Fr Bonnie's Reflections

FROM DISFIGURATION TO TRANSFIGURATIONAL CHANGE OF POSITION: HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

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A young boy was serving as a sales apprentice to a man and he was doing really well and his master was very happy with him and gave him more responsibilities. One weekend, the boy went on his usual errand, this time to a big city to buy goods for his master’s shops. He concluded with the purchases and decided to come back on a Monday morning. The master spoke to him on the phone and asked him to make sure he traveled with the first bus in order to arrive in time with the goods he bought, but if per adventure he missed the first bus he should postpone his journey to the next day.

On getting to the bus station on Monday morning, the boy discovered that he had missed the first bus, though he left early with the goods but the early morning traffic in the city of Lagos Nigeria was much. He thought of postponing the journey but later decided to follow the second bus with the conviction that he would still arrive at his destination in time. The second bus left early and it was not long they left the busy city and headed towards Onitsha the biggest commercial nerve centres in the southeast of Nigeria. Along the road they encountered a road block and stopped supposing it to be a police check point. Like a flash some heavily armed men emerged from the nearby bush, surrounded the bus and asked the passengers to start coming out one after the other as they dispossessed them of all valuables; they were armed robbers! The young obedient boy in our story was shocked and overwhelmed when he looked out of the window; from the rear where he was seated, and saw his master he was visibly the “commanding officer” of the armed robbery gang. Instantly he remembered that his master told him to follow the first bus or postpone the journey. And as it was his turn to alert from the bus and get robbed, his eyes caught that of his master! The boy’s eye seemed to have asked the master: “sir is this really you; an armed robber? Unbelievable!” The boy was still starring in amazement when the master called his name and said: “did I not warn you to go with the first bus or postpone the journey?” The boy nodded and he asked him to run away and as he was doing so the master shot at him and he felled down and died!

One striking thing about the story was the sudden change of the master in the eyes of his boy from a humble and amiable business man to a commander of a daredevil armed robbery gang. Change, it is said, is constant. It touches every aspect of life both that of plants and animals. To change means to assume a new position. To change is to make allowance for a new reality. This period is ripe enough for us to advance towards positive changes in our lives.

In the first reading today (Gen. 15:1-12;17-18) we heard God telling Abram (later on in Genesis 17 God will change his name to Abraham) that insofar as he had agreed to change his position from where he was, he will receive abundant blessings from God. Upon this development God had a covenant with Abram to prosper him and enlarge his heritage and posterity to be as numerous as the stars on the sky. The same can happen in your life; if you are able to undertake a change your blessings will be as uncountable as the stars on the sky (Hebrew 6:13-15).

In the gospel of today (Luke 9:28-36) we read about the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ before three of his apostles who constitute the inner caucus (Peter, James and John). The transfiguration took place on a high mountain, to this effect our Lord and the witnesses of the transfiguration had to climb the mountain in question. The climbing of the mountain is a pointer to a change of position. They left the noisy crowd of confusion at the foot of the mountain and moved up to the quiet cloud of divine glory on the top of the mountain. They left the disfiguration by evil at the foot of the mountain and moved up to the transfiguration by God on the high mountain. In all, they changed their position from a lower range of nothingness to a higher range of values.

Generally the climbing of a mountain is not an easy task. The Lenten period is much like climbing a mountain; it is tasking but gainful after all. To be able to climb a mountain successfully one has to climb light. There is need to drop all kinds of loads especially the load of sin because only those with clean hands and pure hearts can do the climbing (Psalm 24:3-6). Furthermore we don’t need to climb with anything because all we need are adequately provided there on top of the mountain. (Isaiah 25:6-9).

 Now our Lord and the three famous apostles reached the top of the high mountain not for any fanfare but for prayers. It was at the instance of offering prayers that the transfiguration took place. God’s presence cannot break upon us when we are involved in things that are unconnected with Him. It is only at those points of divine connectedness that we can experience a transformation in our being. Describing the transfiguration the gospels relate to us that our Lord’s face changed and his clothes became dazzlingly white. Thereafter there was the celestial presence of Moses and Elijah and the gracious voice of God the Father confirming Jesus as the most beloved in whom He is well pleased. There are indeed many elements in this periscope that would serve the interest of biblical exegetes; however we are so much concerned here with the connection the transfiguration has with the needed change of position in our lives.

From the narrative of the transfiguration we can understand very well that without the change of position there couldn’t have been any transfiguration. The Lenten season is apt for this transfiguration. We are all called from the beginning of the season by the prophet Joel (2:12-16) to activate a change of position from the region of sin to nearness to God. In the prophecy of Isaiah we are also told to change our position by seeking God when He can be found, to call him when He can hear us and also to forsake wicked ways, unrighteous thoughts and return to God to gain His mercy (Isaiah 55:6-8).

This change of position is very important for us. Except we change our positions things will never change for us. There is no way we can be doing the same thing the same way over and over again and expect a different result; Albert Einstein calls this insanity! Joseph had to change his position to Egypt in order to receive his blessings. The people of Israel had to leave Egypt in order to get to the Promised Land. For any divine activity to take place in our lives there must be a corresponding change of position. We need to ask ourselves if we are making any serious effort this season of Lent to change our positions from disobedience to obedience, from darkness to light, from destruction to reconstruction and from disfiguration to transfiguration.

What we need and which is very absolute for us this season is A TRANSFIGURATIONAL CHANGE OF POSITION from what we used to be to what God wants us to be. We need to climb the mountain with the Lord, we need to pray along with the Lord and then be fitting enough to be transfigured with him into a more glorious level of existence. Until we encounter God in a deeper and more personal way, our knowledge of him will remain shallow. Peter (like the boy in our story) saw another aspect of Jesus Christ which he never experienced before but that was after climbing up the mountain and praying along with him.

May our lives be touched and transfigured by our effective encounter with Jesus Christ this season. Do have  transfigured days ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

TEMPTATION VS SIN: HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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A priest friend of mine was about to have his breakfast one Thursday morning before heading for lectures in the high school under his parish. But he suddenly changed his mind, just after saying the grace before meals, and proceeded to the school. His parochial assistant came to the same table to have his breakfast. After making the sign of the cross, accompanied by the grace before meals, he opened the dish and suddenly changed his mind about eating. He attempted to pick a piece of meat but felt discouraged and he left the table without tasting anything.

Few days later, just about noon, one room in the priest’s residence ‘mysteriously’ caught fire! Thanks to God that the inferno was noticed in time and the fire was extinguished before it could overwhelm the entire building. Upon inquiry about the cause of the fire, one of the boys helping the priest’s house admitted that he was responsible. He confessed that few day ago he poisoned the breakfast the cook served for the priest and his assistant with acid from a battery but they could not eat the food and he made sure he threw the food into the trash and later planned to burn the house. When he was queried as to why he wanted to kill the priest and his assistant he said that it was the devil that made him do the things he did. Devil accused!

Last year a man was caught at motor garage with a travelling bag containing the dead body of a child of about six year old. He actually refused to drop the bag in the trunk of the bus he boarded and was thus making the sitting arrangement difficult. The bus assistant suspected that there was something fishy about the bag and ordered the man to open it and clear the air. He refused and the people around forcefully took the bag from him and opening the bag everyone saw the dead body of the child. When he was questioned about his obscene act he said it was the devil! Devil accused!

There are numerous instances of misdeed wherein people ended up blaming their acts on the devil and accusing him. It thus appears that the devil goes about with some powerful remote controller that instantly pushes people to commit sin! Actually the issue is all about most people confusing temptation and sin! I think that what the devil does primarily is to tempt us and we in turn acting under that attraction WILLFULLY GIVE IN (whereby we can also willfully refuse to give in)! The devil does not force anyone to commit sin we still have our free will!

Today the gospel tells us about the temptation of Jesus Christ by the devil (Luke 4:1-13).According to the narrative our Lord just completed forty days retreat in the wilderness where he proceeded to after his baptism under the influence of the Holy Spirit. After the retreat which included fasting (for forty days) and prayers the devil came to tempt him with three-fold allurements. The wilderness or desert here rings a strong bell. From numerous biblical descriptions, wilderness is both place and a state.

  • It is a desolate and dry place without water (Ezk. 19:13).
  • It is a desolate state characterized by disconnection from God ( Num.14:33; Isa. 64:10).
  • It is a place of divine encounter and prayer (Luke 5:16; Mark 1:12ff).
  • It stands also as a place of refuge (1 Sam.23:14; Rev.12:14-17).
  • It is a place and a state of trial, temptation and punishment. (Ex. 15:22; Num.14:32; Luke 4:1ff).
  • It is also place of victory (Ex. 17:9-13; Luke 4:13-14).

The devil came to tempt our Lord after forty days of fasting and prayers. The people of Israel journeyed for forty years before reaching the Promised Land (Joshua 5:6) and we have been admitted into a period of forty days of the Lenten period. A deeper reflection on the temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ as we read in the gospel today will help us a lot as we undertake the Lenten journey. This reflection among other things will help us to be aware of the temptations that may assail us and also being careful not to give in by falling into sin.

It will be pertinent to establish immediately that the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ was real and it was an experience of his human nature (as opposed to some ideas that he refuted the devil in his divine nature). The letter to the Hebrews confirms this when it says that: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness but one who was tempted in every way like us yet he did not sin” (Heb.4:15).

1. If you are the son of God command this stone to become bread: This first temptation was directed at the immediate need of Jesus Christ at that time. He was just coming out from the forty days fast and obviously he was hungry and the devil cashed in on that to make him use his divine power in a very selfish way. Temptation can only come to you through what appeals to you and not what you don’t have any connection with. A dog will be tempted with a bone not with a cigarette, monkey with banana not with brandy!

In this first temptation you will notice that the devil used our Lord’s eternal position as the Son of God to challenge him. It is like telling someone: “if you think you are a man do this or that!” The devil knows that he is obviously the Son of God and he was actually telling him to use the privilege of his divinity and make himself confortable. Often temptation comes to us in our ardent desire for material comfort; in our effort to attend to our appetites. To this temptation our Lord Jesus Christ replied the devil with the word of God in Deuteronomy (8:3) which say “Man must not live by bread alone!”

 

2. To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me: It is always a joyful thing for the devil to steal the worship and adoration that should be given to God. Some people have asked if it means that the kingdoms of the world belong to the devil. The answer is that it is the kingdoms of darkness that are being referred to. Obviously the devil’s government operates on the basis of kingdoms and he was trying to buy the interest of our Lord Jesus Christ on some of the kingdoms while showing him their “glories”. We understand these kingdoms very well when we read St. Paul admonition to the Ephesians (6:11-12) to put on the whole armour of the Lord because the fight in view is against principalities and powers and rulers of darkness in this present age. The book of Revelation (12:12) goes further to pity the earth as the devil and his workers are on last minute raid on the whole earth.

Many people have suffered the loss of their souls to the devil in their search for power and influence by any way and manner. Actually one of the problems besieging the world today is the senseless search for dominant power over certain “kingdoms!”

 

  1. 3.  And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him “if your are the son of God throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge over you, to guard you.’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”: Here we see the devil quoting Psalm 91.Furthermore we see here the devil being persistent; the devil never relents, he keeps coming back! Here he repeats the phrase “if you are the Son of God” which formed part of the content of the first temptation; temptations will always come through your post, office, or rank!

Here the devil wanted Jesus Christ to take God for granted and to falsely apply His promises. God will give His angels charge over us; that is true, but when we need it not when we want it for self-aggrandizement. Very often we make this mistake of assuming that since God promised something to people in a certain context it must also be our portion irrespective of our commitment with God and obedience to His words. For instance someone who goes to lie down on the express road (freeway) while holding on the word of God in Psalm 118: 17, which says: “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord” may not live to recount what would happen. To this temptation our Lord replied using Deuteronomy (6:16), which says: “you must not put the Lord you God to the test”.

As we march into the Lenten period let us be aware that our commitment to God will undergo test and trails (Sirach 2:1). Temptations are sure to come so our readiness will avail us victory. The most plausible preparation is to be found always with a prayerful heart. St Peter would add to this by telling us to be sober and vigilant for our enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour and we must stand up to him strong in faith (1 Pet. 5:8).

May the grace of God guide and direct you throughout this period of lent and may you be victorious like our Lord in all trials. Happy Sunday and do have a blessed week ahead.  

Fr. Bonnie.

 

VALENTINE AND YOU : DO NOT CELEBRATE A “VALUELESS” VALENTINE. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

February 14th remains a notably remarkable date in the world conventionally known as Valentine’s day, St. Valentine’s day or more colloquially Val’s day. On this day most people seek after who would be their “Val” or “lover”. There seem to be so much craze around the world because February is 14th.

This craze had for a long time turned out to be a business opportunity for many to the extent that February 14th just like December 25th has been highly commercialized. Within a period of twenty-four hours most people lose their cool in an effort to ritualize what they cannot grasp it’s attendant reasons and values. Sometimes I sit and ponder if love that I know is seasonal (as some people would say it is the season of love) or February 14th bound.

There is no universally homogenous history of Valentine’s Day. What we have are legends. One connects the Valentine’s Day to a Roman festival called Lupercalia which was a pastoral festival that celebrated the warding off of evil spirits and bringing on of fertility exemplified by the wolf (lupus) that suckled Romulus and Remus the founders of Rome. It was celebrated between 13th and 15th February (ides of February) and at that time young people picked ballots as to who would become their spouses. It is believed by adherents of this legend that Saint Valentine’ Day was used to replace the pagan festival in the same manner that Christmas is said to have replaced the Roman  sun god worship on December 25th.

The other legend that is most prevalent revolves around a priest called Valentine who lived in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (3rd Century AD). This legend has it that Emperor Claudius II tried to reinforce his military base by making those serving in the military to stop getting into marriage and those married to stop seeing their spouses. For him marriage was distracting his soldiers and making them less effective. With this idea, young soldiers were estranged from their spouses and they were denied the genuine expression of love. Whosoever was found with a woman was either killed or dismissed. It was assumed that this rule made some of the soldiers to start practicing same-sex relationships.

The priest Valentine saw the Emperor’s decree as a total detraction from God’s initial marriage instruction which stipulates that a man leaves his father and mother and be joined to the wife and they become one body (Gen. 2:18). Convinced of the error on the part of the Emperor, Valentine began what could be referred to as positive disobedience by secretly wedding soldiers with their spouses. Soon after the act was laid open and he was arrested and jailed following an instruction from the Emperor. While in jail, he met the daughter of the jailer who found so much consolation in Valentine’s spiritual and moral directions. So she made it a point of duty to visit Valentine often in the jail. One day she came but she could not find Valentine because he had been taken away and was subsequently beheaded. However he left a note for the girl and which simply stated: “from your Valentine”. (May be he hadn’t time to write more).

Beyond the legend and Saint Valentine himself, the celebration is all about love and from my knowledge God is love (1 John 4: 8). If love in the real sense is what is being celebrated today, then God ought to be the centre of the celebration. The best way to celebrate God is to do His will not our own will, nor that of the devil nor that of other people. There is need for humanity to redefine what is being celebrated on this 14th day of February. Are we celebrating love or lust? Are we moved with genuine love and care or by a sudden wave of emotions that will last for twenty-four hours? Are we set to please God on this day or to please the devil? At the end of the celebration can we count ourselves more appreciable to God or lost in lust?

At most the Valentine if it must be celebrated should be a platform for those who are legally and sacramentally married to service their love for each other. It should be a time for married couples to be by themselves to evaluate their love quotient, to guage the progress so far, accept mistakes, ask for forgiveness, make amends and launch into a better love dependent future. If it must be celebrated, it could also be a time for families to reunite and redefine and solidify their love for each other since Saint Valentine from the later story above advocated for the divinely instituted marriage bond which is open for procreation of children.

For those who are yet to marry it provides an opportunity for positive anticipation supported by ardent prayers and not for immoral attitudes and indecent lifestyles. For those who are never married for the sake of the gospel it becomes a time to activate the spirit and character of Saint Valentine by encouraging and supporting couples to wed and live by their marriages vows. For those who are never married for other reasons (or no fault of their own) it becomes a good time to appreciate and look up to the marriage between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride with prayerful interest and drawing strength from the love the flows from that union.

This celebration should at this point become for us more of a sober reflection on what actually constitutes love. It should become for us an active introspection on what we understand as love and how we live it out in connection with God. If on this day you can forgive someone who had wronged you, if today you can extend a helping hand to someone in need, if today you can make a visit to the less fortunate and those who lack love then you would have done a great valuable Valentine’s Day. Do not celebrate a VALUELESS VALENTINE!

May God’s love be your guiding light today and always! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Fr. Bonnie.Image

THE ASH AND THE REST OF US: HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

Ash wednesdayOne incident will remain indelible in my mind; it serves here as a public confession of one of my childhood mischievous antics. On one Ash Wednesday many years ago, when I was still in primary school, my mother in her piety instructed that I go for evening mass so that I could receive the imposition of the ash on my forehead since I was unable to go for the morning mass on account of our  primary school schedule. This instruction was not palatable for me as I was to be involved in a crucial junior soccer team match that evening; in fact same time with the evening mass. I thought about the dilemma and suddenly hatched a plan.

I went for the junior soccer team match (instead of the mass) and afterwards I went to one spot where some people sell roasted fish and sourced for ash to impose on my forehead in case my mum should doubt if I attended the evening mass. There I saw black charcoal and immediately took one, soaking it a bit in water I signed a big cross on my forehead and headed home. Sighting my mum I walked boldly towards her with my head raised. She asked me if I went for the evening mass and I said yes and pointed at my forehead. She looked closely and saw charcoal on my foreheads and pulled my ear hard asking me to tell her exactly where I went. I was thinking about a defense when one of my friends rushed to our house calling me to come out and collect my wrist band that I left behind at the soccer field when I was rushing to get ash (though I ended up with charcoal). The rest next thing that happened to me after my friend’s visit can only be left to imagination.

Today is the first day of Lent. The Ash Wednesday starts a period of forty days (excluding Sunday) resonating with the forty days our Lord Jesus Christ undertook a desert prayer/fast retreat programme as we can see in Matt. 4:1ff and Luke 4:1ff. It will be pertinent for us to understand what we are undertaking very well so that the ash we receive on our foreheads will match with our inner selves. Ash as a tangible material is the end product we receive after subjecting any material to intense burning by fire. This immediately suggests to us that however great a material is, no matter how beautiful and precious it may be, under intense burning by fire everything is reduced to ash, even human beings.

Ash thus reminds us of our nothingness! During the imposition of ash on our foreheads one of the forms used is: “Remember dust thou art and to dust thou shall return” (Gen.3:19). This realization is expected to prod us to attend to the second form used which say: “Repent and believe the Gospel”.

In the Old Testament, ash was used to demonstrate penitence, self-abasement, self-abnegation and remorse for sins:

  • In the prophecy of Jeremiah we read: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in ashes.” (Jer.6:26).
  • In the book of Daniel (9:3) we read: “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer with fasting sackcloth and ashes”.
  • When the King of Nineveh heard the oracle of Jonah he covered himself with sackcloth and sat on ashes. (Jonah 3:6).
  • During the time of Judith the people showed their repentance from sin by sprinkling ash on their heads

 (Judith 4:11).

  • Job decried: “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. (Job 42:6).
  • Mordecai reacted against the decree against the people of Israel by king Ahasuerus by tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth and sitting on ashes. (Esther 4:1).

In the New Testament our Lord Jesus Christ confirmed the utility of sackcloth and ash as paraphernalia for repentance (Matt. 11:21 & Luke 10:13):“Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

The Lenten period generally calls for repentance. During this time we are invited to do a turnaround in our lives. We are invited to make deep and active introspection and come out with renewed lives. The first reading from the prophet Joel (2:12-18) issues a convocation of the people inviting them for a radical change of heart and attitude in order to receive God’s blessings. The responsorial psalm begs God to have mercy on us on account of our sins. In the 2nd reading (1 Cor.5:20-6:2) St. Paul calls for our reconciliation with God as we have been ushered into a favourable time of salvation.

In the gospel reading our Lord Jesus Christ took time to explore the three important pillars of Lenten period namely: Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting / Abstinence. We shall be looking at these briefly:

  1. 1.             Almsgiving: This is a very important Christian virtue that connects us directly with God. When we give alms we represent and resemble God because it is in the character of God to give. Life is a typical example of God’s almsgiving to humanity. Whatever we have had been given to us by God and we in turn are expected to becomes alms that give to others. Jesus Christ gave us a direct command to this effect when he said: “Give and there shall be gifts for you a full measure pressed down shaken together, running over will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). Our Lord also identified almsgiving as one of the preconditions for entrance into the kingdom of God (Matt. 25: 35-40). The salutary power of almsgiving was also established by St. Peter when he said that charity covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8-9).

It is indeed disheartening that our world is divided into two unequal parts: the world of the lavish rich and that of the abject poor. Everyday millions of people go to bed hungry while some other are throwing food away in the trash. This is the time we are expected to extend our alms to give to those who are in need and gain blessings for ourselves. Our old wears and discarded items can renew someone’s life some place.

  1. 2.             Prayer: Prayer is our communication gateway to God. Prayer is so important in our lives that when we stop praying we start perishing. Prayer presents us to God and God is consequently made present to us. Jesus Christ our redeemer did not only pray (Mk 1:35-36; Luke 6:12-13; John 17:1-26), he taught how to pray (Luke 11:1-4) and even fervently (Luke 18:1ff). It is regrettable in our day and age that most people find prayer burdensome. We often have time for almost everything except prayer.
  2. 3.             Fasting / Abstinence: This Lenten practice is often misunderstood and ill-applied. Fasting and Abstinence have active connections. It is however recommended that we order them well so that we don’t relapse into mere devotionalism. It is pertinent to establish that food is not the only thing we can fast from. This period is auspicious enough for us to eschew our known bad habits and deny ourselves of those things we derive a lot of pleasure from and which are destructive of our spiritual and moral growth.

Most people are anticipating the Lenten period as it would avail them the chance to stay away from food and therefore get perfect physical shape while being inattentive to perfect spiritual shape. If outside the Lenten period I can comfortably go deep into the day without food without worries, how can fasting from food be of great benefit to me as a Lenten observance? It will be more appropriate for us to fast and abstain from sin than to pay attention to fasting from food when our hearts are connected with sin.

As we file out to receive the ash let be conscious of the fact that the ash we receive will not avail us anything if there is no substantial inner transformation. The ash is not some automatic sin washing detergent. It is basically an outward sign of the inner conviction of our sinfulness and our readiness to turn out better persons. Let us not be too conscious of the imposition of the ash as many people will be struggling and rushing after the ash, forgetting the needed transformation that should define our lives henceforth.

May God’s grace give us the consistency and resolve we need to pass through this Lenten period and come out better Christians who will rise with Christ with renewed and regenerated hearts.

 Have a wonderful Lenten period!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

OUR SINFUL PAST VS OUR SAINTLY FUTURE: HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD.

Jesus' hugThe lynching, burning and killing of four students of University of Port Harcourt on the 5th of October 2012 at Aluu community in Rivers State Nigeria raised so much dust in Nigeria and beyond. Many believed that the mob made a rash judgment by assuming that the young boys (identified as Lloyd, Ugonna, Chidiaka and Takena) were robbers following the alarm raised by a debtor to one of them. Without mercy or chance for the young boys to state their own side of the story, they were gruesomely beaten to death and their bodies set ablaze in broad day light!

In the book of Psalms (130:3-4), we read: “If you O Lord should mark our iniquities, Lord who would survive, but with you is forgiveness and for this we revere you”. When a woman that was caught in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus for him to supposedly condemn her, our Lord challenged those who brought her thus: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. (John 8:7) .We are aware of what happened after; they all walked away starting from the eldest. St. Paul provides a summary which says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Rom.3:23).

From the three readings today we notice a common denominator running through and that is our sinfulness before God. Before God we are truly and thoroughly sinful. Our sinful state becomes more glaring when we come closer to God’s righteous presence; it is like discovering how short you are by standing beside a huge giant. Isaiah in the first reading decried;

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa.6:5).

In the second reading St. Paul reflecting on his days of antagonism against the early Church (Acts 9:1-5) confessed:

“I am least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9).

In the gospel reading Simon Peter after witnessing the miracle of the great catch of fish went down on his kneels before Jesus Christ and said:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke. 5:8).

      These men encountering the exceptional presence of God recognized their fallen state. From these we can understand what exactly happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. The word of God said:

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.”(Gen.3:8).

It is often a belief among some people that those who go to hell are those who are not able to withstand the astounding glory of heaven because they would become discordant notes in the melody of heaven. Heaven will turn out to be for them a place of torture; hence the idea of hiding and getting away from the resplendent glory of God.

      Our reflection today is all about the possible transition from our sinful past into our saintly future; if you like from “sinhood” to sainthood. It is not unforeseen for some of us to identify and condemn some people as sinners. Some of us may even have a record book with columns for sinners and saints based on our defective judgments. The hard fact is that every saint had a past (which could have been sinful) and every sinner has a future (which could as well be sinless). Evidently those who lynched and killed the four young boys in the epoch making Aluu killing acted from a defective stance because even God who created us allows U-turns on the routes of our lives. That is why in the oracle of Isaiah God said:

“Come now let us reason together says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are like red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa.1:18).

      A deeper reflection on the circumstances that led to Peter’s confession in the gospel reading today will be very helpful to us. We are told from the gospel periscope that Simon as his brother Andrew and perhaps their companions, James and John who were fishermen too, toiled all night but could not make a simple catch. From experts in the art of fishing, night times are the best times to go for fishing. But that very night was tough and frustrating. In the morning they gave up and started packing up their fishing tools ready to go. It so happened that Jesus was out in the morning preaching with a large crowd surging upon him and he requested for Simon’s boat as a platform or if you like a pulpit. Simon was willing to lend out his boat in spite of the frustration of the previous night. After the preaching Jesus asked them to cast their net for a catch but Simon told him frankly that they could not make it in the night (the best time) so the daytime may be a useless attempt. But they went ahead anyway and the catch was so much that Simon saw beyond a mere preacher by the seaside. He saw the glory of God which contrasted so much with his sinful state, hence he demanded an immediate exclusion from the presence of Jesus but Jesus Christ invited him and gave him another vocation; the catching of souls.

      A reflective look into the above scenario shows God’s purpose and direction. It could thus be said that God allowed their frustration the previous night in view of the testimony of the following day. It often happens in our lives that our hard moments are serving as platforms for the glorious future we are anticipating. Furthermore we see clearly the contrast between darkness and light, between night and day, between sin and righteousness. Simon and the others went to catch fish in the night (the supposed best time to fish) and caught nothing. But in the day time with Jesus they made a great catch. When we are in darkness; in sin and without Jesus Christ we experience frustration and lack. But when we transit into light and make an encounter with Jesus Christ our lives will be touched and changed.

      The encounters of Isaiah, Paul and Peter (IPP) are fitting platforms that will enable us to launch into the Lenten season which will begin on Wednesday this week with signing of the ash. We are called like these men to transit from a state of sin to a state of righteousness. We are called like them to drop the attractions of our past and embrace the new things God is doing for us now and in the future (Isaiah 43:18-19). Like Isaiah our lips need divine touch, like Paul our eyes need to be reopened to a new reality and we need a new name, like Peter we need to follow Jesus Christ unto a new way of life. Remember that you still have a chance for a better future! Nobody has the right to condemn you when God has not said the last word in your life. There is hope for a better future for you. The sinner can become a saint!

Have a wonderful Sunday and remain blessed throughout the week.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

THE TRAGEDY OF REJECTED LOVE: HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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Have you ever experienced rejection at any point in your life? I have and it could be very disheartening especially when you have genuine intentions, when you mean good, when your entire disposition is to help and never to hinder; rejection is a very painful and harrowing experience. Some people can recall how their applications for jobs, admissions, visas and other engagements were rejected. Some people who failed exams and interviews would have felt really rejected and dejected. Rejection is one thing nobody prays to experience. On the other hand we all like to be accepted; it feels good to be let in even when others are rejected.

While reflecting on the theme of this Sunday, I remembered a story my eldest sister told me long time ago. It was all about rejection and the attendant lessons. A flight was supposed to take off but one of the passengers was not boarded. The pilot announced that they had to wait for a man who was dragging himself as he walked to the aircraft on account of bad legs. It actually took the man time to board and the other passengers started murmuring and even cursing him for taking the whole time. Some even said that he could have started boarding hours before the scheduled time. The man finally dragged himself in and nobody smiled at him; nobody welcomed him; he felt rejected, friendless and forlorn; he remained silent.

The aircraft took off eventually but midway to their destination while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the pilot announced that he was finding it hard to detect what was going on with the aircraft as it started losing pressure and was gradually going down into the ocean. As one would expect, there was serious commotion in the aircraft as people beckoned on their respective objects of worship for assistance. The aircraft was heading rapidly into the Ocean, when the disabled passenger stood up from the farthest end of the aircraft where rejection had pushed him and started walking towards the cockpit. When people saw him they started cursing him for the delay that brought about their ill fate as they were heading for burial inside the freezing ocean; he said nothing and went into the cockpit to meet the pilot.

Few minutes later, the pilot announced that everything had been put in place and the aircraft had regained pressure thanks to the disabled passenger who actually retired as a pilot after fighting the Second World War where he got the injuries that affected his legs. By the time the pilot finished making the announcement there was silence all over for some seconds followed by a spontaneous round of applause! The disabled man stood at the middle of the aircraft and said “My dear friends you should rather give thanks to God. I was not supposed to be in this aircraft; I missed my flight and got a ticket for this aircraft very late that was why I came in last. God actually sent me to save you all beyond the rejection I got earlier”. Many people could not control the tears in their eyes!

It is unimaginable what Jesus Christ our Lord suffered on his first pastoral visit to his hometown Nazareth. Last Sunday we were told that he read from the prophecy of Isaiah (61: 1-2) which clearly brought out his messianic manifesto. He concluded the reading by stating that the scripture is being fulfilled there and then; at that instance. What that meant for them was that he was claiming to be the Messiah. The people were aware of the coming of the Messiah who will save the people of Israel from their enemies especially from the oppressive measures of the Roman government. The conception then was that the Messiah would come from a highly placed nobility with astute political might and valour; a fighter with some supernatural attributes that will be salutary for the Israelites but punitive for their oppressors and enemies.

The Nazarenes could not contain the fact that Jesus was the Messiah they had been anticipating for identified reasons. In the first place they had accepted the popular belief at the time that nothing good can come out of Nazareth (Jn.1:46). It happens often in life that some people allow their backgrounds to keep their backs on the ground. Sometime people assume into their lives names they have been called for instance “you can never do better, you are a fool, you cannot make it to the next level, you are weak, you are not intelligent, and you cannot compete with them!” These and similar statements make people redundant and operate with unprogressive mindsets. The people were sure that the Messiah would come but not from their remote town.

The second reason was their familiarity with the family of Jesus. It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt. They knew his father to be a carpenter. This means that without the meddling with wood and nails Joseph had no other identity. They actually tried to remind Jesus where he came from, they were like asking: “is it possible for Joseph the carpenter and Mary the quiet and soft spoken lady to be the parents of the Messiah?”

Most great men and women in history came from very humble homes. It is not impossible for God to make the son of a poor undertaker to become a governor of a State. It is not impossible for the child of a fish seller in a rural market to become the Chief Executive Officer of a renowned bank in Nigeria. It is often not from where you came from but from what God has designed for you irrespective of your geographical affiliation.

On the basis of background and familiarity Jesus Christ was rejected by his people. He made it also understandable that a prophet has no worth among his own people. If we pay attention very well to the gospel narrative we will see that there was an initial admiration before the rejection that even led to the attempt to kill Jesus at the very onset of his ministry. In life people will not always applaud you no matter how excellent and precious you think you are. Somebody somewhere and somehow will open up something about you to spoil the minds of the people. If we could understand the scenario very well, there was spontaneous admiration based on the wonderful words of our Lord that was laden with deep wisdom and knowledge. But suddenly someone or some people reminded others that this cannot happen in our Nazareth and not even from the house of the street carpenter.

The rejection of Jesus in Nazareth was not merely a rejection of the son of Joseph and Mary. It was actually a rejection of God which is at the same time a rejection of God’s love. Love is the reason for the coming of Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16) so whoever rejects Jesus Christ is ultimately rejecting God and his love for humanity shown in the coming of Jesus Christ. The Nazarenes where very much like the passengers of the aircraft in our story as they (the Nazarenes) rejected and ejected the one sent to save them; very much like killing one’s own doctor.

We have been considering the actions of those who rejected Jesus Christ at his home front, now it will be good to reflect on the required reaction of someone who faces rejection. What do you do when you are rejected even when you are on the right path? When Jesus walked away from them after the rejection what did he do? Did he go home and abandoned the redemption plan? No. If we follow the narrative (Luke 4:31-36) we are told that from the home front of rejection he went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee where he taught the people on the Sabbath and he did so in a very powerful way.

We discover from the above passage that our Lord was not discouraged by the rejection; he remained in the game. If we reason carefully we will see that the rejection was an effort to discourage him and bring his mission to an abrupt premature end. Often when we face rejection we eject ourselves; this is wrong. In the first reading we understand from the life of Jeremiah that God had predestined our mission on earth and he did not promise us that we will not encounter rejection when we declare his words, but the promise is that he will be with us all through to protect us (Jer. 1:8).

Upon a deeper reflection, we understand that the Nazarenes just like the passengers in the aircraft lacked a very important attribute; that is love. Fortunately St. Paul took up the discourse in the second reading of today (1 Cor. 12:31-13:13). In his elucidation St. Paul maintained that one can be religious without having love as the driving force of his or her religious creed. It is within this context that those who attended the worship in the Synagogue on a Sabbath day rejected Jesus when he assertively declared his Messianic manifesto. Those who came to worship turned out to harass Jesus and attempted to kill him. It is upon such religious disposition that our Lord made reference to the book of Isaiah (29:13) where it says:

These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far away from me. It is no use for them to worship me because they teach man-made rules as though they were my laws (Matt. 15:8-9).

St. Paul was instructing the Corinthians and indeed all of us to be aware of the fact that we can become too religious and fail to be spiritual. Love is at the centre of our what constitutes spiritual life. Without love there is no God because God is love (1 John 4:8). One can be a prophet; a miracle worker, an excellent preacher etc, but the person could still lack love. We see this playing out in our day with so much commercialization of religion.

Is Jesus Christ still being rejected in our day and age? As an individual do I in any way reject Jesus Christ? The truth is that Jesus Christ is still being rejected by many in various ways. We reject Jesus when we fail to trust and obey him. We reject Jesus Christ when we hear the word of God and fail to put it into practice. We reject Jesus Christ in our neighbours, we reject Jesus Christ in the poor, we reject Jesus Christ in the type of lives we live, we reject Jesus in our disconnection from the sacraments (how many of us will be willing and fitting to receive him in the most blessed sacrament today?) we reject Jesus when we are more interested in the flesh than in the spiritual; we also reject him in our failure to love others as God loves us.

We are called to undo the actions of the Nazarenes and the easiest way to achieve this is to activate love in our lives. As St. Paul instructed, love conquers all things, it endures all things, it is patient and kind it never ends (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Furthermore he pointed out that three things are important: faith (which make us to believe in God), hope (which makes us to trust and rely on the promises of God) and love (which makes us love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves) and this love is the greatest.

 Today we strive to undo the attitude of the Nazarenes and submitting ourselves to God like Jeremiah we  join St. Francis of Assisi  to say:

Lord, Make us instruments of your peace, 
Where there is hatred, let your love increase
Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
Walls of pride and prejudice shall cease
When we are your instruments of peace. 

Where there is hatred, we will show his love
Where there is injury, we will never judge
Where there is striving, we will speak his peace
To the millions crying for release,
We will be his instruments of peace

Lord, Make us instruments of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let your love increase
Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
Walls of pride and prejudice shall cease
When we are your instruments of peace.

Where there is blindness, we will pray for sight
where there is darkness, we will shine his light
Where there is sadness, we will bear their grief
To the millions crying for relief,
We will be your instruments of peace!

 

Have a blissful Sunday!

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Have an awesomely blessed Sunday and a rewarding week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do have a wonderful Sunday and remain specially blessed.

Fr. Bonnie.

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

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

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