Thursday, November 19, 2015

Homily [2] 1st Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] 1st Sunday of Advent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings; Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:4-5,8-10,14; 1 Thes 3:12–4:2 and Luke 21:25-28,34-36

 Preparation for Christ (Don’t be A Stranger)!

How often do we not say to our friends, “don’t be a stranger?  Advent invites us not to be stranger when the Lord, our longtime friend comes! 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, prince of peace that the world so much need today! It is also a season in which our minds and thoughts are spiritually and joyfully directed in expectation to the Second coming Christ.  Advent is a season of hope. It is a season of love. It is a season of faith; especially when we are confronted these say, with terrorism and acts of faithlessness. It is a season of renewal, a time of prayer and vigilance in penance and charity. Advent invites us to reset our spiritual calendar, to readjust the choices in our lives to be sure that they are consistent with the priorities of Christ.
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 presence in the Church and the fulfillment of that promise made to us by through  our ancestors and the prophets.
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, mediates with words of hope.  No doubt today, we are faced with all threats of war and terrorism, but, Jeremiah whispers to us 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). No matter are contemporary threats, there is hope!
Similarly, Paul, in the second reading, foretells a day when God will invite us into a joy-filled life with the saints. We might have out troubles today, but, we can all relate to Paul’s words 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)

Even the Disciples of Christ were threatened. They were troubled. That was why the Lukan Jesus towards the end of his ministry, instructed his troubled disciples not to be a stranger when the Lord comes. Christ said,

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; vigilance with hope, faith, and love and total self-reexamination in the midst of our uncertainties! Advent invites us to wait for God not with a sense of fear and dread, but with prayers and lively hope- like expectant parents, like a longtime friend waiting to encounter a longtime friend, for a renewed friendship. Advent invites us to reflect on that friendship and not to be a stranger when the Lord comes!





Sunday, November 15, 2015

Homily [2] Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe Year B- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe Year B- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Dan 7:13-14; Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5; Rev 1:5-8 and John 18:33b-37

Partakers of the Kingdom of Christ!

2015 has witnessed leadership challenges, political turmoil and elections, wars, gun violence, terrorism, rise of ISIS, Boko-Haram, conflicts among nations and world leaders. Sometimes these could be distressful. Therefore, there can be no better and serene way to end this year’s liturgical season than to reflect on the goodness, love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, leadership style,  justice and kindness of our maker, manifested in the kingship of his Son Jesus- the alpha and the omega and the source of our well-being.  The readings of today remind us of Christ’s heavenly kingdom in contrast to this earthly kingdom, the beasts of the Book of Daniel!

The 1st reading,  the Book of Daniel presents us the vision of Daniel, who personally lived through the pains of persecutions during exiles, in the hands of cruel earthly kings from Nebuchadnezzar to Antiochus IV. Daniel sees in his vision the downfall of his enemy –earthly kingdoms, described as the beasts, and the rise of the heavenly kingdom. Daniel’s vision revolves around the earthly level and the heavenly level, the material level and the spiritual level. The earthly and material kingdoms are connected to the 4 beasts, while the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of the holy ones are connected to the one like human being”, the Son of Man, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ.

 He is the one robed in majesty of today’s Psalm 93. He is the one spoken of in the 2nd reading, as well, the Book of Revelation 1:5-8.  Revelation says, Christ is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. By voluntarily going to the cross without military escorts, missiles, nuclear weapons, submarines and AK 47, Christ displays undiluted courage, unbeatable leadership, selfless/exemplary universal kingship and unequivocal love for us.

In his encounter with Pilate, an earthly king, in today’s gospel (John 18:33b-37) Christ allows his humility, spirituality, and leadership style to ironically speak for itself. When Pilate said to Christ, “Are you the King of the Jews,” Christ rather would like to know if Pilate asked the question on his own, or as a result of the fact that the Jewish and Roman elites were already discussing the Kingship of Christ, and by implication acknowledging Christ as King- for which reason they thought Christ be put on trial. But, ironically, the truth of the matter is that in John’s gospel Christ is not on trial, but Pilate and all those who refused to open up for the truth, and the love of Christ- who in the first place was sent into this earthly kingdom to love, to forgive, to testify to the truth and to invite us not only to acknowledge his dominion but partakers in his eternal kingdom.

How we respond to this heavenly kingdom would depend on how we internalize and practice the values of Christ – the owner of this kingdom: peace, love, faith, hope, forgiveness, humility, sense of justice, administrative prudence and kindness.

How we respond to the kingdom of Christ would depend on how we treat one another hourly, minute by minute,  or on daily basis, irrespective of our position  in familial, traditional, civil and ecclesiastical leaderships- “When I was prison did you come to visit with me” (Matt 25). How we respond to this kingdom would depend on how we practiced the Beatitude:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matt 5).  Therefore, as we acknowledge Christ and his universal Kingship today, let us pray and strife to be partakers of the kingdom of Christ, and practitioners of his values.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Homily[2] 33rd Sunday of the Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily[2] 33rd Sunday of the Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Dan 12;1-3; Ps 16:5,8-11; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:24-32

Hope for the Redeemed

We are in the middle of November 2015, and the year is gradually coming to an end. People are marking and ticking  their calendars in school and at liturgy. Liturgical readings are theologically selected to address eschatological and apocalyptic themes- pointing to the end times. Today's readings shift attention from old things to new; from hopelessness to hope, from suffering to liberation, from experience of inferiority to superiority, from death to life, from weakness to strength and from evil to the triumph of goodness. These readings capture what we experience daily in live.... Once in a while we do feel the sense of “O Lord when will this be over”? We do feel a sense personal, familial, collegial, community, or “global distress.”

 Such distress could be the threats of war and terrorism; travelling insecurities, the burden of poverty, keeping faith, in a culture that attempt to redefined Church’s teachings. It could be the stress of trying to raise a good family, cut off a bad habits, or cope with illness and the sorrow or the pains of the loss of a loved one, or having to deal with inhumane boss at work. Others are distressed as  a result of  their uncharitable neighbors, or unjust and corrupt political structures of the society in which they live. It comes in different forms!

For Daniel and his friends of today’s 1st reading (Dan 12:1-3)- the challenge was how to remain faithful to God in the midst of persecution, tribulations, suffering especially in a hostile culture. Today's reading from Daniel assures the faithful that, “at that time there shall arise Michael (who is like God) the great prince, guardian and liberator of the people of God. Also many of those who “slept in the dust of the earth shall awake.”  Daniel seems to be aware of the message of Israel prophets, particularly Isaiah 26:19, which says, “Your dead will live, your corpses arise. Awake and shout for joy, you who dwell in dust. For your dew is of light, and the land of shades give birth.” Daniel gives us a divine view of the world, where the future remains a mystery for every generations of the faithful. He basically reminds us that the promises of ancient prophets are worthy of belief for every generation!  

Hundreds of years after, Christ, in today’s gospel( Mark 13:24-34) struck again this note of the mystery of God’s grace and redemption to his followers who were distressed, perplexed with the challenges of life, and eager to find answers to persecutions and imperialism of foreign powers! Divine mystery of redemption entails two things.  First, the perfect sacrifice of Christ on cross, also spoken of in the 2nd reading (Heb 10:11-4, 18). He is the Son of Man who after his resurrection and ascension comes down “in the clouds with and glory” to gather and free the elects from all the ends of the world. Second, the divine mystery of redemption entails total surrendering to the will of God, since no one, except God the Father knows the hour.

 As challenging as this message may sound, the question remains how do we manage distress, sufferings, persecutions, victims of religious extremists, secularisms, especially those ones I mentioned earlier, in pluralistic culture of today? It is with prayer, watchfulness, and with the attitude of a door keeper waiting for the master to return home. When the master returns to see the faithful servant, waiting for him, he is happy. He “elects” him or her, with joy and lavishes them with praises and perhaps with gifts.  For us Christians- it is eternal life, life after death spoken of in the Book of Daniel (Dan 12:1-3).



Saturday, November 7, 2015

Homily [2]32nd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily 32nd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings 1 Kings 17:10-16; Ps 146:7-10; Heb 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44

Our Jars of Flour shall Never Go empty!

In the light of today's readings we are called to be generous stewards to one another through our imitation of Christ, our high priest and prophet. Of course, by so doing our jars of flour would never go empty. What does this mean? Answers to this question are found in the storyline of today's readings.  In the readings of today Christ is  the  type and the kind who identifies with the marginalized and replenishes the poor, be it of the Zarephath of today’s 1st reading (1 Kings 17:10-16), or of the Temple of Jerusalem, in the Gospel (Mark 12:38-44), or of those ones in Africa, Asia, Europe, America, and of every place. He loves and reaches out to each of them as a priest and prophet. And emptied himself on their behalf.  This distinguishes him from the Levitical priesthood of the Book of Leviticus, and makes him a perfect high priest  of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 9:24-28) - simple, pure, selfless, generous, charitable, humble, decisive and simple.  A prophet and a true steward of God his father. He teaches us how to be self-giving,  and how to be God’s stewards through the manner in which we deal and relate with one another.

The travelling prophet Elijah we are told in the 1st reading  while fleeing from the hatreds of Ahab and Jezebel was generously received by the desperate widow of Zeraphat- whom he in turn blessed and multiplied her food. In fact, just as the prophet Elijah would never lack food because he challenged the idolatries of Ahab and Jezebel, the widow’s jar of flour would never go empty, nor her jug of oil, because she received God's prophet!  God rewards and replenishes a generous steward, a charitable person, a courageous prophet and a humble Christian!

This is why, Christ, while preaching in the temple  warned his disciples to be aware of the scribes who love to go around in long robes and prefer front seats of honor in synagogues and temples, and expects greetings from everyone at market places- thereby taking advantage of the poor and the widows. They like to take more than they give. In fact, the disciples should rather imitate the poor widow of today’s gospel who emptied her treasury for the Lord.

Speaking of her(the widow), Christ says, “She from her poverty has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood,” unlike the wealthy who contributed very little from their wealth and Surplus.

Clearly, these two women- that of the Zeraphath who fed the prophet Elijah, and that of the Jerusalem who gave everything out of her poverty to support the Temple are models of true stewards and examples of total self-giving, trusting in the blessings of the Lord. They are the complete opposite of those who have, yet refuses to share their gifts and talents with others.

These widow's life styles and the courage of Elijah fit the life-style of Christ described in the 2nd reading. Though, sinless, he  courageously offered to go to the cross on our behalf and offered the blood that was his own not of the calf, nor of the bull!

Such sacrifices and stories are challenging to us especially when we think of the current disparity between wealthier and poorer nations, or between wealthy and the very poor, today. No matter the religion, how many of us would courageously  challenge the idolatries of our time, closed their count for the sake of their religious community or to feed the poor and support the needy or their pastors in need. How many of us today, would prefer to put others first, before them? And how many people in long robes, or those in the elite group today would prefer the back seats at synagogues and during important functions so as to make room for the lowly? Today’s Scripture challenges us to humility, to charity, to offer to help, to have pastoral foresights, to assist those that need help(example abounds in all cultures) and to dirty our hands and our shoes for the sake of the poor, immigrants, and travelers, as constantly emphasized by Pope Francis! And if we do that our jars of flour shall never go empty nor would our jug of oil run dry!




Saturday, October 31, 2015

Homily Solemnity of All Saints. Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily Solemnity of All Saints. F. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-11; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab-6; 1 John 3:1-3 and Matt 5:1-12a

Sanctity, Everlasting Happiness Are Within Our Reach!

 Sanctity is within our reach! We are call to be saints. Joy and happiness also seem to be the goal of most people. But where we look for this happiness and search for this joy varies from people to people, culture to culture, religion to religion. For us Christians, Christ is our source as well the “clouds of witnesses”, those saints, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, who bore witness to Christ through the ages!

 Therefore, the feast we celebrate today, All saints, is not just the feast of all Christians, but the feast  that reminds us of the source of everlasting happiness, namely Christ and those saints, especially the unknown owns that imitated him.

 No doubt, in all cultures there are countless of our forefathers, and mothers, brothers and sisters all over the world who have lived on this planet morally and charitably. They fought for our independence, and defended our faith traditions. They trusted in God,  hope in God, worked for the common good, and today are in heaven, where  we believe they “have seen God face to face(panim al panim). They have been blessed and rewarded by God, as euphemistically stressed by the Psalmist and in 2nd reading (1 John 3:1-3).  They were not even known or documented by us, or by modern historians, except God.

The first reading from the Book of Revelation paints the victorious picture of these people, the clothes they wear, and the joy they share. From every nation, (continents), race, culture, and language they stood before God’s throne, right in front God, before his face, wearing white and beautiful garments that radiate joy.  Joy in God’s presence that we long for, but comes with price of distress, hard work, sacrifices and love.  This love is well coated in the eight matthean beatitudes, Jesus’ Sermon on the mountain today (Matt 5:1-12).

 In order to join these saints, to see God face to face (panim al panim), as Abraham, Moses and our faithful fore fathers and mothers did, each of us must strive to humbly trust God who is manifested in Christ Jesus and in the teachings of his Church. We must be poor in sprit. We must endeavor to mourn, empathize and sympathize with those who mourn or are in distress or experiencing hard times. A good example would be the poor that Pope Francis has constantly reminded. Another good example would be those sufferings from recent tragedies, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, and terrorisms and addictions.

 Meekness and kindness to our neighbors are also required. We also want  to add justice and righteousness to that list especially in a world that justice continues to be elusive; justice to the voiceless, children and even to the mother planet that Pope Francis recently calls for in his encyclical, Laudato Si”- on Care for our Common home, that is the planet.  Apart from justice, we are called in the Beatitude to be merciful to one another as Christ would have been merciful to us – to the biblical Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, the woman caught in adultery, and to the royal official. Being merciful to one another brings us closer to God’s face.

Besides being merciful, upright of heart, purity of heart, consistency and objectivity count, as well as peace, righteousness, which cannot be disassociated from justice. Like the saints described in that first reading, who washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, with great distress, keeping the beatitudes, peace, love, justice, mercy, kindness, purity of heart- these, sometimes comes with persecution and all types of oppositions.

Let us keep this at the back of our minds as we constantly search each day for the face of God, joy and eternal happiness with the saints, in our prayers, in our relationship with our neighbors, and in through our daily good works. Sanctity is within the reach of everyone!


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Homily [2]30th Sunday Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily[2] 30th Sunday Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo
 Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-6; Heb 5:1-6 and Mark: 10:46-52.

 You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek

 These words from the Letter to the Hebrews first of all, remind us of the story of Melchizedek and Abraham, our father in faith, in Genesis 14. Here, Melchizedek- a righteous and compassionate king, with no father, no mother, no genealogy, who welcomed and blessed Abraham on his return from rescuing his nephew, Lots, from the conflicts of wars and threats posed by the eastern kings.  "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek" also, and perhaps most importantly reminds us  of not just the contrasts between the levitical  priesthood and the priesthood of Christ, but stresses the person of Christ: a prophet like Jeremiah, a wounded healer, a righteous king, a friend of the poor, and of the ignorance, a healer of the blind, and a compassionate high priest long foretold by Israel’s prophets, particularly Jeremiah  in today’s 1st reading.

Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. He saw violent and experienced sufferings, wars, tragedies, destructions and crimes committed against his people.  As we would come to see in the life of Christ, he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, spitted upon, cajoled, and thrown in to a muddy cistern to die, in his attempt to preach hope, love and endurance.

Today, whatever our challenges, might be: illnesses, ignorance, confusion, different voices in terms of what the family unit and marriages should be, or the experience of unjust socio-political structures, racism, high taxes, terrorism and conflicts all over the globe, it is this message of hope that Jeremiah offers us today. He says, “The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel (of which we are)…behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst.”

It is always our faith that  Jeremiah's hopeful prophesies would be fulfilled in Christ, who in today’s gospel extends his healing hands upon Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). In this drama of faith we are told, Jesus was on his journey to Jerusalem when he encountered Bartimaeus, sick, poor, blind, dirty, sitting and begging on the road side for a living. What is interested in this story of faith is  that he was not asking for more money from Christ as some contemporary blind people that we meet today on our streets would do. Bartimaeus rather, wanted to see. And he achieved it by beating all obstacles. He would not be dissuaded by faithless by–standers.  Bartimaeus pushed on.  With deep faith, he recognized Christ as the Son of David, and as the true source of mercy, daily emphasized by Pope Francis.  This is true in Bartimaeus words. He said to Christ, “Son of David have pity on me… I want to see.”

Powerful words delightful to many preachers and commentators today, and which should also be our guiding words in time of trouble, loneliness, rejections, disagreement, not knowing the right answers, sufferings, illnesses, loss of our loved ones, frustrations and shortcomings. In these moments we are called to play Bartimaeus. In other words, our various shortcomings, irrespective of cultural locations, could be characterized as our blindness-that only he, Christ, our compassionate high priest can healed.

Most importantly, if Christ our sinless, compassionate high priest watches our backs, loves, heals, forgive us, we are bound through our baptismal and sacramental promises, to imitate him, the righteousness priest, in our relationship with one another, particularly, the poor, the sick, and the less-privileged.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Homily [2] 29th Sunday of Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] 29th Sunday of Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16 and Mark 10:35-45

 The Paradox of the “Giving” Suffering Servant!

It would be recalled that it was John F. Kennedy, one of the American’s Presidents who once said, “Think of what you can do for America not what America can do for you.” We could see Kennedy’s speech in today’s bible lessons. Scripture presents us today with the paradox of the suffering servants of God, Christ, the great high priest and the Son of man who invites us to think of what we can always do for our neighbors, subjects and not what our neighbors and subjects or parishioners can always do for us!

We heard in the 1st reading-- the 4th song of the Suffering servant of God (Isaiah 53:10-11), the sufferings of the servant of God. Here the servant was punished, tortured, slapped, and mocked. But, because he bore the pains, the injuries, and the sufferings patiently, he was paradoxically exalted and lifted up by God, his Father. Most importantly, the servant bore these sufferings in service for others. He gave it all, even his life. Also through the servants’ suffering many sinners shall be justified, their guilt shall be forgiven. The descendants and neighbors of the suffering servant shall prospers.

 In the 2nd reading, the Letter to the Hebrews, unlike the Levitical high priests in the Book of Leviticus who offered sacrifices on his behalf, as a sinner, and on behalf of his community, the servant is of course, the sinless Christ and the compassionate high priest who offers himself completely for others. How many of us can offer ourselves completely for others! How many brothers can offer themselves completely for their fellow brother? How many sisters can offer themselves for their fellow sister? What about husband and wives, children and parents, grandpa and grandchildren like this high priest?

This high priest is the  same Son of man in today’s Gospel (Mark 10:35) who came to give his life as a ransom for many and who was in the first place completely misunderstood by the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. We are told, they came to Jesus asking for position of honor in Jesus' glory. They thought, if James sits on the right, John can sit on the left. Very parochial. Very Clannish. Others might characterize them as selfish, ambitious individuals, focusing mainly on themselves and on what others might do for them, rather than seeking what they can do for others-- like the suffering servants of today’s readings. They also seems to be narrow minded, insensitive, petty, and unsure of themselves and short sighted! Completely the opposite of the giving and generous life style of the suffering servant!

 The life style of the suffering servant, the great high priest, and the son of man in today’s readings challenges everyone. It challenges us to see Christian suffering in light of Christ's exaltation. It challenges those elected leaders who selfishly and constantly serve themselves rather than the community that elected them in the first place. It also challenges particularly, those  religious communities, leaders,  families, counties, states and nations who constantly seek for what others can do for them rather than what they can do to help their neighbors, subjects, parishes, dioceses- especially the poor, the sick, the aged and their less privileged neighbors- that Pope Francis has constantly place in front, back and center of his papacy!

Of course, the exalting- giving of oneself that the suffering servant reminds us of today may not necessarily be limited to material giving, but spiritual. Our prayers, our precious pastoral time, our infectious smiles, our generous compassion, our faithful and faith-filled presence, our positive body languages, our sincere love, and pieces of parental advice, can go a long way to strengthen our families, children, neighborhood, churches and societies at large!