Saturday, October 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

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


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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Homily (2) 28th Sunday Year A: Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) 28th Sunday Year A: Michael U. Udoekpo
 Readings: Isa 25: 6-10a; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5-6; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 and Matt 22:1-14

My Shepherd is the Lord,

Today we gather to celebrate and renew our trust, our power of positive thinking and our readiness in the Divine King and Shepherd, whose protecting, caring and feeding imageries run through the readings of today.  As the Lord protects, cares and feeds us, he invites us to imitate him by doing likewise to our neighbors.

In the first reading, the Good Shepherd addresses words of hope to the frightened community of Israel through the mouth of his Prophet, Isaiah. Even though the enemies will momentarily overrun and humiliate Israel, and perhaps destroy the temple, the Lord will surely be at the mercy of the remnant, who put their covenantal trust in Him. The "will" here points to the future hope. God’s time is the best. At his appointed time, the Lord will destroy the veil that veils all peoples. The veils of sadness and hopelessness. The veils of frustrations and rivalries.  He will wipe away the tears of sorrow, humiliation and illnesses from the faces of those who put their trust in Him. He will rebuild the mountain once destroyed, restore and provide food for those once starved. He will invite to a banquet those once ignored.

It is this hope, this trust, this call for endurance that Paul  re-emphasis to the Church Philippians in the Second Reading. Paul knows how to manage in all circumstances, in his missionary travels, in his trials, in his rejections, in his poverty and needs. In bad times and in good times. He knows the secret of being well fed as well as how to endure hunger. For him, “he can do all things in Christ who strengthen him.” 

It is this spirit of trust and garment of readiness that the Good Shepherd expects  in those invited to the wedding feast, the banquet of today’s Gospel's parable (Matt 22:1-14). In this parable some of the invitees ignored the king. Some refuse to come, while some invented all kinds of excuses to justify their absence. Even some who were not interested in responding killed the servant messengers- of the king; while among those who responded, one had no wedding garments. Perhaps, he took the banquet  for granted. Of course, with the directives of the king, the shepherd, he was bound hands and feet and thrown into the darkness for wailing and gridding of teeth. 

 Be it in this Gospel parable, provider of the banquets  or in the shepherd metaphors of  these other readings, God treats us as a traditional near eastern good shepherds would treat their sheep. They provide food, and water for them. Sometimes they have to search for their foods. They protect them from wolves. Put a fence around them. These flocks trust their shepherds and listen to them, though instinctually. 

 Today we are faced with all types of challenges such as poverty, Ebola and HIV threats, war and terrorism, especially from Boko Haram and ISIS. We have also issues of climate change, economic disparities, political and racial tensions in sections of our societies. 

 Thank God we are blessed not only with instinct, but with higher reason and faith. We have every reason to make  necessary good choices in our lives. Even though the road or path to good choices may be rough,  with the lessons and experiences of the biblical exodus, the covenant relationship, the land, and the process of settlement, God is constantly watching over us. He is constantly cooking for us. All he wants from us is that spirit of a positive  and imitative response. He wants us to be ready with the right garments of  love,  faith and trust in his eternal banquet of Love, and in his everlasting feasts of Peace, Mercy and Care. He wants us to be convinced that we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:12-14), and that the Lord is our Shepherd there is nothing we shall want (Ps, 23, Jer 23, Eze 34; John 10).

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Homily (2) Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Ps 80:9,12-16,19-20; Phil 4:6-9 and Matt 21:33-43

The Vineyard of the Lord

In the Gospel reading of today (Matt 21:33-43), Jesus, obviously is in Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross. He teaches everyone on the way, especially the elites, the scribes and the Pharisees. His subject is that each of us have been planted as a vineyard by God our maker, to bear good and lasting fruits of justice, peace, love, respect for life and the human dignity. What is so exciting about today’s readings for me, is also that Jesus carries out his teaching, allegorically, with reference to Jerusalem, the tenants, religious authorities, the prophets, and about himself, using the imagery or the parable of the vineyard. Each of us, the church as a whole and as individual members, as well as civil authorities and citizens of all nations can relate to this parable.

From the parabolic mouth of Jesus, a man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When harvest time he sent successive contingents of his servants to collect the produce. On each occasion they were maltreated, insulted, rejected, beaten and stoned. The landowner finally sent his beloved son for the same mission, at least with the hope that they would respect his son. He was not respected, either. The tenants failed the test for respect. They stoned the landowner’s son, threw him outside the vineyard to die.  Of course, the scribes and the Pharisees naturally would expect the landowner to judge, punish or kill off these wicked tenants and replace them with fruits bearing tenants.

Hearing from the melody of the Psalmist (Ps 80), and particularly from the Song of the Vineyard, in Isaiah 5:1-7, I want to believe that Jesus’ audience were familiar with this sort of parables. Isaiah in the mid-8th century used this parable. He likens ungrateful and unresponsive Israel to a carefully tended but inexplicable unfruitful vineyard of wild grapes. Many of Israel prophets, before Jesus( Hos 10:1; Jer 2:21; 5:10) have also expressed disappointment on the failure of Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, the tenants, the authorities, civil and religious to bear the fruits expected of them or at least to imitate the true vine, namely Jesus ( John 15:1-10).

Every blessed day nations and institutions of the earth, their leaders and subjects are faced with choices and decisions to make. The Catholic Church, other churches and religious groups are faced with responsibilities, so also her leaders and members. Today these choices may touch issues of war and peace, ISIS and terrorism, sexuality, marriage, family value, health, Ebola, HIV, poverty and wealth, climate change, deforestation and preservation of forest, social justice, life and the dignity of the human person and their fundamental human right. What would Jesus have done in these circumstances? Do we strive in our various capacities to bear fruits expected us?

While in Philippi Saint Paul must have been wrestling with the same issue, the need to realize that each of us, including all preachers are chosen by God, planted by God to bear good fruits.

Like Prophet Isaiah and Jesus, Paul seems to have put all of us on the spot( the poor, rich, preachers, pastors, politicians, civil, ecclesiastical authorities, priests and religious, clergies, social and factory workers, students, teachers, professors, moms, dads, grandpa, grandma, friends, partners and companions, etc) to draw conclusions for ourselves, on what are expected of us in the Lord's vineyards and as the Lord's vineyards.  Paul exhorts us;
 
“...Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever, is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:6-9).

 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Homily (2) 26th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) 26th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Eze 18:25-28; Ps 25:4-9; Phil 2:1-11 and Matt 21:28-32
Our Faith Journey is Not Over!

In our society today, it is very common to blame others for our failures and past mistakes. Just as it is common to attribute our successes to others. This is why we have  formed the concepts of individual and collective responsibilities. With collective responsibility we easily tend to see ourselves as victims, and blame the present on the past. Of course, such tendency is not new. When we look closely at the history of Israel, God's chosen people, it was there. Sin and suffering were blamed on the mistakes  of their ancestors.  Even in the time of Christ, you would recall the incidence of the healing of the blind man, in John 9, when the Disciples of Christ asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”(John 9:1-41). It is very easy for any of us to hold onto the past, to constantly blame the past on the present! Or to think that all hope is lost!

Today’s readings, beginning with the Prophet Ezekiel emphasis the hope, that is never lost! Our faith journey is not yet over. Every present moment of a Christian is important. Individual attitude, disposition, willingness, volition and humility to come back to God, in obedience, prayer and thankfulness  are all important.

Ezekiel’s prophecy of individual responsibility becomes clear at a time when the chosen people had lost not only the monarchy, but the land and the temple. They found themselves in exile. Ezekiel’s contemporaries saw their lost and sufferings as a consequence, not of their sinfulness, but of their ancestors. They believed they were not responsible, but rather were victims. And in fact, they also thought that God was unfair to them.

Ezekiel challenges this erroneous mindset and argues that each person bears personal responsibility for his or her own conduct. Ezekiel, a fellow exiled, stresses that, “when someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness, he has committed and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life. Since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die,” (Eze 18:25-28), the land shall be regained.
For Ezekiel,  in as much as hope is central God’s focus is on the present, and not mainly on the past. Nations and individual can be free from the guilt of the past, the lost glory could be restored, by turning to God with humility, today. The past sins must not prevent today’s repentance or change of heart.

This fits into Jesus parable about the two sons in today’s  Matthean Gospel (Matt 21:28-32), as our Lord journeys to Jerusalem. In this parable, the first son says to his father, I will not work in the vineyard. But, later changes his mind to work in the vineyard; while the second son who promises to work in the vineyard, never did at all.

Any of us can be any of these two sons, and behave likewise, especially the first son, changing our minds to do the will of God, our father. Conversion is ongoing, onward not backward. It is a process. It is never too late, even for tax collectors, prostitute or for those who might find themselves in any bad past habit of sins.

Saint Augustine, and many other saints, who were once sinners but later became saints, are good models for us. Even Paul whose Letter to the Philippians we read today, in the second reading, was once a persecutor of the faith, before he became a promoter of the Good news of Christ to the Gentiles.

In that second reading, Paul reminds the Philippians, of course, all of us the deeds and the attitude of Christ that we are called to imitate, irrespective of our past mistakes. Love, mercy, selflessness, compassion, hospitality, and humility should be our catchwords.  Paul reminds us that, Christ, though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God. Rather, he humbled himself. He freely became obedient onto the cross, through his faith, and hope preaching on the street of Jerusalem.

Our nations, our continents, our families, each of us, individually can always step back, and look at our past mistakes and even accomplishments.  Our Christian journey is like a two side coin.  On one side, even though we have been baptized and received various sacraments in the past, it is our responsibility to actively nuture those promises we made on those occasions, till the end. Even though we have achieved a lot in faith, we don’t one to backslide. We want to keep the faith till the end!  And on the other side, Christ frees us from the sins of the past if we are willing to say yes, and turn to him, today.  Or be able to personally pray with the psalmist, “your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths”(Ps 25).  Every present moment is a moment of decision, and our faith journey is not yet over!

 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Homily (2) 25th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) 25th Sunday of Year A:  Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 55:6-9; Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 and Phil 1: 20c-24,27a and Matt 20:1-16a.
 
The Graciousness of God

“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate towards all his words,” (Ps 145.)

These words of the psalmist define what we celebrate today, namely;  the mystery of the goodness of the Lord, his righteousness, his love and mercy; his generosity, his grace, and the mystery of his  divine justice! We celebrate the character of God. His willingness to keep, to renew the covenant he has long established with our athers and mothers: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim , Moses, David!

Recall, in Exodus 32 when Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, the Israelites made other gods for themselves. They broke the covenant, practiced idolatries, and sought other gods.  God, because of who he is: love, kindness, compassion, truth, justice, righteousness, did not break away from Israel, completely.

 With Moses’ plea, God reestablishes his covenant with Israel, in Exodus 34. In facts, God’s mercy spares Lot in the City of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s mercy spares the people of Nineveh. God’s mercy brought Israelites back from exiles. In facts, successive prophets, Amos, and particularly Hosea in his marriage affairs with Gomer portrays this same image of a forgiving and merciful God.

This image of God reflects in today’s readings.  Isaiah 55:6-9, is a story of sin, pardon and glory. It is a story of exile and  the invitation of the returnee to seek the Lord. It is a story of the mystery of God’s love and of restoration of the fortunes of those who seek him. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.

He keeps his doors of mercy and generosity open for all.  He knows our needs. This is true in parable of today’s Gospel, where God, the land owner, distributes his wealth equally to various groups of laborers whom he employed at various hours of the day; morning, afternoon and evening. This is how God teaches us his own definition of justice. He is not unjust because he has not broken any of  the contracts he established with his various workers, even as stipulated in the Levitical and Deuteronomic codes(Lev 19:13 and Deut 24:14-15). God keeps to his promises!

This parable sound familiar to us in a world of broken justice system, broken contracts, mutual agreements and promises, unemployment and underpayment of minimum wages to church and govement workers. This parable invites us to reevaluate how we make effort to keep our vows (religious and secular), carry out our responsibilities and fulfil our commitments beginning from our homes, families to the public offices.

Another point worth taking note of in the Gospel is envy. Sometimes we grumble and envy other’s talents and gifts, even when our neighbors’ gifts do not threaten us, or stand on our ways, nor prevent us from exercising our talents and God’s given gifts.

To let Christ be magnified in our bodies as Paul would put it in the second reading, is to appreciate and imitate God’s sense of justice and seek God. It is to be kind, merciful, forgiving,  gracious, selfless, compassionate, fidelity to the truth of the Gospels, and the teaching of Christ’s Church- loving as well, as Christ would have first loved us.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Homily (2) The Exaltation of the Holy Cross Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (2) The Exaltation of the Holy Cross Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Numbers 21:4b-9; Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-38; Phil 2:6-11 and John 3:13-17

Christ's Cross: A Symbol of Hope and Salvation

Today’s feast reminds us what we hear in the Passion Week, especially in the Gospel of John, chapters 18-19 that the death of Christ on the cross was not a defeat, but victory. Christ’s Cross is a symbol of hope and freedom for all. The early Christians embraced this. Its public veneration spread from East to West, especially during the time of Constantine, the Roman emperor. We are told, Helen, the Emperor’s mother went to Jerusalem, discovered, and brought the cross of Christ to Rome, sparing it from the enemies’ desecration.

 This Cross is Sacred, powerful, and salvific.  It is the center of our Christian faith. We make the sign of this cross at worships, at baptism and when we receive various other sacraments in the Church. We began every (this) Mass with the sign of the Cross. Soccer and Football players, in fact sport men and women, even none practicing Christians sign themselves with the cross for success and protection, at the beginning and at the end of their competitions. Christ’s journey to the cross teaches us, everyone, especially, through the Bible readings of today some fundamentals of our faith: courage, endurance, hope, patience, humility and appreciation of all that the Lord has done for us in the past.

 Psalm 78 drums this home, “do not forget the works of the Lord!” What works of the Lord is the psalmist refereeing to? I believe the “cross of the exodus,”’ the freedom from the tyranny of Pharaoh; alleviation from their pains, feeding them when they were thirsty and hungry in the desert and liberating them from various exiles during the course of Israel’s relationship with God.

 But how easy it is to forget the goodness of the Lord, to murmur, to complain as was the case in today’s first reading, the Book of Numbers. The same people that God has once assisted said to Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the desert, where there is no food or water?” God sent a snake  to challenge them. But when they finally repent God instructed Moses to put up a fashioned bronze serpent so that the afflicted or those once bitten, could be saved by looking up  to the serpent on the tree. The bronze snake no doubt is a symbol of life and wisdom. It is a symbol of Christ who did not count equality with God, but humbled himself on the  tree of the cross, to save us. His humility, courage and endurance exalted him (Phil 2:6-11). And his volitional journey to the cross raised us and our loved ones from the death.

 Many of us have also watched the Passion of Christ reenacted in movies. Some of those scenes are very brutal. The weight of the cross, the blood, the nails, the violent soldiers, the dusty road, those who spitted on cross or those who shouted Crucify him, Crucify him! The thorns and crowns! All these reminds us that there are different forms of crosses in our lives. It could be illness, poverty, and threats of terrorism, violence, war, tiredness, and pains on the knees, eyes, legs, heart problems, kidney, high blood pressure, or sugar in our blood. Others could be anger, bad habits, lack of team spirit, inability to live or work with one another; lack of tolerance. What about gossips and lack of self-control? You name them!

All these can lead us to whine, murmur, and complain like the Israelites, in the desert. But the good news is that these bitter experiences can also be handled with faith and trust in the goodness of the Lord. We can always look back and trust in his work, knowing that the Lord has the experience of dealing with these types problems, in the past.  It requires our patience, courage, and endurance to embrace the cross of Christ. It also takes humility to raise our eyes, and look on to that cross, hanging above our pains, and sorrows. Christ’s cross is also superior to our failures, setbacks and other forms of sufferings.

This is the same conversation that Christ is having with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel (John 3:13-17). The Lord is good, merciful and loving at all times. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert for those bitten, and afflicted to be saved, so must the son of man be lifted up, so that  each of us who look upon him in our sufferings and illnesses, in our bitterness, in our sorrows, in our disappointments, loneliness and uncertainties may be saved. Christ's Cross is a symbol of hope and salvation for all.