Thursday, November 27, 2014

Homily (2) 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9 and Mark 13:33-37.

The Time /Kairos Belongs to God!

 How often do we not hear people say to one another, “hang-in there, God’s time is the best’? Behind this expression is the human person’s eagerness, anxiety, uncertainty, curiosity, wanting to know the when? The how? The where? The why? And of course, an expression of our total dependence upon God. It expresses hope for deliverance, and hope for so many other things, depending on our needs, or the situation in which we find ourselves.  It also expresses faith, expectation, watchfulness and our trust in God.

In the minds of every Christian, worldwide, Advent is a time we relive this expression “God’s time is the best! It is a time of prayer; a time of expectation, a time we prepare and patiently wait for the coming of Christ, God’s Son, at Christmas; that moment of God’s intervention, becoming like one of us, in order to save us!

The readings of today, each, redefines this time for us in contexts. For all Israel’s prophets, including 3rd Isaiah (Isa 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) this time was the “Day of the Lord.” That time  when the Lord accompanied them throughout their journeys and exiles. When they were in trouble of slavery, dryness, starvation,  sin or faced challenges in rebuilding the new community, they placed their hope and trust in God, who comes down, and renders heavens to save Israel! Israel's dependence in this God is as a child to a father, or a clay in the potter’s hand.

 In psalm 80, Israel is also prayerful, watchful, and hopeful for that time, that day, in that God who will continue to shepherd Israel, smiles divinely at them, protects them, irrigates and prunes the vine he had planted, no matter what! Each of us, the Christian community is that vine the Lord had planted.

Saint Paul  too believes this. In the second reading, while preaching to despairing Corinthian-Christian community in the early stages of their faith development, affirms,  that hopeful time is the time of our Lord Jesus Christ. The grateful Paul, says to the community;

 “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in very way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3-9).

 In the Gospel, Mark uses Kairos to describe this time of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, to his eager disciples. It is an important time, an appointed time; a quality time (Mark 1:15); a time fulfilment;  a time nobody knows (Mark 13:33).  This time can only be handled by faith, watchfulness, being alert, loving our neighbors, forgiving those who have offended us and asking those we have offended for forgiveness, as well offering services of charity to the poor and the needy! 

  The danger is that, Advent Season and Christmas can come and go without our realizing that “God’s time is the best,” and that God is hidden in every events of our life’s journeys. Like the gatekeeper in the Gospel passage of today (Mark 13:34), the Church invites us during this Advent not to remain chronologically static, or be carried away by the media, the politics of the day, the noise, the violent on our streets, the wars and the threats of war. Or even by our own weaknesses and sins, thinking that they are beyond repairs. Our relationship with God can always be repaired, so also the broken relationship with our neighbors.

Sometimes Christians are also despaired because of the social, political and religious situations they find themselves. Some are poor, some are sick, some have lost their loved ones recently, while some are affected by Ebola/HIV epidemics, religious fundamentalisms/ extremisms, injustices, discrimination, racism, and terrible natural disasters.

In all these, Advent invites us to hope and trust in God’s time, that moment of divine intervention, symbolized in the joys of Christmas!

 

 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Homily (2) the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Year A: Fr. Michael Udoekpo


Homily (2) the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Year A: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Ezek 34:11-2, 15-17; Ps 23:1-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28 and Matt 25:31-46.

Christ: Model for kings and leaders
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of the Liturgical season.  The importance of today’s celebration cannot be overemphasized. It serves to remind us a few essentials. First, that the God who created us is the sovereign of all creation, human, animals, seas, plant, mountains, and nations, name them! He is all and all, alpha and the Omega! The source of our lasting hope!  Second, Christ Jesus is God’s incarnate, the son of God, and the King of the Universe. Third, earthly leaders, kings, parents, family heads, heads of governments, bosses in factories and institutions, representatives at the United Nations, in their different roles, in history, that stretches back  to the monarchical history of Israel (if we want) are called to be viceroys and imitators of Christ, in his love, kindness, leadership, care, mercy, justice, and righteousness.  

In Israel’s history, apart from David, Hezekiah and Josiah most of the kings were completely out of touch with God’s expectations: obedient, fair, selfless, holy, wise, peaceful, prayerful, hopeful, compassionate, faithful, steadfast, courageous, prudent, sensitive, and covenant oriented, qualities that may be necessary for our leaders today!

The Prophet Ezekiel, in the first reading (Eze 34:11-2,15-17), reminds us that like the Israelites in exile, when we feel disappointed by our leaders or in our leadership roles,  we should draw strength from God, who acts, loves  us  as  a good shepherd loves his flock. God also tends us as a shepherd tends his flock. God rescues us as a shepherd rescues a loss sheep. He brings us back when we are astray from his paths of love and kindness. God heals us when we are sick, just as a shepherd binds the wounds of his wounded flocks. He guides us in the right paths (ps 23), of hope and kindness.

Similarly, Saint Paul while addressing the Corinthians, stresses these hope and trust in the leadership of God when he preaches, “When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:20–26, 28).

 In the Gospel (Matt 25:31–46), the qualities of Christ, the Good shepherd are also in display. He judges with love and prudence. He separates the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weed. The good shepherd, depending on your area of service, emphasizes what matters, namely, community life, relationship, and common good, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, assisting the weak, the thirsty, the sick, and clothing the naked.

Today’s scripture speaks to us, who daily witness the rivalry among politicians and leaders of different communities. It addresses those who have fail in  their various capacities as leaders, parents and role models. Sometimes we read  from our daily newspapers of corrupt leaders who embezzle funds, who prefer to feed, heal, bind, cloth themselves than the flock entrusted to their care. Some also promote the denial of God’s existence. By doing these, they tend to behave like  those bad kings of Israel who were out of touch with God, and with the very reasons they were elected into offices.

Whatever, our leadership roles are, be it in our families, churches, schools, institutions, places of work, in the United Nations, and in the society at large, may we continue to trust in Christ the Good Shepherd, and rely upon his love and exemplary Kingship!

 

 

 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Homily (2) Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-31; Ps 128:1-5; 1 Thess 5:1-6 and Matt 25:14-15,19-21.

Blessed Are Those Who Fear the Lord (Ps 128:1a)
Today we celebrate the 33rd Sunday of Year A. The liturgical season, you would notice, is gradually coming to an end. Next weekend will be Thanksgiving (here in the United States).   Soon after that Christmas!  Recently, when we turn on our TVs and our Radios, or pick up the Newspapers, so much is going on in the world, in the church and in our nations. Think of the Pope Francis’ effect in the church, the threats of wars, terrorism, ISIS, Boko Haram, Ebola and the ongoing G20 in Australia, our studies,  weddings,sports, exams, politics,  grieving the lost of our loved ones, works and other personal matters, and anxieties to take care of!

In the midst of all these anxieties, the church invites and exhorts us in the readings of today that “blessed are those, or happy are those, who fear the Lord and walk in his ways. This is as well captured in today’s responsorial (Ps 128:1a).

What is the “fear the Lord,? How do we fear the Lord in the midst of all our daily activities? We can find answers to these questions at a closer reading of today’s Bible lessons. In the first reading of today (Proverbs 31), a classic Wisdom Literature, the listed qualities of the ideal wife, or a Lady Wisdom are all facets of the ‘fear of the Lord.’ The woman in this text, like Ruth, is a trust worthy, holy, perfect, and faithful.  Therefore, the Fear of the Lord is fidelity to God, to our vows and to the teachings of the Church. We fear the Lord by honoring God, and by striving to showcase his attributes.  The woman is merciful, kind, prudent, understanding and just. Her husband and her family depend on her, who is very hard working!  As Pope Francis would recommend, she reaches out to the poor, and extends her hands to the needy!

Saint Paul in the Second reading (1Thess 5:1-6) also reminds the anxious Thessalonian church of another facet of the “fear of the Lord,” namely; preparedness and staying very sober for the day of the Lord. In our daily works, we must not lose hope of God’ judgment and his promise of blessings and reward to those who are faithful him. We are called to be conscious of the hiddenness of God in our midst, his holiness, his transcendence and his immanence, his divine surprises and his mysterious ways of dealing with us!

The fear of the Lord is further defined in Jesus’ gospel parable today (Matt 25:14-30). The fear of the Lord if faithfulness, and fidelity to the Lord the giver of all our gifts, who expects us to make good and responsible use of our talents!

In the gospel, the travelling master, Jesus, distributed gifts to three of his servants, 5, 2 and 1 respectively. The first two servants feared the Lord, traded and multiplied their gifts. 

What did the third servant do with his talent?  He left his given gift hidden in the ground, unproductive.  He went about complaining, blaming others, and criticizing even the master, the distributor of the talent, calling him names- horrible, a hard man!

He lacks the fear of the Lord! He fails to grasp the nature of his responsibility. His action represents not only laziness, arrogance, but also lack of love for the master. It represents a disciple who is trying to play safe, a disciple not ready to bear witness to the gospel at all times, not ready to keep watch for the return of the master. His excuse, ironically, is that he was “afraid”, which is equivalent to faithlessness, lack of readiness and lack of trust in the master, the Lord.  He completely, misunderstood the true meaning of the fear of the Lord.

As we go about our daily activities, heading towards, thanksgiving, and Christmas, or the end of the liturgical season, may we continue to pray, for increase in our genuine awareness of the “fear of the Lord,” which consist in trusting him always, hoping in him always;  humbly and wisely walking in his ways of love, hope, faith, obedience to his precepts, forgiveness, responsible use of our talents, and charity to our neighbors

 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Homily (November 9) - the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica- Fr. Michael Udoekpo


Homily (November 9) - the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica- Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; I Cor 3, 9c-11, 16-17 and John 2:13-22

We Are the Temple, the Place of God’s Glorious House
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, originally erected by the Emperor Constantine, consecrated by Pope Saint Sylvester I, as a gift for the Church. This celebration dates back to the Twelve century, and symbolizes the unity of the Church, a paradox of permanence, and a mystery of God’s abiding presence in us. A God who constantly loves us and invites us in mysterious ways to re-dedicate ourselves, families,  and works, to him.

The readings of today, attempt to explain this mystery, that we are God’s house. We are his gifts.  He built us for his living. He expects us to live up to this expectation; to be holy, nice, accommodative, generous, pure, hopeful, resilience, clean in mind and body. That is, be good stewards, after the example of Christ.

Christ, in today’s Gospel, reminds us of this mystery of God’s abiding presence with us. While in Jerusalem, he ran into those who were abusing the temple area, the sacred place, with gambling, perhaps cheating, especially the poor and the weak. He drove them away with a reminder, that God’s house was meant for prayers, healing and forgiveness. He symbolically referred to himself, as the body temple to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days, referring to his death and resurrection.

Similar reference is made by St. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, in the second reading (1Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17), to the Corinthian Church. This church is  God’s building, so also ourselves. We are called to be holy, tolerant, and welcoming to everyone. We are called not only to see Christ in every person, but as the foundation stone of our community.

Christ and Paul, are aware of ancient biblical traditions. Recall, it was in Jerusalem, that David promised to build God a big and nice house.  In turn, God rather, promised to build David, a more permanent, mysterious, and an everlasting dynasty (2 Samuel 7).  David’s promise was fulfilled by his son Solomon, who completed the temple and dedicated it to the Lord (I kings 1–11). But only to be attacked and destroyed by the enemies.  But how can God let his dwelling place, his house be destroyed?  Or be condemned to death? Why? Was it as a result of the sins of the people, especially of the kings, like Jeroboam or Manasseh? Was the covenant broken? But what about the promise of everlasting dynasty made to David?

As Christ symbolically said, with a deeper implication, ‘destroy this temple, I will rebuilt in three days,” God has a way of dealing with his people. The physical temple might be gone but, Israel’s faith and hope in God lives on.

This is true in exile. Hope has arisen in exile. Ezekiel, the prophet of Exile envisions this hope. He sees an image of life giving stream flowing from the New Jerusalem Temple. From this bountiful stream comes life, food, fruits, and healing.

As a church, as a family, as a community or as an individual, sometimes we experience a temporal defeat, disaster, death, or dryness in our prayer or Christian life. We must not give up. The transformation of this dryness or this barren world in the vision of Ezekiel into a garden of paradise is a dramatization of God’s saving power. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the stream flows because God’s now dwells in the Temple, his glorious house. We are this temple of the Holy Spirit.

 May the stream of love, hope, faith, forgiveness, freshness, dedication and commitments in our various vocations, holiness of life, generosity, kindness, prosperity, good health of mind and body continue to flow in and around us as we fellowship with God and with one another.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Homily for the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily for the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9 Ps 23:1-3, 4-6; 1 Thess4:13-18 and John 11:17-27

 I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)

 After the feast of all saints yesterday, today the Church prays for the souls of those in purgatory, especially for our loved ones, gone before us, waiting to join in the heavenly glory, through purification. The importance  of this celebration cannot be overemphasized. Even when November 2 falls on a Sunday, the priests still celebrate three times, the Masses for the Souls of all the Faithful Departed. These celebrations give us an opportunity to pray for our brothers and sisters in purgatory, to reflect on the meaning of life, the mystery of death, immortality for the righteous, and the promise for hope in the resurrection, promised us by Christ.

Naturally when our loved ones, friends, spouses, family or church member departs from us, it brings us tears, grieve and great sorrow. I felt the same when I lost my mother at the age of 13, in 1983, and my father at the age of 25, in 1993, the eve of my diaconate ordination. Both passed away after brief illnesses. Many of us may also have lost our loved ones. We know how it feels. But all Soul’s celebration, with all the selected scriptural readings today; and preaching from them by our priests and pastors around the world, remind us of the concept of immortality of the soul of a Christian, the power of prayer and purification. Lessons from today’s scriptures sooth our pains and wipe our tears.

When Jesus in today’s Gospel(John 11:17-27) heard that Lazarus his friend was sick, he journey back to Bethany to console the family and pray for Lazarus. On arrival Lazarus was already in the cemetery, where he has been buried. In the overall episode in John 11, Jesus also wept. But importantly, when Martha and Mary seemed to have quarried his delay in arriving, by saying, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died,”’ Jesus  promisesaid, Lazarus will rise, because he is the resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).

This message of hope, immortality of a trusting soul, reward of the righteous, the blessings of the faithful, and the overall reassurance by Christ is what we need.  On the other hand we must also look at the faith of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Out of faith they, said to Christ, “but even now I know, whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

With God everything is possible. There is nothing that we ask God in prayer that will not be provided, including the forgiveness of our sins, and those gone before us, presently in purgatory. Also the affliction of the righteous, be it in form of illnesses or death may seem to be punishment, but  in Wisdom Literature( Job5, Proverbs 3, Sirach 2)  especially from what we have heard in the first reading, this is not only divine testing, but; “the souls of the righteous, after death, are peacefully in the hands of God (Wisdom 3:1-9).

No doubt, it is painful, when we see our righteous and loved ones go.  Truly, they loved us and their neighbors. They tried to be charitable and shared with family members their life. They supported the church; gave alms and  were prophetic with their lives, as much as they could. They were also kind, approachable and compassionate to everyone around, them, in the car, in the air or the sea. Those of them who were in the government saw it as an opportunity to serve their neighbors. Some of them also  defended life, the dignity of the human person of every gender and culture. They fought for the place of the poor and the freedom of the oppressed. Yet they are physically gone.  The lose of the righteous, our loved ones or any member of the church brings us tears as the departure of Lazarus did to Christ!

But like assurances of  Christ,  that he is the “life and the resurrection,” Paul’s words in the second reading (1 thess 4:13-18) are very reassuring too. He wants us to pray for those in Purgatory; to encourage one another, go out there, take flowers to their graves and cemeteries, and never to lose hope, nor weep for our loved ones, as those who have no hope in the resurrection of the righteous.

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in perfect peace, Amen!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Homily (2) 30th Sunday of Year A: Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 30th Sunday of Year A: Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Exod 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 Thess 1:5c-10 and Matt 22: 34-40

 Love of God OR Love of our Neighbors?
 
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel 22 Jesus engages in a series of debate with the local leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, regarding many practical, legal and faith issues.  They keep challenging Jesus. Lasts few Sundays the issues were that of preparedness for the kingdom of God and civil responsibility. Should we pay taxes or not. If we do, to whom? Should we honor God or not? If we do, why and how?  Today the Pharisees wants to know which is more important, the love of God or the love neighbor (Matt 22:34-40). How do we express our love for God? Through sacrifices, burnt offerings? Or charity?  Christ did not waste time in reminding the Pharisee that, this is an old tension.  Both are important: the love of God and the love of neighbor as oneself.

 For Christ, the whole Law, the Torah, from Genesis to the Book of Deuteronomy, as well as the entire prophetic books, that essentially stress true worship, holiness of life, social justice, obedience to God’s words and covenant depend on these two- dimensional principles of the love of God and the love of our neighbors.  They are not contradictory to each other.

In fact, those that today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus (22:20-26) was first addressed to, must have been struggling with this same very tension.  How should we worship God? How should I remain holy, since the Lord our God is holy (Lev 19:2)? Are animal sacrifices, burnt offerings, pilgrimages to shrines enough (Amos 5, Hos 6)?  Based on this first reading, the answer seems to be no. Worship of God, holiness of life, justice can as well be expressed by not molesting foreigners, and by not oppressing the widows and the orphans, and by refraining from extortion, all in the name of giving loans to the poor

This is also at the heart of our daily experiences today in the Church and even in the society as a whole. How to interpret or live the relationship between these two commandments is a burning issue today. Some of us today will interpret or measure our holiness of life on the parameter of how much volume of prayer we have said or how many decades of rosary we prayed yesterday, or even by how many times we have gone to confession or received Holy Communion in a year. Or how well ironed is our robe!  Based on Jesus response to the Pharisees, that takes us back to the Pentateuch and the Prophets these are important. But we must balance this up with the message of the first reading, reaching out to our neighbors, especially the poor, orphans, widows, the voiceless and the immigrants of our times. We ought to respect one another, pray for one another, those in war torn area, and practically help the sick and the needy.

 The point here is that, the two loves are important. This is what Pope Francis so far has spent his papacy emphasizing; reaching out to those in the margins; spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, socially, economically, politically, and physically, where we can.

Many of us also do this everyday. We pray. We also support charitable organizations, catholic charity, saint Vincent the Paul' society, visit to the sick and the elderly, good working relationship with fellow workers, being kind and reaching out to our friends and people around us with positive gestures and healthy eye contacts. We must keep this up or continue to improve on them!

 People, who pretend to be Christians, or seek God while they have no sincere political, medical, educational, social, economic and spiritual interests or well-beings of their neighbors of all colors, genders and cultures, at heart, are hypocrites. They will not find the God of the Bible and of the Law and the Prophets.

 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Homily (2) 29th Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily (2) 29th Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 45:1.4-6; Ps 96:1,3,4-5.7-11; 1 Thes 1:1-5b and Matt 22:15-21
 
 We are God’s Instruments for Evangelization!
 
 Today we celebrate the Laity and the Mission Sunday, whose roles and duties are well spelt out in the various documents of the Vatican II. But the readings of today, embolden us  and shed light on the significance of this celebration. In our various capacities we have a role to play in building the society making it  a joyful and  a peaceful place for all.   We have a share in this mission of evangelization, since the Church and her mission belongs to all of us. And God is never tired of reminding us of these responsibilities, whether you are in the government, in the factory, in the cathedral, in the seminary, in the family, in the hospital or in the sick bed. We are all called to bear witness!
 
In the first reading of today Cyrus of Persia was a pagan king, a civil ruler, who had not received “baptism” nor “Holy Communion,” if I may say so! He was not a priest or deacon. But God surprisingly uses him as his instrument to free Israel, to save his people. Through Cyrus, the exiled, the chosen people of God were allowed in company of Ezra and Nehemiah to return to the holy land, to rebuild their home, their economy, their city and the temple once destroyed.
 
This is who God is. He can use any of us for spiritual, cultural and civil duties, for the common good. Our dispositions are also needed! Before Cyrus, God used Abraham, Moses, the Judges, Saul, David and many of Israel’ prophets, and Paul who were not initially perfect. Think of the various roles of these people in in our faith history! Some of them were used as leaders, warriors, preachers, intercessors, community organizers and consciences of their communities!
 
Take Paul for example. The same Paul that was initially a persecutor of the faith,  experienced rejection and persecution himself, in his missionary journeys, is the one preaching faith, hope and love in Thessalonica today. Today, Paul is grateful to God for the growth of the mission that came to be as a result of the labor of love and endurance of the hope of every member of the Church.  He addresses everyone, as “Brothers and sisters.” Paul says “all of you” not “some of you.” He sees everyone as agents of evangelization and instruments of the Holy Spirit to bring order, truth, justice, peace, solidarity, freedom, good health and stability to the world.
 
This is the vision of Christ in today’ Gospel (Matt 22:15-21). Confronted and tested in Jerusalem by the usual enemies, the Pharisees and the Sadducees on civil duties and responsibilities. Christ passed the test! He gave a good and responsible answer, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” and “give to God what belongs to God.” Could this also be referring to the separation of the Church and secular politics?  What about orderliness in nature? Putting things in place?What about an attempt to secularize the sacred? What about our civil responsibilities?
 
 If God could use Cyrus, to save Israel, there is nothing wrong with paying our taxes. There is nothing wrong with carrying out our civil duties, stopping at the red lights, on the street, so as not to harm others or ourselves. There is nothing wrong with praying for peace in our society, for praying for our presidents, our senators and our representatives in the government- to make good choices and decisions for the common good.  Division of labor, for the common good! Just as we need good priests, religious, and preachers of the words, parents, children, grandpa, grandma, grandchildren, we need good men and women, good lay people, in the government. We need God fearing leaders who lead and serve the citizens and the nation, not their pockets, in the temporal world.
 
The point is that, wherever God choses to place us, is our place for mission, an opportunity to honor God, and to show solidarity  with humanity  and families of nations, in faith, hope, love, peace and justice!