Saturday, October 7, 2017

Homily Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 5:1–7;
·         Ps 80:9,12–16,19–20;
·          Phil 4:6–9
·         Matt 21:33–43
We are tenants in God’s Vineyard
In the Gospel reading of today (Matt 21:33-43), Jesus, obviously is in Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross. He teaches everyone on the way, especially the elites, the scribes and the Pharisees. His subject is that each of us, alt all times, and in every age and race, have been planted as a vineyard by God our maker, to bear good and lasting fruits of justice, peace, love, respect for life and the human dignity. So were the generation of the Israelites and Paul in the first and second readings (Isa 5:1–7; Phil 4:4–6).
First of in the Gospel account Jesus teachers allegorically, with reference to Jerusalem, the tenants, religious authorities, the prophets, and about himself, using the imagery or the parable of the vineyard. Each of us, the church as a whole and as individual members, as well as civil authorities and citizens of all nations can relate to this parable. We are tenants in God’s vineyard.
Allegorically, a man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When harvest time came he sent successive contingents of his servants to collect the produce. On each occasion they were maltreated, insulted, rejected, beaten and stoned. The landowner finally sent his beloved son for the same mission, at least with the hope that they would respect his son. He was not respected, either. The tenants failed the test for respect. They stoned the landowner’s son, threw him outside the vineyard to die.  Of course, the scribes and the Pharisees naturally would expect the landowner to judge, punish or kill off these wicked tenants and replace them with fruits bearing tenants.
Jesus’ listeners would also have understood today’s psalmist that “the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel,” as well as the first reading, “the Song of the Vineyard, in Isaiah 5:1-7.”
 In the first reading, Isaiah of Jerusalem likens some ungrateful, unfaithful and unresponsive Israelites to a carefully tended but inexplicable unfruitful vineyard of wild grapes. Many of Israel prophets, before Jesus( Hos 10:1; Jer 2:21; 5:10) have also expressed disappointment on the failure of Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, the tenants, the authorities, civil and religious to bear the fruits expected of them or at least to imitate the true vine, namely Jesus ( John 15:1–10).
Every blessed day nations, parishes, families, and institutions of the earth, are faced with choices and decisions to make. The Catholic Church, other churches and religious groups are faced with responsibilities, so also her leaders and members. Today these choices may touch issues of war and peace, terrorism, sexuality, marriage, family value, health, diseases, poverty and wealth, climate change, deforestation and preservation of forest, social justice, life, the dignity of the human person and their fundamental human rights. What would Jesus have done in the face these circumstances?
Today, we are God’s people. We are the tenants in the Lord’s vineyard. God expects us to produce fruit, fruit that will endure. The obvious question for us to ask ourselves today is: How are we doing? What type of fruit are you producing? How much better are we than the chief priests, the elders, the Scribes and the Pharisees? We are specially privileged, by baptism, to be called to work in the Lord’s vineyard. Each, day, week, month, year, we are expected to bear fruit, make the Gospel, today’s readings part of our lives. We are all called to be not just members, or numbers, but active members of the Body of Christ, the Christian community, the Church, the society we belong. We are tenants in God’ vineyard!
Reflection Questions
1.    Where do you find yourself in today's biblical allegory of the Lord’s vineyard?
2.    How would you describe your time in the Lord’s vineyard as a tenant? What kind of tenants do you think you are?
3.    What type or kind of fruit do you bear? And how beneficial is  your fruit to the Church, society and your faith community, in particular?
 
 
 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Homily Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Eze 18:25–28;
·          Ps 25:4–9;
·         Phil 2:1–11
·         Matt 21:28–32

Our Faith Journey is Not Over Until It is Over!

In our society today, it is very common to blame others for our failures and past mistakes. Just as it is common to attribute our successes to others. This is why we have formed the concepts of individual and collective responsibilities. With collective responsibility we easily tend to see ourselves as victims, and blame the present on the past. Of course, such tendency is not new. When we look closely at the history of Israel, God's chosen people, it was there. Sin and suffering were blamed on the mistakes of their ancestors.  In the time of Christ, you would recall the incidence of the healing of the blind man, in John 9, when the Disciples of Christ asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”(John 9:1–41). It is very easy for any of us to hold onto the past, to constantly blame the past on the present! Or to think that all hope is lost! All hope is not lost. Stop holding onto your past sins and mistakes and know that there is hope, there newness of life, there is a way out in Christ for those who repent! Your faith journey is not over until it is over!!
Today’s Scripture readings, beginning with the Prophet Ezekiel lay emphasis on this, on hope, which is never lost in Christ! Our faith journey is not yet over. Every present moment of a Christian is important. Individual attitude, disposition, willingness, volition and humility to come back to God, in obedience, prayer and thankfulness are all important.

Ezekiel’s prophecy of individual responsibility becomes clear at a time when the chosen people had lost not only the monarchy, but the land and the temple. They found themselves in exile. Ezekiel’s contemporaries saw their loss and sufferings as a consequence, not of their sinfulness, but of their ancestors. They believed they were not responsible, but rather were victims. And in fact, they also thought that God was unfair to them. How many times do we not blame others for our failures and mistakes?
 In today’s Lesson, Ezekiel challenges this erroneous mindset and argues that each person bears personal responsibility for his or her own conduct. As a fellow exiled, Ezekiel stresses that, “when someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness, he has committed and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life. Since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die,” (Eze 18:25–28), the land shall be regained.

 For Ezekiel, in as much as hope is central God’s focus is on the present, and not mainly or solely, on the past.  Therefore, nations and individual can be free from the guilt of the past, the lost glory could be restored, by turning to God with humility, in the present. The past sins must not prevent today’s repentance or change of heart.
This fits into Jesus parable about the two sons in today’s Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 21:28–32), as our Lord journeys to Jerusalem. In this parable, the first son says (aperchomai) to his father, I will not work in the vineyard. But, later changes (metamelomai) his mind to work in the vineyard; while the second son who promises to work in the vineyard, never did at all.

Any of us can be any of these two sons, and behave likewise, especially the first son, changing our minds to do the will of God our father. Conversion, regret, repentance (metamelomai) modelled by the first son is ongoing, even by looking at the forces and theological implications of the language of Greek aorist participles, deponent verbs, used in this very passage (aperchomai, metamelomai etc ). Metanoia (spiritual, social, political, economic transformation) is onward not backward. It is a process. It is never too late, even for tax collectors, prostitutes or for those who might find themselves in any bad past habit of sins.
 Pope Francis continues to stress this point in his homilies and teachings. Saint Augustine, and many other saints, who were once sinners but later became saints, are good models for (change, repentance, and transformation) us. Saint Paul, who’s Letter to the Philippians we read today, in the second reading, was once a persecutor of the faith, before he became a promoter of the Good news of Christ to the Gentiles.

In that second reading, Paul reminds the Philippians, of course, all of us today, the deeds and the attitude of Christ that we are called to imitate, irrespective of our past mistakes. Love, mercy, selflessness, compassion, hospitality, and humility, according to Paul, should be our catchwords.  Paul reminds us that, Christ, though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God. Rather, he humbled himself. He freely became obedient onto the cross, through his faith, and hope preaching on the street of Jerusalem.
Our nations, our continents, our families, each of us, individually can always step back, and look at our past mistakes and even accomplishments.  We can also serve as agents, messengers and viceroys  of transformation (spiritually, pastorally, socially, economically, and politically) in our faith communities). Our Christian journey is like a two side coin.  On one side, is our baptismal certificate and our calling to live out our baptismal promises and responsibilities. And on the other side, Christ frees us from the sins of the past if we are willing to say yes, and turn to him, today in humility. Or be able to personally pray with the psalmist, “your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths” (Ps 25).  Every present moment is a moment of decision, and our faith journey is not yet over!

 Reflection Questions:

1.    Do you have the same attitude in you, that is in Christ, Paul or Ezekiel of today’s Scripture passages?

2.    How often do you tend to blame others for your sins and failures?

3.    How often do you tend to take personal responsibility for your actions?

4.    How often are you open for change or willing to act as agent of hope, change, repentance and transformation (spiritual, social, political, economic etc) in your faith  or religious communities?

 

 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Homily Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


 Homily Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A:  Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isa 55:6–9;
·          Ps 145:2–3, 8–9, 17–18
·         Phil 1: 20c–24,27a
·         Matt 20:1–16a.
In the Lord’s Vineyard God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways!
Today’s scripture readings remind all of us in the Lord’s Vineyard that God’s ways are not our ways. His standards are not our standards. His sense of justice, love, compassion (rehem) mercy (rahum), generosity and measurement of forgiveness, right and wrong, are not ours. Though we are all in need of God’s love and mercy, there is a clear contrast between the “heavens and the earth,” “mortal and immortality,” and “divine and humans.”  Often our human standards are corroded not just with jealousy, but with anger, and  judgmental feelings as if others “do not deserve,” or, “we deserve more than our next door neighbors.” God’s standards and ways are the opposite. Everyone deserves same needs of divine love and mercy. It is this divine ways that we are invited to imitate, reflect on, follow, in the Lord’s vineyard.
We heard of this invitation extended first of all to the exiled and to the post-exilic communities of Israel, in today’s first reading, Isaiah 55:6–9. Same is  rendered in music  in Psalm 145.  For the exiled and for us today- what difference does it make if by imitating the Lord “who is compassionate and good to all his creatures”, we let go of our bad habits, earthly images and habits, renew our relationship with God, aims at the image of heavenly heights, chart our way to salvation, accepting what God wants of us, or forgive those who may have offended us, and join hands in rebuilding the community once destroyed by sins, poor leadership, corruption, greed, hatred, discrimination, lack of faith, or by the enemy fire?
In the second reading(Phil 1:20c–27a) , Paul is a perfect example of what God wants of us. In spite of all his missionary endeavors, imprisonment, waiting to be executed because of his faith, Paul  finds time to write a letter to the Christian community at Philippi, in northern Greece.  In this letter,  life or death,  in Christ, does not make any difference for Paul (Phil 1:20c–27a). Paul is totally for Christ. Whatever he wants. His ways are his, as illustrated in today's parable of the workers in the vineyard.
In this Parable (Matthew 20:1–16a), many who are first could be last and the last could become first (Matt 20:16). This standard could be very challenging to us because of our human ways of thinking and judging. But it becomes easier, when we come to terms that God is the landowner. He employs and his pays us, distributes his wages generously, to whom he wishes, for he knows our needs, Jews, Gentiles and Christians in the Lord’s Vineyard.
As long standing Christians, converts, neophytes, young and old, male and female, who yearns for God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and generosity may we be opened to God’s ways, his wavelength, his standards by sharing his blessings, his love and mercy, with others, wherever we are.
 
Reflection Question.
1.    Could you think of God’s love and acts of mercy and generosity in your life?
2.    How can you relate to the readings of today, especially the gospel parable of the workers in the vineyard? Or Pauline indifference of life and death in Christ?
3.    Have you ever thought that you are more deserving of God’s love and mercy than your neighbor? And what makes you think so?
4.    Where and how have you assisted disgruntled  members of your faith community to be  contented and realize that God distributes his love, mercy and wages to all as he divine deems fit?
5.    Going back to the book of Genesis what does the images of “heaven and earth,” “divine and human” “first and last” “life and death” “mortal and immortal” of today’s readings remind you of?
 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Homily Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Sir 27:30–28:7
·         Ps103:1-2,3-4,9-10,11-12
·         Rom 14:7-9
·         Matt 18:21-35

Our God is Slow to Anger, Rich in Love, Mercy and Compassion!

In the Book of Psalms, according Saint Ambrose:
“There is a profit for all, with healing power for salvation. There is instruction from history, teaching from the law, prediction from prophecy, chastisement from denunciation, persuasion for moral preaching. All who read it may find the cure for their own individual failings. All with eyes to see can discover in it a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for every kind of exercise; it is for each to choose the kind he judges best to help him gain the prize.”

Today’s psalm 103 “the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion” is available for us. It captures the essence of today’s worship and scriptural reflection on the nature of God, sin and sinner, forgiveness and reconciliation, divine virtues, especially of charity, love and care.
If God’s nature, going back to the Book of Exodus 34:6-7(cf. Jonah, Ps 85, Micah), is mercy, kindness, forgiveness,  infinite love, boundless charity, unlimited care, throughout the history of human salvation, every generation, including today’s generation, is expected to imitate God whose image they are made of.

The generation of Ben Sira of today’s first reading, Book of Sirach, a wisdom book, is aware of the usual human problems, such as appetite for vengeance, injustices, debts, loans, anger against one’s neighbor,  and the difficulty in forgiving those who may have offended us. Or those, that God may have forgiven, in a big way!  But, the good news is that, Ben Sira is wise and is aware of the very nature of God, who is mercy, love, joy , care and  compassionate throughout the history of God's  dealings with the humans. Ben Sira rightly admonish his audience saying: “forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”  He rhetorically ask, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his on sins... He went on to say, ‘remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlooks faults.”
Similarly, the generation of Christ  and his disciples is aware of these human problems, as well (appetite for vengeance, injustices, hatreds, violence, debts, loans, anger against one’s neighbor, and the difficulty in forgiving those who may have offended us, slightly, or those that God may even have forgiven, in a big way), as reflected in today’s Gospel parable, prompted by Peter’s question, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?  Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Meaning, infinite numbers of time of forgiveness ! (Matt 18:21-35).

 Having proposed unlimited forgiveness, Jesus, God’s incarnate, follows up with a parable, understandable to us. Here is a servant whose huge debt have been forgiven by the king. He is happy and seems to leave with a sense relief. But, the bad news is that he who had been forgiven a huge debt, is unable to forgive his friend, whom he threw into prison, the tiniest fraction of what he had been forgiven of, attracting upon himself, the king’s punishment, that he pays back his huge debt as well!
In our daily lives, forgiveness must not have any boundary. It must go beyond seven times, to the divine seventy-seven times.  In forgiving, seventy-seven times, it is good to look at the face of God, the face of Jesus, the King of Mercy, whom Pope Francis also sees mercy, love, and compassion in his pontificate! God chose him because he was merciful to him, as expressed in his motto: Miserando atque elegendo. How different would the modern world be if we imitate half of the pastoral approach or the theology of mercy, proposed by Francis, the Pope.

How different would our world be if we take "forgiveness" seriously as well as "reconciliation"? For “where there is no reconciliation or at least hope for reconciliation there cannot be forgiveness in real sense.” As in the case of the wicked servant of today’s gospel parable; he refuses the king’s forgiveness by refusing to reconcile with his friend who owed him a tiny debt.
How different would our world be if we all realize that God and the Church can forgive sinners, but they cannot condone evil behavior that causes suffering and injustices to others, offensive to truth, love and charity, or a sinner who chooses to stay in sin!

How different would our planet be if we imitate the forgiving instances Christ, in the Bible, be it in the case of the woman caught in adultery, the case of Matthew the tax collector, the case of Zacchaeus, the case Thomas the doubter, or in instance of the denying Peter!
At this Mass and worship, may we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness! May we also go out to the whole world, a changing world, and serve where ever we can, as agent of God’s love, boundless charity, mercy, compassion and forgiveness to our neighbors!

Reflection Questions:

1.      Have you ever owed or feel indebted and how do you go about it?

2.      What lessons have you drawn from today’s parable and scripture passages?

3.      How do you help to foster healing and reconciliation in your faith community?

4.      Are there moment that you feel unforgiving? And and how often do you reflect on the nature of God and his merciful face? Or Consider yourself forgiven?

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Homily Twenty- Third Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Twenty- Third Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Ezekiel 33:7-9;
·         Ps 95:1-2, 6-9’
·         Rom 13:8-10
·         Matthew 18:15-20

 Regaining our Personal and Communal Hope

Today’s Psalm 95 “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” invites us to worship the Lord, the King of kings, and the Shepherd of shepherds of Israel. It invites us to open our ears, our hearts, minds and soul and continuously be loyal to God. It reminds us what we learned in the past, and what we continue to learn today: the precepts of the Lord, the Ten Commandants, the love of God and love of one’ neighbor, as well as the teachings of the Church. The entire Bible readings of today, allow us to rise to our responsibilities, to regain our personal and communal hope. It urges us to re-embrace fraternal correction, the common good, and the desire to meet God in a special way, especially through love, mercy and charitable acts towards our neighbors, the poor and even towards the planets and our environments, as stressed by Pope Francis, in his Laudato si’(“On Care for our Common Home”). This we must do, regardless of our experiences!
Israel’s experience in the Babylonian exile of 587 BC was not a good one. It led to despair. Ezekiel addresses such despair or hopelessness in the 1st reading: a sermon of restoration, hope and reestablishment of the covenant, once broken by sin.

As a prophet of exile, Ezekiel is reappointed as God’s instrument, with a divine appellations “son of man” and as a “watchman” of Israel. These appellations point to Ezekiel’s humanity, and prophetic responsibilities. His duty is to courageously serve as an antidote to discouragement and despair.  He is an agent of hope and love. He is to bring fraternal correction to bear in the community.  As a watchman, Ezekiel is commissioned to remind Israel that the sins of one’s past count for nothing when we repent and do what is right. Are we not also called to be prophetic in our own ways, where ever we are? We are called to be our brothers and sisters keeper. Keeping the common good!

In Romans 13: 8-10, Saint Paul, like Ezekiel, plays the same prophetic role of preaching remedies to despair and discouragement. Paul re-emphasized the Ten Commandments we learned in our catechisms classes, and Sunday schools. Those in the Book of Exodus and of course in Deuteronomy “Shama Israel”, (Listen, Hear O Israel!). These laws are wonderful. Yet, for Saint Paul, love, mercy, forgiveness, or charity to our neighbors, especially the poor, fulfills these laws.
The same message reechoes in the Gospel (Matt 18:15-20) where Jesus says, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault. If he refuses invites two other people to come with you. But if he still refuses to listen bring the matter to the church, the community of believers. For where two or three gathered in God’s name, God is surely in their midst.

In all these, when we put the messages of Ezekiel, Paul and that of Jesus together, one single theme stands out, namely’ “being our brothers/sisters keeper,” watching out for neighbors. In the case of Ezekiel, bringing them hope and support when everybody seems to be hopeless and despair. In the case of Paul, truly no one who loves his neighbor would think of stealing his neighbor’s property, abusing his children or wife, since “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” What stands out in the Gospel also is that, we be a watchman or a watchwoman to our neighbors in our prayers and counseling. We are called to be prophetic. Those pieces of advice we gently and compassionately give to our grandchildren, children, friends, partners, colleagues, spouses count. They go a long way to help. You never know! We are call to love and to watch our neighbors back, speak well about our neighbors, whether they are there or not.
Today, we live in a very troubling time. A time of immeasurable uncertainties, of poverty, widening gap between the poor and the rich. A time that we are confronted with climate change and natural tragedies, earthquakes and hurricanes. Nobody knows what the terrorists might do next. Nobody knows how far that earthquake, or hurricane might go. Nobody knows hundred percent, how far the wars going on in different parts of the world might extend. Or what those with nuclear weapons might do next. We are yet to control, 100 percent, recent outbreak of epidemics and diseases including AIDs and EBOLA. We still have gun violent, police brutalities, cultural and racial crises in our world.

In all these, we have every reason to listen to God’s voice and pray for our nations and world at large, our civil leaders and ecclesiastical leader.  Like Ezekiel, Paul and Christ, we have every reason to be our brothers and sister keepers, to constantly pray, advice, and watch out for one another; Regaining our personal and communal hope!

Reflection Questions:

1.    In what way are you prophetic Like Ezekiel, Paul or Christ-like in your homes, or areas of work and services?

2.    How often do you forgive or act charitable towards your neighbor or your environment and mother planet?

3.    How does your personal hope and trust in the Lord strengthen the despaired members of your faith community?

4.    How much good have you contributed towards the common good? Or help to spread the Gospel?

 

 

 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Homily Twenty-Second Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Twenty-Second Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Jer 20:7-9;
·          Ps 63:2-9;
·          Rom 12:1-2
·         Matthew 16:21-27

 Trusting and following God in times of frustrations, pains, sorrows
“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” (Ps 63:2b). This exquisite Psalm 63 captures the theme and the spirit of today’s Bible Readings and worship; namely “Confidence and Trust in God, even in times of pains and sorrows, rejections and uncertainties". Psalm 63 is a prayer of trust and a hymn of intimacy with God, no matter what!

Truly, there are moments in our lives that God seems to be too far away. It is such moments that today’s Psalmist refers to, metaphorically in the song: “for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water,” (v.2). In our moments of seeming rejection, loneliness, pains, sorrows, hurricanes, natural disasters, sufferings, we are encouraged to look into the sanctuary of history for lessons and wisdom. We are called to appreciate what God has done for us in the past. And realize that God is ever present with us today and in the future (vv.3-6).
Experiences of temporary frustrations, agonies, uncertainties, pains and sorrows are nothing new. Jeremiah, Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his disciples, led by Peter of today’s Gospel, had their shares. 

 In the case of Jeremiah, of all Israel’s prophets, he suffered most. He is a type of Christ of today’s Gospel, heading to suffer in Jerusalem.  Jeremiah was many times publicly rejected. He was once placed in stocks (Jer 20:1-2). He was put on trial, not by the poor, nor by those on the margin, but by priests who demanded his death (26:10-11). Can you imagine priests demanding the death of a prophet of God?
 Jeremiah was banished from the Temple (Jer 36:5), because of his fearless and alternative ways of preaching (Jer 7; 26). Jeremiah together with his friend Baruch were often made to go into hiding (Jer 36:19). Jeremiah was arrested, beaten and imprisoned like Saint Paul of the Second reading. (Jer 37:12-16). He experienced house arrest (Jer 37:20-21) and was abandoned in a muddy cistern (Jer 37:1-6).  In all these, remember, Jeremiah was human, like any of us. His pains, frustrations and sorrows led Jeremiah to complain and to pray in lamentations.

The first reading of today is one of such complaints and lamentations. How often do we not lament, and sometimes focusing only on our ourselves and personal needs. Jeremiah lamented: “You duped me O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; every one mocks at me.”
Have you ever been laughed at, or felt deceived? Have you ever been mocked?  These are the parched lands, and the lifeless earths, without water of Jeremiah put into music by today’s Psalmist. But the good news is that Jeremiah like the Psalmist channeled their complaints, miseries and worries directly to God whom they trusted in prayer as the father of love and mercy. Recall the Misericordia et misera of Pope Francis, on November 20, 2016. In all our miseries the Lord clothes us  with his divine mercy!

Similarly, it was not all that easy for Saint Paul in all his travels and preaching of the Good News of Christ. Even though the mercy and love of God was with him, during his miseries and pains, like Jeremiah, Paul was beaten, tried, rejected and imprisoned here and there. But Paul’s attitude in all these is evident in his Letter to the Romans, the 2nd reading, (12:1-2).  Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
Sacrifices, and self-abandonment are demanded of us in all that we do, as believers. It is such sacrifices that Christ reminded his disciples of, in today’s Gospel, Matthew 16:21-27, who thought it was unthinkable that Christ would go to Jerusalem to suffer as he had foretold.

Recall after Peter’s Confession of the divinity of Christ in Caesarea Philippi, in last Sunday’s reading, Jesus praised and blessed Peter. He gave the keys of the Church to Peter, but went on to explain that it was necessary, it was the will of God, and that he goes up to Jerusalem in order to suffer, be killed and on the third day be raised. The disciples did not understand this type of language that it was actually through suffering or the cross of Christ that we find salvation.  Peter and his friends were at different level with different thinking, as we often do!  He almost became an obstacle “satanic” to Christ. For Christ, “Whoever wishes to come after him, must deny himself/herself, take up his or her cross and follow him.”
This invitation to take up the cross, explains the parched land and the lifeless earth, the waterless planet of the psalmist. It explains and sooths the duping and the frustration of Jeremiah. It explains the call to “spiritual worship,” of Paul.  It explains the fact that our relationship with God must go beyond self-seeking and material level. Our relationship with God must go beyond seeking earthly values to seeking heavenly values. It challenges us to that facts that with prayers, deeper trusting, constant longing and thirsting for God, that our pains, illness, tribulations, frustrations, rifts and misunderstandings, can be handled.

 As we brave our daily crosses, personal trials, and agonies of seeming lifelessness and dryness, like Jeremiah, Christ and Paul, our lives must not exclude our concern for others. The more intimate we are with God, trusting him, following him, the closer we are called to be charitable to God’s extended families, our neighbors and our planet, as well.
Reflection Questions:

1.    In your various states of live, vocation have you ever felt like Jeremiah, St. Paul, or Peter and his friends of today’s Gospel? And what do you do!

2.    How do you assist members of your faith communities who come to you with their experiences of pains, crosses, sufferings, hurricanes, disappointments, and frustrations of one form or the other?

3.    Have you ever misled or be an obstacle to a member of your faith community who is growing in faith! Or treat the planet unfairly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Homily Twenty-First Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Twenty-First Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 22:19-23;
·         Ps 138:1-3, 6, 8;
·         Rom 11:33-36
·         Matthew 16:13-20

 A God of Surprise and Giver of Keys Of Responsibilities

Many of us do not like to be surprised, except with anniversary gifts! But our God is a God of surprises. To be surprised implies that we have surrendered at least some of our autonomy(ies). It means events, wonders and amazements have taken place in which we have little or no control, but only to trust in God. Many of such events abound in our lives. In those moments, God is at work. He creates and recreates. He admonishes sinners and welcomes the repentant. He can make king and has the power too to bring kings down. He promotes and demotes.  He changes sufferings into joy, failures into success, illness into good health, and death into life. This is true when we take a closer look into today’s Bible lessons. The Lord entrusted us with the keys to join in building the kingdom.
 In the first reading (Isa 22:19-23), there is a contrast drawn between two court officials during the time of Hezekiah. They were Shebna and Eliakim. Shabna was irresponsible, building a tomb for himself, faithless, abusive, unstable, pompous and selfish (Isa 22:1-18). As a result he was disgraced out of office (v 19). God surprisingly replaces him with Eliakim, whom he calls his servant (v 20). Eliakim is a father to the people (v 21), dependable and solid like a peg.  What a surprise from Shebna to Eliakim! We are invited to be servants of God and of one another.

Above all during prayers we are challenged to believe in a God of surprises. He surprises us through others and through daily events and circumstances. Some of them may initially look ugly. But don’t lose the mystery of hope. Saint Paul reechoes this surprising nature of God in the second reading (Rom 11:33-36) when he says: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom, and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.”
 Similar elements of divine surprises occur in Matthew’s Gospel today. Who would have thought that the same would-be “Denying Peter,” during the Passion Week would surprisingly get the answer put by Christ, “who do people think that I am.” Surprisingly, ahead of other disciples, Peter got it. He professed Christ as the Son of the living God (matt 16:6).   As a result, and like Eliakim who was given the symbols of power, the keys of the house of David in the first reading (Isa 22:23), Peter is divinely entrusted with the keys of responsibilities: to lead, love, forgive and preach faith and hope. He is pastorally blessed and confirmed as the rock upon which Christ’s Church shall be built (vv.18-19).

Each of us has role to play in using the keys entrusted to us by God for the service of God and our neighbors. We are to be a rock and a pillar for one another!
Metaphorically, rocks in rural African families are used for multiple purposes. They are used to crack or produce kernels (from palms) sold for economic livelihood of many families.  Rocks are also used in most cultures for homes, offices’, road or bridge constructions to support and sustain nations and society. In another sense, they are used to build bridges of unity, forgiveness, reconciliation, and ecumenism, inter- religious or cultural dialogue and peace much needed today in our world! O course, God is the "Rock of all Ages."

I know when we experience wars, threats of terrorism, tragedies, civil unrest and other forms of disorientation, we often succumb to the fallacy that God is not really interested in our affairs and concerns. We may feel that we are not persons, only numbers in a gigantic universe. Like Peter and his successors including Pope Francis, in particular, we are encouraged to trust in God. We are invited to be our neighbor’s and planet’s rock of hope and support. We are called to be the rock, keys, and the pillars for our neighboring poor, the immigrants, the rejected, the homeless, the voiceless, the sick, the needy and the suffering of our generations.    

Reflection Questions:

1.    Do you see yourself in Shebna, Eliakim, or Peter in today’ readings?

2.    How have you been using your keys and your assigned responsibilities to foster dialogue, unity, protect the planet, family values, love and empowerment of the poor and marginalized of your faith community?

3.    Name  one or two ways you have used the pillars and the rocks of your gifts to give glory and thanks to God’s name.