Saturday, December 16, 2017

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11;
·          Ps /Luke 1:46-50, 53-54;
·          1 Thes 5:16-24
·         John 1:6-8, 19-28.
Expecting the Lord with Joy!
When we expect an important guest or anticipate an appointment, there is always that natural tendency or social protocol, to call back and forth in order to confirm the arrival of our guest or confirm our appointments.  When our guest finally arrives or appointment successfully met it brings us joy and happiness. Today’s celebration, Gaudete Sunday of Advent in the light of today’s scripture communicates not just hope but joy and happiness of freedom in Christ’s birth. The joyful mysteries, well captured by Saint Paul in the second reading when he says to the Thessalonians “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing. Give thanks to God in every circumstances.” Perhaps, what Pope Francis would called, “the Joy of the Gospel”!
 Even though this is Advent, we must make it a joyful and a prayerful Advent. What brings us joy and happiness during Advent is the fact that Our Lord is near; the birth of our Savior is at hand. He comes to free us. He comes to forgive us. He comes to liberate us. He comes to bless us. He comes with peace and justice lacking in the world and in our families today. This is who God is, accompanying his people throughout history.  
He accompanied the ancient Israel as they return from humiliation, and exile to rebuild their temple.  Speaking on behalf of YHWH, Isaiah assures the homeless, the captives, the poor, the ignorant, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God….” (Isa 61:1-2a)”. What a message of hope often cited by Luke 4:18-21 as the inaugural address of Jesus. It is joyful message that gave them joy. It give us joy today that Our Lord will never abandon us.  At Christmas, he comes to us through the son of Mary, as promised.
The responsorial Psalm constitutes, the Magnificat, the joyful song of Mary that the birth of Christ promised her is fulfilled through her, a lowly and humble handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:46–48, 49–50, 53–54). It’s a song of joy with humility!
 [Think of what Mary had to go through from her immaculate conception, betrothed to Joseph, her mysterious encounter with the Lord, through the Angel Gabriel. Although there were moment of sorrowful mysteries in Mary’s life, today Mary prays the joyful mysteries because of the nearness of the Lord. That which was told her, as poor and lowly as she was, has been fulfilled. She became the mother of our Savior. To have Christ is to have joy, unhappiness sets in when we lose Christ. Mary through the joyful mysteries is an example one who possess Christ through listening obedience to the will of God, love of one’s neighbor, purity of mind and body, poverty of the spirit and humility to serve others, as she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with John the Baptist.  At Mary’s visit, John the Baptist who was few months older than Jesus, imitated the mother, Elizabeth joyfully honoring Mary and her son, Jesus. Recalled, John the Baptist leapt in her mother’s womb when Mary visited her.]
The same note of joyful message is heard in John’s Gospel as John the Baptist insists joyfully in that humility. He baptizes with water, but he joyfully acknowledges that the one coming after him at Christmas, namely Our Savior will baptize with the Holy Spirit, the source of life, the breath of life!  John is not even worthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandals. What a humility! Unless we forget ourselves and not so much be consumed in our ego, we will not be able to know and serve and have Christ who is the true source of joy and happiness!
Advent, especially in a today’s world of isolationism, and indifference to one’s next door neighbor, is a time we reach out to our neighbors, support one another, pray for one another, and bear one another’s burden.  And we should do this joyfully. Advent is time we rejoice and try to be a source of joy to one another. It is a time we strive to imitate Israel’s prophets, the missionary zeal of Paul, John the Baptist, and importantly our mother Mary who knew how to expect her baby Jesus with joy, and who expresses that joy in the joyful mysteries, and at the birth of her son. As we joyfully expect Christ at Christmas, may we daily pray the joyful mysteries(the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity, the presentation and the finding of Jesus in the temple) radiate that joy and happiness in our neighborhood, churches, dioceses, parishes, stations, schools, offices, homes and places of work!
Reflection Questions
1.      What gives you joy as you prepare for Christmas?
2.      What is my takeaway from today’s bible readings, the humility and joyful zeal of Mary and John the Baptist or the hopeful and joyful and prophetic message of Isaiah?
3.      How do I prophetically share the joy of the Gospel (Evangelli Gaudium) with my neighbors or members of  my faith community?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Homily Second Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Second Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11;
·         Ps 85: 9-14;
·          2 Pet 3:8-14
·         Mark 1:1-8  
 Preparing With Fidelity , Hope And Trust In God
Advent which began last week is a time of preparation for Christmas. It is also a time we renew our faith and hope in the second coming of Christ. Unlike lent, it is not a time for reflection on Jesus’ passion and death, but a time  we re-live the message of  hope, optimism,  expectation and call  for preparedness in the manner of  “God’s servant”( (malachi=MT), his angel (aggelou autou= LXX) proclaimed by Israel's prophets, from Isaiah to John the Baptist. We are God’s servants. We are called to be our neighbors’ angel, servants and messengers!
 Surely, preparedness for Christmas stands out during Advent scriptures. How do we prepare in the midst of all the problems of life- political, social, economic etc? Scripture readings of today suggest ways for Christmas' preparation. These readings urge us to use our religious imagination and look forward to the future with hope, faith, humility, practice of justice, righteousness, pursuit of peace, and courage no matter the challenges that we encounter daily in life. Watchfulness, alertness and some sense of eagerness and urgency for compassion are also required on every believer’s journey, in history! 
 A little history is also important. In the 586/7 BC the Babylonians military had overrun Jerusalem and destroyed the temple there. Second Isaiah, among all Israel’s prophet had every reason to “proclaim” this message of hope and comfort to those displaced in exile, “Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way”. The messenger especially the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 (my messenger) is rendered angellou autou (his messenger), in the Greek translation, the LXX. The joy of this affirmation, is that despite all the destruction, disappointments and set-backs around him Isaiah was clearly called to proclaim, or “cry- out” the message of comfort and hope of salvation to his people, hoping to walk the long highway, from Babylon to Jerusalem, the Holy Land.  Getting there, Jerusalem shall be rebuilt and the Lord will be like a good shepherd feeding, tendering and caring for his flock in the rebuilt Jerusalem. 
 In other words, the force of these pronounce “my messenger, my house, way of the Lord,” it is the Lord that leads the way. He does this with care and comfort. Isaiah calls us today, to play our part on this long journey, like God’s servants and instruments by caring for one another-- feeding flock, gathering the lambs in our arms and bosoms, and leading the ewes care.
 The second reading (2 Peter 3:8-14) builds on this hopeful, trusting and selfless message of the first reading (Isaiah).  Preparation for Christmas, also requires devotion, some sense of urgency, justice, righteousness and peace. Peter says “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire,…since everything is to be dissolved in this way….conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the God,… in which righteousness dwells, and be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace” (2 Pt 3:8–14). Again, like the way, the day belongs to him and the messengers are his!
Isaiah’s prophecy foreshadowed not only what we have heard in Second Peter but fulfils Gospel messages.  Mark’s Gospel today, not surprisingly makes a direct reference to Isaiah, “behold sending my messenger  ahead of you; he will prepare your way, a voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Mark 1:3//Isaiah 40:3, cf. Matt 11:7-10).
In Mark, John the Baptist may have been the servant not Isaiah. But what Isaiah announced thousands of years before him, is what John the Baptists proclaimed from the desert, during his time, about the coming of Christ. For us, it is this Christ, God’s Son that we prepare for at Christmas, through repentance, baptism, conversion, works of charity, forgiveness, humility, modeling leadership and prophetic virtues of justice, patience, prudence, modesty and faith in the one mightier than us!
Today we live in a pluralistic society with various socio-cultural, political and leadership challenges, including threats of war, terrorism, poverty, widening gap between the "haves" and the have-nots." The more reason we are invited to reexamined the many pastoral ways we can prepare for Christmas. What have been suggested in today’s scriptures include humility in walking the way, humility in preaching, leading and serving the people, especially the poor, and importantly an awareness that we are God’s servant. We are his instruments and agents of evangelization. The way, the house belong to him. This awareness is achievable provided we placed our faith and trust in God’s fidelity.
Reflection Question
1.      How do we prepare for Christmas? As a good shepherd or as a wolf?
2.      How are we feeding the flock, the lambs and the ewes entrusted to us, with care?
3.       Do we see ourselves as God’s Malachi (messengers), aggelou autou (his angel) as we prepare for Christmas?
4.      How do we humbly, prophetically lead, help members of our faith communities to prepare for Christmas, in the manner God’s servant recommended in today’s scripture passages?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Homily First Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily First Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7;
·         Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19;
·          1 Cor 1:3-9
·         Mark 13:33-37.

 Time (Kairos) Belongs to God Our Father and Redeemer (ḇȋ and gō’lēnû)
 How often do we not hear people say to one another, “hang-in there, God’s time is the best’?”  Behind this expression, historically speaking is the human person’s eagerness, anxiety, uncertainty, curiosity, and the need to know, when and how, why and where? In faith context, it is an expression of our total dependence upon God, our father (ḇȋ), the pater noster.  It expresses hope for deliverance, improvement, and hope for people of all cultures, depending on their needs, or the situation in which they find themselves, as believers.

 For the Jewish exiles- experiencing freedom––or searching for one, it is an expression of faith, expectation, watchfulness and trust in God their father, who comes (advent) to liberate and  free them from the oppressive clutches of colonialism and internal issues of settlement in the newly rebuilt land. For Christians, worldwide, Advent is a time we relive this expression “God’s time is the best! How often, do we not search for freedom, good health and good fortunes? Advent is a time of prayer; a time of expectation, a time we prepare and patiently wait for the coming of Christ, the Son of God our Father (ḇȋ), at Christmas. It is that moment of God’s intervention. God our Father, in his son, becoming like one of us, in order to save us!
Scripture readings today are so timely and fitting. They redefine this divine time for us in Jewish and Christian contexts. For all Israel’s prophets, including Third Isaiah (Isa 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) this time was the “Day of the Lord.” No wonder the first reading, begins acknowledging God as “our father” and ends on the same notes of God, as “our father,” (’ḇȋ) ) and our redeemer(gō’lēnû) .Time, gifts, live, prosperity, land, life belong to him, who blesses with them. Third Isaiah's  passage invokes that time when God accompanies them(Israel) throughout their journeys in exiles. Truly, when they were in trouble of slavery, dryness, starvation, thirstiness, 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, as the reading stresses, and confirmed by the Psalmist, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be save” (ps 80:4).

 Again, in Christian communities, Advent is a time we continue to cherish, acknowledge with hope and expectations God’s presence in our lives, through the birth and working of Christ his son. Saint Paul brought same message to the Corinthian community in the Second reading. Paul says:
 “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 of fulfilment of the day of the Lord. It is a time nobody knows (Mark 13:33).  It belongs to God “Our Father.” This time can only be handled by faith, watchfulness, being alert, loving our neighbors. It can only be handle by putting forgiveness into practice. By forgiving those who have offended us and asking those we have offended for forgiveness. It can also be handle by 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. He is our father, who feeds us, who protects us, and who provides for us. 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.  During Advent, our relationship, our covenant with God our father (ḇȋ) and redeemer (gō’ᾰlēnû) is repairable; so also is our broken relationship with our neighbors during this advent!

 Reflection Questions:

1.      How do we prepare for Advent, the coming of God’s Son?

2.      Do we expectantly see him as the revelation of God our Father and Redeemer?

3.      Do we see the redeemer grace of God in how we relate with the poor, the voiceless, those on the margins, and the needy? How do we help members of our faith communities to live Advent by recognizing God our father (’ḇȋnû) and redeemer (gō’ᾰlēnû) in their midst?


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thirty Fourth Sunday Year A (Solemnity of Christ the King: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Thirty Fourth Sunday Year A (Solemnity of Christ the King: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17
·         Ps 23:1-6
·         1 Cor 15:20-26, 28
·         Matt 25:31-36
Imitating Christ, the Good- Shepherd- King In service to others
Today we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King, which marks the end of the liturgical season.  Even though we have come to the end of this liturgical cycle our faith journeys, and search for justice, peace, employment, Christ-like and glorious leadership in families, religious communities and nations around the world continue. It will be recall it was Pope Pius XI who in 1925 introduced this feast into the Church Liturgy not only to remind “earthly rulers” such as Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin that Christ is the only Sovereign King, but to constantly remind each of us today, of our obligations to love, lead, train, teach and treat one another, especially the poor, the needy, the anawims, the dalims, the ebyonims, with love, mercy and compassion, in imitation of Christ.
It is in this spirit of God’s people invitation to imitate Christ, that the Church, picks Ezekiel 34, Psalm 23, 1 Cor 15 and Matthew 25 for scriptural reflections today. In the first reading, just as in Psalm 23, and Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel, the prophet of Exile reminds and consoles the Jewish exiled that the coming Messiah, fulfilled in Christ, for Christians, is the good-shepherd –king who feeds, protect and care for his flocks, and raises them from death, no matter what. Christ is not like those irresponsible and earthly kings who watched over the burning down of the temple, in 586 BC, or contributed to the tragedy of exile through their failure to lead, with love, compassion and the fear of the Lord. Of course, it is this same hopeful message of Ezekiel prophecy of the Messiah, that the psalmist renders into music in Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
In the Second reading, Saint Paul affirms Christ and the Messiah foretold by Ezekiel. He is the all-powerful king and ruler who does a lot for his people, including raising the dead from death. Every power must be subjected to Christ, including the power to judge ( I Cor 15:20-26,28).
 It is this power to judge us on how we have charitably shared our bread with the poor, with the needy, those in prison, that  Evangelist Matthew stresses in today’s Gospel ( Matt 25:31-46). That is to say, how we govern matters. How we care for one another, the least of our brothers and sisters, matters and how we serve makes us friends with Christ the King. In other words, Christ is with us in the poor and the needy we serve, in the stranger we receive, in the hungry we feed and in the thirsty we offer drinks, as humble “sheep” on the right hand of God in the parable
The “goats” in the parable, perhaps reminds us of the uncharitable ones, the rude and hostile leaders, without compassion and love. It reminds of us parents who do not take care of their family responsibilities and those who abuse their offices of services. It challenges us on this last Sunday of the Year to always strife to imitate Christ the King and our Good Shepherd!
 Reflection Questions
1.      In our leadership positions do we see Christ as our model?
2.      How do we recognized the kingly presence of Christ in the poor and the voiceless of our communities?
3.      Conscious of divine judgment how do we assist members of our faith communities to hope and place all their trust in Christ, the King-ruler, and good shepherd?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

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

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

Blessed Are Those Who Fear the Lord (Ps 128:1a)
Today we celebrate the Thirty-Third Sunday of Year A. The liturgical season is gradually coming to an end. Next weekend will be a “Thanksgiving Celebration” (here in the United States). Soon after that Christmas!  We are grateful to God. Even though recently, when we turn on our TVs and our Radios, or pick up the newspapers, so much is going on in the world, socially, politically economically and religiously, that, sometimes we cannot even keep track of them. It causes anxieties and worries?

In the midst these events, anxieties and worries, the church invites and exhorts us in the readings of today, as well captured by the Psalmist, that “blessed are those, or happy are those, who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Ps 128:1a). One may ask, what is the fear of the Lord? How do we fear the Lord?
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 virtuous woman, ‘esit hayil, in this reading, like Ruth, is a trust worthy, holy, perfect, and faithful. She is a model of one who fears the Lord. She honors God, bear witness to him and showcase God’s attributes. She is also merciful, kind, hardworking, modest, prudent, understanding and just. She is dependable and responsible.

Similarly, St. Paul in the Second reading (1Thess 5:1-6), reminds the anxious Thessalonian church the meaning of the “fear of the Lord.”  For Paul this include, preparedness and staying very sober for the day of the Lord as foretold by Israel’s prophets ( Amos 5, Zephaniah, Joel etc). It is a day of God’s judgment, forgiveness and restoration. In our daily works, we must not lose hope of God’ judgment and his promise of blessings and reward to those who are faithful and trusting in him.  In our daily challenges and activities, each of us is 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, by our readiness and preparedness in virtuous act of mercy and charity.
Finally, the fear of the Lord is further highlighted in Jesus’ gospel parable of the talent (Matt 25:14-30). Here, 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.  The third servant left his 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

 Reflection Questions
1.    What are our talents and how do we use them? How do we model the virtuous lady of the first reading?
2.    In light of the Gospel passage, in what ways do we live our sense of the “fear the Lord”?
3.    How do we assist members of our faith communities to “fear the Lord”?

Alternate Reflection

Sharing Our Gifts Is Watchfulness for the Lord
With the current down-turn of world economy and global financial market one might be tempted to interpret the gospel parable of the talents in terms of austerity measure. Some may think it is all about how we invest our money. The readings today generally point to something deeper, something else. Especially as we approach the end of the liturgical season. The readings, like the parable of the 10 virgins of last Sunday point to watchfulness and readiness for the coming of the Son of man by the way we use our gifts. They point to acting responsibly, wisely and selflessly. They remind us that we are all gifted people, according to our abilities. We are called to watch for the Lord, to fear him by making good use of these gifts, sharing them with our neighbors, especially the poor and the down-trodden.
Take today’s gospel-rich man-master to be Jesus, and take the three people gifted with various talents to be each of us. What did the first two do with their talents? Without wasting time or idling around like the 5 foolish virgins of last Sunday’s reading, they worked hard multiplying their talents. In fact, unlike the third servants of today’s gospel. What did the third servant do with his talents? He left his gifts hidden in the ground, unproductive. He went about blaming everyone except himself; complaining and criticizing the master, the distributor of the talent, calling him names-horrible, and a hard man!
Like the foolish, unaccountable, unprepared virgins, he fails to grasp the nature of his responsibility. His action represents not only laziness but also lack of love for the master. I represents a disciple who is trying to play safe, a disciple not ready bear witness to the gospel at all times, to keep watch for the return of the master. He is not a missionary disciple. He says he was afraid, which is equivalent to faithlessness, lack of readiness, and lack of trust in the master, the Lord.
Genuine trust, and “fear of the Lord,” of the master according to Psalm 128, rather consists in walking the walk, walking in the ways of the Lord, ways of love, charity and forgiveness, keeping his precepts- the Torah. It consists in not sleeping but keeping awake in readiness for the day of the Lord-Yom Adonai (Amos 5; Zeph 1:14-18). On this note of the day of the Lord (Yom Adonai) St. Paul says in the second reading, “Let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober for the day of the Lord “(1 Thess 5:1-6), by using our God’s given gifts.
 I believe there is no better way to challenge ourselves, to re-examine how we have used our various gifts in readiness for the day of the Lord than in imitation of the virtuous and worthy woman ('eseth yahil) extol in the first reading- book of proverbs.
This worthy woman like the biblical Ruth puts her talents to us. She brings her husband good and not evil. What a good use of her talent! She does this all the days of her life. Proverbs says, “She put hands to the distaff and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting, the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (prov 31:1-5).
In our various circumstances be it here in the Seminary, home or our parish communities we want to appreciate all the gifts we have been gifted with; the gifts of our parents, siblings, families, doctors and nurses, the gifts of our teachers and mentors- what we have learned from them.
We want to share these gifts with others, including the gift of our time. We want to share our gift of music, writing. We want to share the gift of our dancing. We want to share the gift of our artistry. We want to share our gifts of knowledge, listening and counselling abilities. We want to share our gift of being present for one another. Above all, we want to share our gift of love. We want to share our gift of hope. We want to share our gift of faith, mercy with people around us. This is not different watching and waiting for the Lord.



Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homily Thirty-Second Sunday of Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Thirty-Second Sunday of Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Wis 6:12-16
·         Ps 63:2,3-4,5-7
·         1 Thes 4:13-18
·         Matt 25:1-13
Christ Is the Source of Our Wisdom and Kingdom Readiness
As we approach the end of the liturgical year it is so fitting that we have the scripture readings of today which provide us the source of kingdom readiness, to stay awake, to be prepared to meet the Lord when he comes. Reaching the heavenly kingdom of God needs preparations, including, through death in Christ, which begins here on earth!
In the Gospel of Matthew today a parable is allegorically presented about ten virgins in light of the kingdom of God. It was a typical village parable familiar to the original Palestinian readers and audience. Five, wise virgins were prepared with oil waiting for the bridegroom, Christ; while the other five, foolish ones were not prepared, and hadn’t enough oil when the master Christ, arrived! Even, though both of them, the ten were asleep when the Lord arrived, at least five were prepared with oil to meet him.
This reminds us of the point Saint Paul is making in the Second reading: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess 4:13-18).
 As we journey through our Christian life with various sacramental preparations in love, charity, forgiveness, show of mercy to others, reaching out to the poor and the oppressed, we must be hopeful as well in the resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, and gone before us, mark with the sign of faith, hope and love. For the ultimate preparation for the heavenly kingdom of God, starts here on earth. It includes how we prepare for our deaths. It include how we wisely treat one another, carry out our vows, commitments, covenants, responsibilities in the fear of the Lord and how we minister to those in the margins.
In the parable of the ten virgins, even though the sensible five were asleep, momentarily, yet they were unlike the foolish ones, wisely prepared for the coming of the Lord, with their oil, which were non-transferable, a reminder of personal preparations!
It is this Lady Wisdom, God (hochma, Sophia) of the first reading (Wis 6:12-16, cf. other wisdom books and literature), which Solomon sought in the beginning of his administration (1 Kgs 2-3), that we seek in order to be orderly prepared for the coming of God’s Kingdom. This wisdom is sitting in our gates. It is the breath of God, his spirit, his wind, his pneuma, the Holy Sprit. It is written in our hearts. It is in the 10 commandments. It is in the teachings about the fear of the Lord, the precepts transmitted in the teachings of the Church: modesty, administrative prudence, love, charity, forgiveness, kindness (hesed) misphat (justice), sadeqqah (righteousness) emet (truth), peace (shalom), compassion and inclusiveness that Pope Francis daily encourage us.
May we remain, sharers and partakers of God’ Wisdom as we prepare for our death, and ultimately, the Kingdom of God!
Reflection Question
1.      In your Christian journeys so far, among which group do you find yourself- the five wise virgins or the five foolish ones?
2.      How do you daily and wisely prepare for the Kingdom?
3.      And how do you help members of your faith community/work environment, in this endeavor?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Homily Thirty –First Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Thirty –First Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
·         Ps131:1-3
·         1 Thes 2:7b-9,13
·         Matt 23:1-12
Sharing What We Have for the Benefit of All
After the celebration of all saints and souls on November 1st and 2nd, we are gradually coming to the end of the liturgical year. No wonder, our first reading today is taken from the prophet Malachi, the last of the prophetic Books of the Greek-English translation.  Similarly, today’s Gospel is also taken from the last section of Matthew’s Gospel, which has 28 chapters. These readings are not meant to be used in pointing fingers to one person, or one member of the faith community or the other. They are meant to remind, each of us, all of us priests, religious, lay faithful, male, female, the baptized of the need, no matter our locations, talents, titles, honours, gifts, charisms, to serve the Lord and one another generously, sacrificially, exemplarily with great sense of humility.  We are God’s messengers, his tools, in one way or the other!
In the first reading, prophet Malachi, whose name simply means “God’s messenger,” (my messenger), generally lays emphasis on matters of worship, like Haggai and Zechariah, before him, in the post-exilic Israel. Malachi regards the Temple, the priesthood and liturgy central in the services of the restored community, and in the messianic age to come. He confronts the spiritual and sacrificial dryness, worldliness and externalism of his people with a call to sharing, humility, fidelity to God, the covenant, and reference to holy things. For the priests and the religious, in particular, he challenges their inadequate generosity and sacrifices to the Lord and to the community.  Malachi, God’s messenger, says to them in today’s first reading:
“You have strayed from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching… And so I in my turn have made you contemptible and vile in the eyes of the whole people in repayment for the way you have not kept to my paths but have shown partiality in your administration.”
In our various places of work, home and offices how have we, as the baptized , priests and religious kept the faith, the way, the Torah, the precepts, with humility, love and care.? How have we led others to Christ, to the rebuilding of the faith, the church, and the temple? How often do we channel the tithe to the right direction or honor the intention for which they were meant,  by keeping the covenant (Gen 15; 17; 22; Exod 19-25, 2 Sam 7; Jer 31:31 etc)? These questions are meant for our personal reflection!
 In this first reading, Malachi, no doubts anticipates other God’s messengers we have heard of in the Holy Scriptures, including Paul and Jesus Christ. In the 2nd reading, Paul and apostle, a messenger, the one sent, to the Church in Thessalonica, like Malachi insists, “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our selves” (1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13). How often, or  how far are we today, willing , like St. Paul, to share, to sacrifice our comfort, titles, degrees,  for the sake of the gospel or of the community, God’s family, to which we are sent to serve?
Depending on your duty post, are we willing to be prophetic in the likes of Malachi in our places of work, homes, --- fearlessly reminding our brothers and sisters of the place of God in our lives, and the need for us to use our God’s giving talents for the service of our communities?
This is the same message that we hear from today’s Gospel (Matt 23:1-12). Are the Pharisees, scribes and title holders ready and willing to use their offices and position for the services of God and of the community? Are they ready to acknowledge with humility that they are God’s instruments, Christ’s tools, and messengers, like the Prophet Malachi and Apostle Paul?
Whoever exalts himself or herself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself or herself will be exalted. May we who live today in a challenging time of self-seeking and strives for vain glories pray for the grace to always use and share our gifts and charisms for the service of the Lord and the benefit of our faith communities?
Reflection Questions
1.      How often do we, irrespective of our titles see ourselves as God’s messengers, instruments, tools, like Malachi and Paul an Apostle?
2.      What prevents us from offering “adequate” sacrifices to the Lord through our faith communities?
3.      How does today’s scripture passages, assist us enter a new relationship with God or help us re-lead members of our faith communities to God?