love deeply and more effectively. Love is what we need to activate. In our day and age love seem to be far-fetched and unattainable because we make little effort at it. Selfless service to one another is a priority for all Christian; clergy and laity alike.
  • We should appreciate and esteem highly the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Orders as two indispensable and complementing Sacraments. How often do I receive our Lord fully conscious of right preparation? Do I attend to the Sacrament of penance as often as I should?
  • As a priest how do I conduct my priestly functions to the best of my ability? Are my inputs helping or hindering the mission entrusted to me by Christ himself?

By the way this Thursday is Holy because of the Holy institutions made therein by our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wish you a happy celebration!

Fr. Bonnie.

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THE PALM AND THE PASSION: HOMILY FOR THE PALM SUNDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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      Today marks the beginning of the Holy Week or the great doorway to the Holy Week as the Pope emeritus, Benedict xvi, described it. This day is known also as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. As Palm Sunday we are reminded of the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. It was a triumphant entry because it was marked with great pomp and pageantry as the people spontaneously gave our Lord a “red carpet” reception. Significantly this triumphant entry was actually an entry into suffering and death by crucifixion though at the end there was a rising from the dead!

      Before this entrance we are told that our Lord asked two of his disciples to go into the village facing Bethphage and they would see a donkey tied to a tree and they should untie it and bring it to him. And should anyone question them they should say that the Master needed it urgently. This directive which fulfills Zecharia (9:9) gives us a lesson we need to ponder upon. The donkey represents our souls that God need urgently. The coming of Jesus Christ into our context is to untie our souls from the tree of sin. The tree around which the donkey was tied reminds us of the tree at the middle of the Garden of Eden in Genesis (3:3) where Adam and Eve contracted the sin of disobedience which befell humanity. Christ our Lord came to undo the power of that tree and replace it with the tree of redemption namely the Cross of Calvary.

      Attentive to the foregoing we understand that the Lord has need for our souls that have been tied securely on the stake of sin and damnation. He has come to deliver our souls from its prison of abandonment to the tree of sin into the Jerusalem of redemption. It is true that our Lord Jesus Christ entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, it is however good to note that the triumph goes beyond that particular physical entrance. The triumph culminated in the death on the Cross. The entry began the triumph but the death concluded the triumph. But we should note that between the entry and the Cross there was suffering. When our souls are liberated from the stake of sin we should not be afraid to go through the route of suffering as that would be leading us into the total victory.

      After the triumphant entry with Palms and the singing of hosanna came the passion of the Lord. We can fully appreciate and understand the Lord’s passion on three centres of gravity. These represent the three important places and instances where our Lord suffered under three different hands.

1. The Gethsemane Passion

At Gethsemane our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the hands of Satan. In Luke 4:13 we are meant to understand that after the temptation, the devil left Jesus Christ and waited for an opportune time. Gethsemane represents that opportune moment for the devil to attempt at stopping the redemptive work of Christ. The depressing and agonizing monologue our Lord had in the garden showed clearly that he was troubled and deeply distressed (Mark 14:33). In the account of Matthew (26:37) our Lord said that he is sorrowful unto death.

At the above point, he was feeling the impact of the load of our sins and the devil was at hand to discourage him from carrying the load of our sins. Often we get “beautiful suggestions” from the devil on our way to do the will of God. Gethsemane actually means “oil press”. It thus appears that the load of our sins was pressed upon him that it seemed to be too much for him to bear. No wonder then he asked if the cup could pass, but let the will of God be done.

2. The Gabbatha Passion

At Gabbatha our Lord suffered in the hands of sinners. The gospel of Matthew (26:45) confirms this when Jesus asked the apostles with him: “are you sleeping? The hour has come and the son of man is being delivered into the hands of sinners”.

At Gabbatha as Isaiah (53:3ff) prophesied he was betrayed, deserted, beaten, rejected, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns and condemned to die  by those he came to untie from the tree of sin.

3. The Golgotha Passion

At Golgotha our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the hands of divinity; he suffered in the hands of his own father. But this suffering is unlike the preceding ones because it is the kind that is salvific. It was the kind of suffering that was most needful for our redemption. The kind of suffering that St. Paul recommended to the followers of Christ (Philippians 1:29).

At Golgotha God dealt with sin fully and finally in the body of his own son. At Golgotha our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in his full humanity and did not count on his equality with God (Phil.2:7) At Golgotha the Father forsook the Son (Mark 15:34) and allowed him to taste the bitter gall of death so that humanity can be saved and be reunited with the Father once more.

With these three instances of suffering we understand that suffering is part of our human reality. In life we meet various forms of suffering. Sometimes we tend to think that God had forsaken us. The truth is that some forms of suffering we pass through are meant to help us get to where God wants us to be. Whenever we see ourselves going through some forms of suffering let us remember that our Lord Jesus Christ went that road but came out victorious; what God has prepared for you is more than what you think you are going through at the moment (1 Cor. 2:9).

We are called within this week to make an active connection with our Lord Jesus Christ. We see from the event of today that there were praises followed by condemnation. “Hosanna to the Son of David and Crucify him” were parallel statements coming from the crowd. Do not jump on the praises from people (the crowd) at the entry point because they may also formulate your judgment and condemnation at the end of the road.

I respectfully wish you a wholly Holy Week.

Fr. Bonnie.

(fatherbonny@hotmail.com)

 

 

CAUGHT IN THE VERY ACT BUT NOT CUT OUT: HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

Imagine being caught red-handed doing something morally bad! It could be while telling a beautiful lie to excuse oneself, skillfully taking something that does not belong to oneself, manipulating a situation to favour oneself like cheating in an examination, being caught by the person one is gossiping about, or more shamefully, being seen in an emotionally unwholesome position with someone who is not one’s spouse. In our popular parlance when people are caught in such acts we hear things like:

-“It is not what you think!”

-“I can explain this!”

-“It is the work of the devil!” Etc…

Today in the gospel (Luke 8:1-11) while Jesus was teaching in the temple a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees and the Scribes. They wanted Jesus to pronounce her execution as an authority with the pre-knowledge of the provision of the law that such a person should be stoned to death (Deut. 22:22). St. John however made us to know that the whole plot was set to put Jesus to the test. If you check out the Law of Moses concerning this act you will discover that they contravened that law. In the Mosaic Law, the process when adultery is discovered involves:

  • Bringing the offenders to the legal authority that is a legally appointed judge or one of the city elders.
  • The presence of two witnesses to testify before the legal authority prior to the command to execute the offenders by stoning.

From the above explanation one will discover that those who brought the woman to Jesus Christ were trying to achieve the following:

  • To make Jesus Christ assume the role of a judge even though he had not been legally appointed to be one using the standard of the Mosaic Law.
  • To make Jesus break the law by instigating a murder because one of the offenders was not there (the man); only the woman was brought and she could not have committed adultery by herself.

In the face of all these, our Lord Jesus Christ remained calm and went on writing on the ground. John did not tell us what he was writing but we can conjecture from the reaction of those who brought the woman. We are told that they started leaving from the place starting from the eldest when he stood up and said whoever among you here is without sin let him be the first to cast a stone on the woman. Some commentators would say that he listed their names and similar sins they have committed beginning from the eldest and this could have been very likely.

When they had left Jesus asked the woman: “where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said “No one Lord”. And Jesus said “Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again”. Here we have so much to learn from the Pharisees and the Scribes, the woman and Jesus Christ.

1. Lessons from the Pharisees and Scribes:

Often times we are quick and ready to find faults in others and to condemn them. It is easier for us to see the mistakes and misdeeds of other people than ours. It was to this effect that Jesus warned us not to judge so that we may not be judged (Matt. 7:1) and to remove the plank in our own eyes so that we can see clearly enough to remove the speck in our neighbour’s eyes (Matt. 7:5).

We are very much like the Pharisees when we see the bad in others and would not notice the worst in us. We see the failures of our leaders but we don’t care about our ineptitude in followership. We see the wickedness in our parents but we don’t identify with our truancy. We see the bad in our children but we don’t reckon with our worst examples. When it has to do with us it is a little mistake but when others are involved it is a very big crime; they must pay for it! They must die!

2. Lessons from the Woman caught in the very act.

I have seen this written somewhere: “Admit it when you are wrong”. This is often a very big task for many of us. We would like to defend and rationalize over our sins and offences. We often try to excuse ourselves from the things we have done with our full senses and faculties in place. The devil is often blamed. Sometimes we blame our families, backgrounds, friends, the government and even God. The blaming game is a very popular one in the world.

With this woman we notice a different disposition. She accepted her situation without blaming anyone. Her silence and comportment disclosed the fact that she accepted the fact that she was a sinner and that she was ready to face her fate. The people who brought her to Jesus wanted to use her as bait to test Jesus and as well achieve another goal of condemning her. But with Jesus everything changed for her:

  • The Mess became a Message.
  • The Test became a Testimony.
  • The Trial became a Triumph.
  • The Victim became Victorious.
  • The Challenge became a Chance.
  • The Stumbling Block became a Stepping Stone.
  • The Problem became a Prospect.

We are very much like this woman as we all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). God is always catching us red-handed in the very act of committing sin yet like this woman, He gives us another chance. In fact with God there are many chances for us to undo our past with a better future. The words of the first reading (Isaiah 43:16-21) seem to be addressed to the woman and to us. Among other things the oracle of Isaiah admonishes us not to remember former things nor consider the things of old but to behold the NEW THING God is doing in our lives which is happening already. Note that there are FORMER THINGS but there is a NEW THING. Here, the New Thing is salvation which is occasioned by God’s love for us (John 3:16). Ultimately the call of the season is for us to DISCHARG THE FORMER THINGS AND EMBRACING THE NEW THING. “Go and do not sin again!”

3. Lessons from Jesus Christ

No doubt our Lord Jesus Christ remains the turning point of the narrative. His presence changed a condemned and soon-to-be-stoned woman to a redeemed and saved woman. Jesus Christ did not condemn the woman though he did not compromise the sin in anyway. He made provision for a second chance for the woman. God is not interested in the death of a sinner but in his (her) repentance and reconciliation with him (Ezekiel 18:23). Jesus is focused on saving the lost (Luke 19:10). Whenever we are living in sin we are lost like the prodigal son of last Sunday. God looks forward to our return like the loving father of the prodigal son. He does not wait to condemn us and stone us but to forgive us and to grant us another chance to become better.

Do not reproduce the acts of the Pharisees and the Scribes in their rash and senseless judgment.

Situate yourself in the position of the woman caught in the act. Remember God often catches you in the very act of sin.

Like Jesus make room for a second chance for others and make use of the second chance God is giving to you today!

Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.Image

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