Friday, December 14, 2018

God Rejoices Over Us,Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Zeph 3:14-18a;
·          Ps. Isa 12:2-6;
·          Phil 4:4-7
·         Luke 3:10-18

God Rejoices Over Us,

We are already in the 3rd week of Advent. So far we  are so blessed with great Bible readings , homilies so far heard, and Advent models presented to us, including Israel’s prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, John the Baptist and our mother Mary- who bear not only messages of love, faith, and hope, but joy- that is reflected in the traditional name for today’s Sunday: Gaudate Sunday!
Toda’s scriptures speak of this Joy. First, the Prophet Zephaniah joyfully speaks to us:“

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”
Second, Saint Paul addresses similar message to his Church in Philippi, saying, “Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say again rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all,” (Phil 4:4-7).

These two passages, particularly, that of the Prophet Zephaniah is a delight of Pope Francis who even began his first Encyclical “the Joy of the Gospel” by quoting this joyful message Zephaniah, which lies at the heart of our faith. Some of you may have read this encyclical. But, if you not, please, do. Because, here, the Holy Father calls on everyone, though confronted with challenges, to live the Gospel, our faith, with joy- that is a spiritual joy that arises from our interior life- our relationship with God.

 On the other hand, the text of Zephaniah we read today, the last section of chapter 3, contains a language of hope, comfort and joy to a community saddled with pains, sorrow and despair. Some scholars and spiritual authors have even suggested that it was actually written for Israel after the pains of exile. This text shows the exultant Lord smiling, dancing, singing, rejoicing and admiring all of us, his remnant Church, a renewed Israel..  If so, the question is why is the Lord smiling at us, at Israel, or rejoicing over us? It is because, we have kept the faith. We have persevered in faith and  hope. We have fought the good fight. We have endured in spite of temptations, illnesses, problems and betrayals. We have kept our marriages and vows and Counsels, in spite the “turbulence.”
As Zephaniah’s name would portray, ‘the Lord’s protect, “we have allowed the Lord’s wings to cover us, to protect us, our families, our jobs, our travels, joys and sorrows, as an umbrella!

 Even if you were to write out the Name “Zephaniah” in your palm, or on the back of your hymn book, or of bulletin, you cannot but appreciate the nine Advent gifts that  this 9th of  the twelfth  Minor Prophets, Zephaniah, offers us through the 9 letters that make up his Hebrew name:

·         •       Z=Zeal for the Lord
·         •       E= Exemplary Living
·         •       P=Perseverance in my faith
·         •       H=Humility in service
·         •       A=Abiding presence of God
·         •       N=Newness of Life in Christ Jesus
·         •       I=Initiative in charity
·         •       A=Absolute trust in God
·         •       H= Hope and not despair

In order words, Advent is a time we listen to the message of Zephaniah and know that the Lord our God is in our midst, in spite of the changing circumstances our times. Even though we are preparing for Christmas and meditating on the Parousia, the last judgment, during Advent, these two events dialectically are lived within the frame work of the present. Christ is here with us, in the sacraments, in the Word, in our homes, work places, and in our neighbors. 

In other words, in addition to spiritual joy, repentance is important. How we live today, how we teach our children honesty, integrity, true values, how we treat our employers with fairness,  how we reject corruption  and abuse of power and public offices, how we love our nation and pursue common good,  how reject violent and promote dialogue, how we relate with one another in fairness and justice is important.  This is why in today’s Gospel (Luke 3:10-18), when John is asked by the crowd "what they must do," emphasize is placed on the need for those who have two coats to share one with their neighbor- and whoever has food is called upon to do likewise, those who have formed the habit of cheating, idolatry or extorting their neighbors are called upon to refrain from doing so- during Advent, but open to the baptism of the Holy Spirit- by also practicing that which Zephaniah stands for, peace and justice.

It is by doing so that the Lord rejoices in us .It is by doing so that the Lord Smiles, and sings over us as one would sing at festivals. May the Lord continue to bless, smile, and rejoice over us, as we prepare for his coming!

Reflection Questions
1.    What is the source our joy, pleasure, human satisfaction or from our interior spiritual life emanating from our deeper relationship with God?
2.    From insight drawn from today’s scriptures in what way or ways are we prepared to, repent, or change our old ways for better.
3.    How do we help our next door neighbor to realize and cherish  the challenging hope of Advent?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Counting our Blessings in Advent:Second Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Second Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
·         Baruch 5:1-9;
·         Ps 126:1-6;
·         Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
·         Luke 3:1-6
Counting our Blessings in Advent

The readings of today continue to remind  us of the place of Advent in our lives. It is a season that we are all reminded of what God has done for us in the past, what God is doing for us now and what God will continue to do for us in the future. In Advent, we live again those promises of ancient hopes.
Baruch in the first reading and like Jeremiah of last Sunday, offers words of encouragement to Israel in exile in view of their eventual liberation and return: He says;

“Jerusalem take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory of God forever….the forest and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.”
This message of hope is intensified by Psalm 126. Verses 1-3 says,

 “When the lord brought back the captives of Jerusalem, Zion, it was like a dream, then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tough with joy. Then they said among themselves the Lord has done great things for them, the Lord has done great things for us.”

 Clearly, true message of lament and song of joy, gratitude to what God has done for them in the past- the liberation from exile. In verse 4, he restores their fortunes, their well- being, brings them peace. In remaining verses Israel looks at the past, pleads restoration and continues blessings and protection in the future:
 “Restore our fortunes, O lord, like the torrents in the Negev desert. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. Although they shall go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves”(vv 4-6).

Israel hope, our hope, the hope of the Church will never be in vain. This is why Paul says to the Church in Philippi; “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day till now. I am confident this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11).  That same Jesus  was earlier foretold by Israel’s prophets- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, down to John the Baptist, as stressed in today’s Gospel (Luke 3:1-6).

Like Israel and the early church Advent is a time we could settle down and count our blessings- life, family, children, husbands, friend dad and mom, jobs, good of mind and body, name them. Advent is time we also want to bring our remaining “misfortunes” illness and other forms of brokennesses to God. There is no one without some set-backs in life. We want to bring this set back to Christ.
Our future is also clouded with some level of uncertainties: what will be the nature and the final impact of the hurricane, the result of my examination, I hope there wouldn’t be much traffic on the road, no accident no unforeseen illnesses, no divorce; I hope the initial joy of that honeymoon will last. It is under such uncertainties and many more that we need to surrender ourselves more and more under the ambiance of hope, love, faith and of Christ Jesus whom we expect at Christmas and in the parousia. In other words, our past, present and future all belongs to Jesus.

Reflection Question
1.      How well prepared are we for the coming of Christ?
2.      And how do we assist others to prepare for the coming of Christ?
3.      What are our blessings and set-backs?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

In Preparation for Christ- Advent,First Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

First Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Jer 33:14-16;
·         Ps 25:4-5,8-10,14;
·          1 Thes 3:12–4:2
·         Luke 21:25-28,34-36

In Preparation for Christ- Advent

Advent is a preparation for Christmas. It is a time we celebrate the first coming of our Savior, Son of Man, and Son of God. It is also a season which our minds and thoughts are spiritually and joyfully directed in expectation to the Second coming of Christ.  Advent is a season of hope. It is a season of love. It is a season of faith; a season of renewal, a time of prayer and vigilance in penance and charity.

Few years ago, this time in the United States and in other English speaking countries we embraced and implemented the new translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. Today also especially in this part of the world our anniversary, in a sense, of the new missal, our prayer and faith book. So today we celebrate the unity of our faith in Christ Jesus the bridegroom of the Church.
One thing you would notice in the Bible readings of today is that in as much as advent commemorates past events, it mediates salvation, and deepens our awareness of Christ’s presence in the Church and the fulfillment of that promise made by God to our ancestors, Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, David through the mouths of the prophets. It is a celebration of hope!

 Take the first reading for example. In the midst of threats of the Babylonian military might, threats of exile, loss of homes, lives, the temple and its treasures, the Prophet Jeremiah, a late pre-exilic prophet, mediates with words of hope. He recalls the promise God had made to David in 2 Samuel 7:11-16, “in those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just-shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure…” (Jer 33:14-16).

And Paul said similar words of encouragement to the troubled Thessalonians Church, “brothers and sisters may the lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones,” (1 Thess 3:12–4:2)

Apart from Jeremiah and his contemporaries, or Paul and his Thessalonians Church, the Lukan Jesus towards the end of his ministry, and as he approaches his passion, instructs his troubled disciples as well of their preparedness. Christ says;
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxiety of daily lives, and that day catches you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times…” (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36).

This awareness or vigilance is at the core of the message of advent. We are reminded in our various cultures and situations in life to be vigilance with hope, faith, and love and total self-reexamination. Jeremiah had asked his people of the same vigilance. Paul did the same to the Thessalonians Church.  From the locations of our families, churches, dioceses, and chaplaincies, Advent is a time we are to remain vigilance in appreciating of what God has done for us not only at the present, but also in the past and will continue to do for us in the future. Advents also reminds us of what God expects of us and what he will continue to do for us, provided we listen to him!

 It requires, if I may add of  prayers and in being vigilance to the beautiful prophetic messages of this season. John the Baptist the last prophet before Christ bears this message as well. He says to us repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. John remains our model during this advent.
 Besides John the Baptist, Mary is another model. She is closely related to the mysteries of her Son, Christ whom we expect at Christmas. Recall how Mary will react to the message of the angels and the mysteries of her pregnancy. She took everything in with faith. She prepared and waited for her Son’s coming with love, hope, generosity of mind, humility, openness, transparency, vigilance, prayer and joyful praise.

May we imitate the prophets, John the Baptist and our Mother Mary, in our various capacities, as we prepare and awaits the coming of Christ at Christmas and at the parousia.

Reflection Questions;
1.      What does the Bible lessons of today say to us as individual and family or religious groups?
2.      How disposed are we to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and at the Parousia?
3.      In what form are we appreciative of what God has done for us in history? Do we invite our neighbors to do so and how?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sharing God’s Infinite Love(17th Sunday Yr B)

Homily Seventeen Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
  • 2 kings 4:42-44;
  • Ps 145:1-11, 15-18;
  •  Eph 4:1-6
  • John 6:1-15
Sharing God’s Infinite Love
 Scripture readings today challenge us to constantly rely on God’s infinite mercy and love. He feeds us and provides for our needs, meant to be shared with others.
In the first reading, 2 Kings 4:42-44, a nameless man from Baal-shalishah  brought twenty barley loaves made from first fruits, and fresh fruits from the ear, to Elisha for the feeding of a hundred people with plenty of left overs. A parallel story is found in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 with only five barley loves and two fish brought  by a boy, in today’s Gospel, John 6:1-15. Isn’t this feedings and meals' stories a foretaste or a foreshadow of the Eucharist we celebrate and share?
 In these stories we learn of God’s unlimited love for us, in all our needs: physical, material, spiritual, social, religious, political and psychological. In these stories God multiplies our blessings for us, the poor, the needy, the orphans, the homeless, even though we are a multiplicity of people, from all walks of life, from different families, homes, ethnicities and nations. God’s love has no boundaries!
One thing that also strikes me in this story of God’s boundary-less love is the significant of the fact that it was a nameless man from a place called Baal-shalishah who brought food and his first grains used by Elisha, the prophets to feed hundreds of people.
Similarly in the Gospel it was a nameless boy who bore 5 loaves and 2 fish blessed and multiplied by Jesus for the feeding of the crowd of 5,000 people. I am sure there are many of us in the pews that God has used silently to help other people; to feed many people. Some of you are in the Knights. Some of you are members of the Catholic daughters. Some of you are in the Pastoral Council, the Youths and other committees. Some of you are volunteers in our various parish projects and missions. Some of you sing in the choir. Some of you never miss daily morning masses. Some of you are Lectors, ushers, and altar servers. Some of you support your priests, your neighbors and pray for them. Some of you bring a lot supplies for the food pantry to feed the poor and the homeless. You contributes towards charity in the Church. Your names may not have been written on daily newspapers, or broadcasted on the CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and Cable Media. God loves and knows you. He will provide for you for your generosity. You are the one Pope Francis would called “saints-next door”, “saints on the pews.” So God can use any of us for the good of the community, no matter the challenges that come with it.
Saint Paul, of today’s Second reading, who rightly calls himself a prisoner of the Lord, was also aware of God’s infinite love for the Ephesians. He was aware that God can also use them, each of them, their gifts for the good of the community. The more reasons, he urges them, “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” In Ephesian 4:1-6 Paul stresses one faith, one hope, one love that we all share in God, in Christ, who has first loved and fed us!
 So let us pray at this Mass that we may continue to trust in God’s infinite love, who feeds us. And that we who have been fed by the Lord may reach out, or be instruments of blessings to our next door neighbors, especially the poor, the less privilege who may be in need of food or payers, or visits, or a telephone call, sharing with them God’s infinite love!
Reflection Questions:
  1. Are there times in our lives we feel God has not provided enough for our needs, when and why?
  2. How often do we see ourselves as instruments of God’s blessings to others?
  3. How often do we assist members of our faith communities, especially the poor, to realize that God constantly care for them?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Passion and compasssion of A Shepherd -King (16th Sunday Yr B).

Homily Sixteenth Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

  • Jer 23:1-6;
  • Ps 23:1-6;
  • Eph 2:13-18
  • Mark 6:30-34

The Passion and Compassion of A Shepherd-King: An Imitation

 I know, ordinarily everyone here today would have an opinion about who is a good father. Or who is a good mother, brother and friend. We would have an opinion about what a good leader, or captain of soccer or football team should look like. Or what responsibility is expected of our teachers, pastors, priests, parents, a king, a major, a president, governor, a religious, managers, directors, champions, leaders of any kind, call them good shepherds. Some would say they are expected to be kind, truthful, peaceful, prophetic, compassionate, listening, collegial, approachable, consultative, synodal, caring, providing, protective, humble, and exemplary in virtues, even in moments of trials!

Using the metaphor of a Good Shepherd, scripture readings today, spiritually and pastorally speak to these expectations. In the first reading, Jeremiah, aware of Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and messianic traditions reminds Israel’s kings and leaders of his time of their weakness and failure to live up to the expectation of good leaders - who like ordinary and natural Bedouin – shepherds were expected in ancient near east to be courageous, caring, redeeming, selfless, faithful, tender hearted, and protective of their flocks. They lead them to the fields and wadis for food and water. They love and know each them. They are communicative and familiar with one another.  Their flocks obey and listen to the sign- language and directives of their master-- good shepherds, who care, love, feed and fight for them all!

 It was not always the case for Israel’s kings, and leaders.  Most of them did the opposite. In spite of their failures, Jeremiah prophesied hope that would be fulfilled in Christ, the Messiah, and savior of the world. This saving Christ, the Good Shepherd is the one preached by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (cf. Roman 9-11), particularly in Ephesians 2, today’s second reading. Each of us, everyone, Jews and Gentiles, all believers, far and near Paul says are saved by grace through faith.  Through Christ all the flocks have access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2:13-118).

  Similarly in today’s Gospel Mark presents the true King of the Jews as the serving and suffering shepherd of messianic traditions. Mark tells us that when Jesus landed in a deserted place, where he was seeking for rest, he saw a large crowd descending on him, he had compassion and pity on them, feeding them, for they were like sheep without shepherd; he also began to teach them many things( Mark 6:30-34).

 Clearly Marks challenges us to see Jesus as God’s Son who reveal himself to the poor, to us, his flock as God his Father would have revealed himself to the Israelites of old in the desert(eremos/bamidbar/wilderness), as read  in the books of Exodus and Numbers. The Jesus of Mark feeds the crowd as YHWH would have fed the stranded Israelites in the deserts. He cares for them. He truly loves them as truly good natural shepherds-Bedouin would to their loving sheep, in the wilderness and desert of the ancient near east.

The wilderness as we read in the Book of Deuteronomy was also a place where God taught his people compassion especially of how to feed one another. In Mark besides feeding the crowd, Christ our Messiah teaches us his disciples many things.

 Let us figure this out ourselves? Let us make this personal! What have we learned from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, prophesied by Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34 (cf. John 10:10), chanted in psalm 23, and preached by Paul all the way, from the eastern Mediterranean to the west- heading to Spain, in today’s scriptures? I believe among other things, he teaches us how to love everyone, Jews and Gentiles, how to be compassionate, how to lead, how to father; how to boss, how to direct, how to parent our children, with courage, how to be in-charge, how to function with the passion and compassion of a shepherd- king in our own ways, with a sense of responsibility, how to reach out to the poor; how to be prophetic, how to smell our sheep and how to feed our neighbors with love, peace, joy and mercy!

 Reflections Questions;

  1. In our various places of work and responsibility can we identify with the compassionate Jesus of today’s Mark’s gospel?
  2. As parents and leaders how often do we imitate Christ’s style of leadership and human relationship?
  3.  What prevents us from leading with Christ-like, and good shepherd-like passion and compassion?


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Divine Missionary Journeys and Benefits!( 15th Sunday Year B)

Homily Fifteenth Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
  • Amos 7:12-15;
  • Ps 85:9-14;
  •  Eph 1:3-14
  • Mark 6:7-13
Divine Missionary Journeys and Benefits!
Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaiudium, the Joy of the Gospel, sees the Church, all of us, as a prophetic and as a missionary church; a community that should goes forth, that go  out there to preach the gospel, irrespective of our locations, geography and culture! This is what we celebrate today, a Christ who sends us out on a mission. In fact, three verbs in today’s scriptures support this mission. These are, the verbs “to go,” to choose,” and “to send.” They are used in relations to the ministries of the major characters mentioned in today’s readings: the prophet Amos, St. Paul and the Twelve disciples selected and sent by Jesus in the Gospel.
Like the prophet Amos sent to preach in Bethel, or like Jesus who chose and sent his Twelve out, God calls us from different areas, homes, occupations, and families. He sends us to different places. He expects us to go without fear, without anxieties, without much worry, to respond generously under the different circumstances, challenges and locations that we may find ourselves, knowing and hoping for divine blessings that awaits us!
 Sometimes this is easier said than done. Personally, I still remember few years ago around the months of June 15 to July 7, I was chosen by the Dean of our Seminary/School of Theology, where I teach to join in leading and directing a pilgrimage and archaeological study trip to the Holy Land. Since I have been there before, in fact, several times, as a student and as I teacher,  I know the challenges of the hot weather, dehydration, long flight to a contested zone among the Jews, Palestinians, Moslems and Christians; and frightening machine guns you see in the hands of security agents, here and there in the Holy Land. This journey is also time consuming. While digging you role on the dirt, breath in and out a lot of dust. With these and many other challenging reasons, I thought of declining the invitation. But the spirit of the Lord said to me, “Michael do this, I am sending you, go lead the students, my future ministers to the Holy Land. I listened to the Lord. It turned out to be very good and refreshing. I experienced such a spiritual joy and benefits than my previous trips. We had morning prayers and daily Masses at significant places. Starting from Jerusalem, we went to the city of David, Hezekiah’s tunnel, St. Peter Galligantu, Temple Mount, Western Wall.
 In Nazareth we visited and celebrated Masses at Saint Joseph’s Chapel and in the Church of the Annunciation- took part in rosary and candle procession. Explored Bethlehem and celebrated Mass in the church of the Nativity. Visited, Masada, Jericho, swam on the Dead Sea, went to En Gedi and Qumran Community. We were also at Caesarea Philippi/Marittima, Beth shan, Hatzor, Meggido and Dan. In Galilee we walked and lived the evangelical triangle of Jesus- places, he walked and performed most of his ministry- Capernaum, Chorazin, Tiberias, Mts. of Beatitude, and Tabor, Kursi, Magdala, Bania, and Bethsaida.
Doing excavation in Bethsaida was fun. Lots of finds were discovered that link us to stories we read in the Bible. The people we met from different institutions including Australia, Canada, Israel, Africa, and the United States were amazing in faith, knowledge and experiences. Till today we remain friends in Christ.
 The spiritual and pastoral benefits of the journey were overwhelming. It was worth listening to the voice of the Lord, to “go to the Holy Land,” again! I saw it as God’s Will. And I did it for the common good and the glory of God!  Walking the station of the cross publicly in the busy road of Via Dolorosa and celebrating Masses in the Church of all nations/garden of Gethsemane and in the Church of Crucifixion/ Holy Sepulcher benefited all of us spiritually.
Some of you may also have 100s if not 1000s of personal stories to tell that sound like my—initially hesitating, but finally with the grace of God sayings, “yes Lord, here I am, I come to do your will.”  This is what the ancient prophet Amos, of today’s first reading did. As a farmer, he was chosen and selected by God to go from his southern home town of Tekoa and prophecy or mission to God’s people in the north. It was not an easy mission for him.
 As I thought of the risk in the Holy Land, Amos must have thought of the risk of confronting the priests, the religious and socio-political powers of the north.  He knew he might be misunderstood and perhaps rejected.  He risked his life by confronting Amaziah and Jeroboam and by condemning their false sense of healing, worship and spirituality.
  Similarly, the Twelve chosen by Christ in today’s gospels, and commissioned in pairs to evangelize, preach repentance, heal, anoint and cure diseases, never had it easy. They faced challenges such as the need to travel light, go without food, money and excess tunics.
In each of this case, be it that of Amos or the twelve chosen and sent by Christ, God’s blessings and divine grace were sufficient unto them.  Saint Paul, in the 2nd reading, Ephesian 1:3-14 speaks of these blessings and divine providence and spiritual benefits on our journeys especially when we trust the Lord.  Saint Paul who also experienced mission first hand, says, “ In him we were also chosen(ekglegomai),destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory…”
 In other words, we are the Amos(s) of today. We are the Twelve of today. We are the Saint Paul(s) of today. The Lord has called us in our respective roles to prophesy with courage, love, hope and share our faith with joy. Like the Amos and the Twelve he sends us to bear witness to him in different situations and circumstances of or lives’ journeys, as priests, pastors, religious lay men and women, in families, offices and factories.
Reflection Questions:
  1. Do we see ourselves as part of the church, the twelve, the Paul(s), and the Amos(s) sent on mission?
  2. What are the challenges that we face in our various places of missions or services
  3. How do we help ourselves or assist others to draw inspiration from the prophetic faith and missionary stories handed to us in the scriptures?

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Prophets and Thorns on Their Flesh!(14th Sunday Year B)

Homily Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Season Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
  • Ezekiel 2:2-5;
  • Ps 123:1-4;
  • 2 Cor 12:7-10
  • Mark 6:1-6
Prophets and Thorns on Their Flesh!
 The Bible readings of today speak of the challenges that face a true prophet. Saint Paul calls this his “thorn on the Flesh” (skoloph tē sarki), which was given to him, as prophet, and apostle to the Gentiles.  First of all a true prophet does not send himself. He is sent by God. He does not speak on his behalf but on behalf of the one who sent.  He or she is brave, courageous, truthful, and remains the conscience of his or her society, people and next door neighbor. Secondly, a prophet is human, and could even be weak in eloquence and stature. He is mortal, prone to disabilities.  Besides human weaknesses, and disabilities, he could be rejected by those he or she is sent to evangelize. Thirdly, there may be many other forms of hardships and sufferings, opposition, resistance, mockery a prophet must have to endure in the course of fulfilling his or her ministry. This is where Ezekiel, Christ and Paul belong. By our water of baptism this is who we are called to be- a prophets to our families and next door neighbors realizing that, there is power in weakness, there is need to appreciate the paradox of the cross!
 In the case of Ezekiel’s ministry of today’s first reading, he was called while in exile in Babylon and sent as a human prophet, with his own human weaknesses, ”thorns on the flesh,” to preach to the rebellious Israelites.  His prophetic humanity is made clear repeatedly in the entire book of Ezekiel where he is constantly addressed by God, as ‘the son of man” or “mortal,” about 93 times. This simply means that Ezekiel was human. That Ezekiel knew that he was human, mortal, son of man, imperfect helped him relied totally on the grace of God in his prophecy of hope and change of heart to the exiled community of Israel in Babylon.  It is important we also ways recognize that we are human, we are broken, and we are weak always in need of God’s mercy and his divine grace! That we are ill, or hurt our feet, eyes, legs, arms etc., should not separate us from the love of God, from the mission we are called to mission.
We notice in the Gospel reading (Mark 6:1-6), Jesus also called himself a prophet. Of course, he was called and sent by God his father (John’s Gospel), but often rejected here and there. Having been insulted and rejected in his home town of Nazareth, in today’s Gospel, Jesus said to himself, “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place among his own kin and his own house.” By calling himself a prophet Jesus recognizes his father sent him to do his will: to baptize the unbaptized, forgive sinners, teach courageously in the synagogue and healed the sick without charge. By calling himself a prophet, in the likes of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other Israel’s prophet, Jesus recognizes that human honor was immaterial to the mission that his father had sent him.  He recognizes that he didn’t need to come from the most important city of his time to serve, to do the will of his father. In spite of his hardships that span through the garden of Gethsemane and via delorosa and even to the cross (which we relived  when we pray and walk the stations of the cross in our religious communities/Holy  Land),  the spirit of the Lord was upon him (Luke 4:18), as he walked his way heroically to the Calvary!
Saint Paul in his mission to the Church in Corinth understood these challenges. In the 2nd reading Paul says, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, to keep me from been too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Throughout his missionary journeys, Paul whom we know must have been a very proud person in his upbringing. Ironically he had his own “thorn on the flesh…illnesses, weakness. Like Ezekiel, and Christ he also endured those “thorns on the flesh, including insults, crises and opposition  from false-preachers in Corinth,  hardships, rejections, persecutions, constraints and dishonor, for the sake of the Gospel, which he knew was the source of salvation for Jews and Gentiles (Rom 1:16-17).
How many of us today in our various places of ministries first of all would be humble to recognize that we are human, weak and vulnerable? How many realizes that they are mere messengers, mortals, sons and daughters of men, like the prophets Ezekiel, or instruments in God’s hands?  How do react when we feel wrongly challenged or opposed by false prophets? Does dishonors, insults, illnesses, hurting our legs or arms, or eyes, or persecutions and hardships and other challenges stopped us from doing the good that must be done (love our neighbors, be charitable and forgiving), or from preaching the gospel that needs be preached?  Hasn’t St. Paul also elsewhere reminds us that nothing should separate us from the love of God( Rom 8:35-39).
Friends taking Ezekiel, Saint Paul and Christ as our missionary and prophetic models may we recognize that there is that hidden divine strength in every seeming human weaknesses and dishonor we may face in the course of doing good,  evangelizing, or in the course of being faithfully and truly prophetic to our neighbors, whom we share our bread with, whose midst we live our spiritual and corporal works of mercy and exercise those Gospel Beatitudes, that Pope Francis daily reminds us of.   As Christians and believers, may we continue to carry the death and dying of Christ in our mortal bodies so that we can reveal the life, the love, the compassion and the tender mercy of Christ to others!
Reflection Questions:
  1. In what way can we relate to the ministry of Paul, Ezekiel and Christ in the light of today’s bible readings?
  2. What would you consider your “thorn on the flesh” in your Christian and religious practices?
  3. How do we help ourselves and  members of our faith/ religious communities--- called to be prophets and prophetess to realize that there is power in weakness?