Saturday, July 20, 2019

Listening and Serving the Lord in our Neighbors Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok,Sixteen Sunday Year C

Homily Sixteen Sunday Year C
Listening and Serving the Lord in our Neighbors
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

§  Gen 18:1-10a
§  Ps 15:2-3, 3-5
§  Col 1:24-28
§  Luke 10:38-42

 As we worship today, as we listen to the Bible readings of today, the first reading, the second reading, the Psalms and the Gospel of Luke, what stands out for you? Hospitality or sitting at the feet of Jesus? Is there anything we could learn from Abraham, Sarah, or Saint Paul? What would you consider more important: service to your neighbor or spending some time, perhaps hours, with the Lord, before the Blessed Sacraments, daily? Hearing not doing, or doing not hearing? What seems to stand out for me are both? That is, we need the listening Mary and the busy Martha. We need the contemplatives, and the non-contemplatives. We cannot put the word of God into practice, without listening, reflecting on it, or understanding what the Lord wants us to do or where to go. We need both, hospitality and listening to the Lord.  Perhaps, we also need to have some priorities set in our lives, to be better listeners and doers of the word of God.

I am thinking this way, because in the first reading (Gen 18:1-10a) we witness how Abraham and his wife Sarah offer hospitality to three unknown strangers who turn out to be angels. As a result Abraham and Sarah were blessed and were rewarded. They had a son, Isaac, together, in their old age.  Of course, ancient people, Jews and Christian always believed that the best way to serve God was to be hospitable to our neighbors. Remember, last Sunday, we learn about who our neighbor is, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The way we treat one another, might end up been the way we might have responded to God!

In the Second reading, Saint Paul acknowledges himself as God’s steward chosen to preach the gospel and reveal the mystery of Christ to everyone, Jews and Gentiles (Col 1:24-28). He also invites all of us, Christians, to dispose ourselves, receive and share hospitably the mysteries of Christ. There should be no barriers in sharing the love and the mercy of Christ with others.

In the Gospel, Martha welcomes Jesus and runs around preparing dinner for him, while her sister, Mary spent her time sitting, talking, chatting and listening to Jesus. Martha, as any of us would, complains. She thinks Mary who was not helping her was burning her out. The more reason, I ask in the beginning which one is more important. Who is more important, Mary or Martha? It’s challenging. Isn’t it?

Granted that in our various professions, doctors, teachers, professors, parents, priests, chefs, factory workers, military, police officers etc; we are all serving our nations and our neighbors. But we also need at some point to make time to recharge our spiritual energies. This could come in form of daily masses, personal prayer, retreats, saying the rosary, lectio divina- meditative reading of the scriptures or taking part at family prayers. Not always work, work; work!
On the other hand we need the “Martha(s)” in our homes, communities, churches and nations. We need people who can get the job done. Our nations, our parishes needs dynamic parishioners, men and women, boys and girls who are generous, and who belong to various groups, the knights, pastoral councils, the choir , the women and youths organization to get things done. We need both the “listening Marys and the serving Marthas.”

I have mentioned listening here many times.  We live today in a world that is not only noisy with sounds, TV, radio, all forms of music and fireworks, but we are isolated from one another because of cell phones and iPads. Sometimes these things makes is difficult for us to listen to our spouses, our children, and seniors, our parishioners, and our parents.

No matter how active we may be, in our works and services, we need to set our priorities right, find the time, no matter how short, to listen to God and to one another. And this must be the basis of what we charitably do and how we relate and treat one another. As we participate in this Holy Eucharist today, may be nourished with the spirit of hospitality and service, as well as with the zeal to be better listeners and doers of the word of God.

Reflection Questions
1.     How often do we listen to God through one another?
2.     Are we better listeners and doer of the word of God?
3.     What distracts us from following Christ’s values?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

God’s Limitless Love is Near Us (GLLNU); Homilies Fifteenth Sunday Year C

Fifteenth Sunday Year C
God’s Limitless Love is Near Us (GLLNU)
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok
§  Deut 30:10-14;
§  Ps 69:14,17,30-34,36-37;or Ps 19:8-11;
§   Col 1:15-20
§   Luke 10:25-37.

On July 5th, 2013 the Holy Father, Pope Francis released a new Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei- the Light of Faith. Part of this 4 chapter Letter touches on today’s Bible lessons: that, Faith in God is expressed through Love.

 In paragraph (n. 4), of Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis talks about faith as a light to be discovered. He says, “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see” what God has done for us and what he will continue to do for us.

Imagine yourself being Abraham, our father in faith, or Moses who led Israel through that long journey in the wilderness. One of his challenges was to constantly let Israel know that God is not only near them, but he constantly loves them from creation and carries them through the ups and downs of life. All that God requires of Israel is faith, trusting in God, acknowledging his omnipotence, omniscience, keeping his precepts, including the 10 commandments, and reciprocating God’s love by reaching out to their neighbors charitably.

For Moses (Deut 30:10-14), what God has done for Israel/us or who God is not so difficult to perceive. It is not too mysterious, or above us, or as if someone had to ascend to heaven and bring it down to us. It is not far from us to see. Think of the oxygen we breath, the mountain we climb, the oceans we fish from and ride our boats and ships, the beaches we enjoy during the summer, the moon, the sky, the stars, the gardens, trees, the nature- the gift of life, family and properties; the technology God has bless our this century with, the gift of one another, the roof over our heads, our jobs, the security we have, in spite of threats of war and terrorism etc.

 This is what Saint Paul means in the Second reading when he says, “all things were created through him and for him, visible and invisible” (Col 1:15-20). Note the language, “all things” not “few things” or “some things.” God’s love is universal. It is not selective. It is not for the few, some, men, some women, some children, but for all men, all women and all children. How do we respond to God’s limitless love? This is a multimillion dollar question. Apart from Jesus' answer to the lawyer in today's Gospel, 1 John 4:19 also presents excellent and straightforward answer on how we are to respond to God's love.

In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because God first loved us.”  In other words, we are all called to love limitlessly since God has first limitlessly loved us.

Our Lord Jesus Christ puts this well in his parabolic response to the lawyer who went tempting him with the question, “what must I do to inherit the Kingdom of Christ? What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25-37). Both Jesus and the lawyer were all Jewish. They were familiar with the Book of the Deuteronomy which emphasis love of God and love of one’s neighbor (6:5). They were familiar with what Moses reminded Israel of in the first reading of today. But the difference between Jesus understanding of the law and the attorney is on the interpretation of who is one’s neighbor or to what limits is God’s love. Is God’s love, charity, fundamental human rights measured by distance or geography, parish, diocese, county, local government, state, and nation, continent, weather condition or race?

The answer is a big “No”. For Christ what makes us neighbors is our generous response to people we meet on the way no matter their hair style, accent, color or race and gender. The Samaritan who responded to the need of this robbery victim was supposed to be a Samaritan of the North, who has had a long standing disagreement with the Jews in the South.
I am sure you would also recall Jesus' disciples' expression of shock when they saw their Master chat and exchange a cup of cold water with the Samaritan Woman in John chapter 4. These were Disciples of Christ!

Any of us can fall a victim of selective love, omission or negligence, or failure to share our blessings with our neighbors, the poor, the aged and the needy. Some ministers can refuse to bring communion to the dying or visit the sick or show compassion and mercy to the afflicted. While others can simply remain insensitive to the needs of their flock. This is true in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Those who walked pass the victim were those the society would have morally looked onto: the Priests and the Levites. They were called to be shepherd, custodians of mercy and compassion (Jer 23; Ezek 34 and John 10).

I am sure you may have heard this story before. It has been told in different forms and styles of a high ranking clergy, on a journey. Quite high ranking and had a driver. He came across an accident scene on the way. Kind enough he pulled by and then noticed that the victims critically needed prayers and some last blessings. He looked around, reacted in a loud voice, "Is there no priest around here to give these dying victims at least some final blessings and anointing." Meanwhile, he completely and insensitively forgot that, he, himself was a priest!

As Pope Francis affirms, in Lumen Fidei, the Love of God precedes us. It is limitless. It is universal. With faith we want to lean on it for peace and security. It beams from faith. May this love gives us new vision, new light and fresh eyes of looking at things and our fellow humans, so that we may go out there and be merciful and compassionate without limit, to anyone, and to everyone we meet on our ways- homes, schools, and churches, private and public places? How we love is an expression of the depth of our Faith.

Reflection Questions
1.     Do we believe that faith in God is expressed through love?
2.     What are the challenges or darkness that beclouds our faith and love of God and neighbors?
3.     Are we the light of the world and the salt of the earth?

Loving God in our Neighbors!
Fifteenth Sunday Year C
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok
§  Deut 30:10-14;
§  Ps 69:14, 17, 30-34, 36-37; or Ps 19:8-11;
§  Col 1:15-20
§  Luke 10:25-37.

 In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 10:25-37) there is this great scholar, a scribe, a professor of the law who wants to know what he must do in order to inherit the kingdom of God. What must I do to inherit the kingdom of God? The answer which Jesus led him to- is central to the bible lessons of today namely, that loving God (with all our heart, mind and soul) as well as our neighbors as we would have truly loved ourselves! Moreover, we gain eternal life by loving God whom we encounter not only in the sacraments, in the Holy Eucharist, in the songs we sing this day, in the scriptures, but more importantly in how we visibly treat one another. Somebody sitting by your side. Somebody who needs help. Somebody, that man, that woman, that child we meet on our way- is my neighbor!

Deuteronomy 30:10-14, the first reading, which is generally a humanitarian sermon preached by Moses, on mount Nebo, tells us that this law, the love of God and our neighbor is written in our hearts. It is apriori. It is self-evidence. It is divine. It is written in our hearts.  One does not need a college or a university degree to learn how to love, how to be merciful, how to be respectful, how to be compassionate to our next door neighbor, or somebody we meet in the train, in the school, in the work place, or in our churches.

Besides what is written in our hearts, which Moses, reminded Israel of his time of... Saint Paul, in the second reading (Col 1:15-20) reminds the Colossians, by implication, each of us, that just as Jesus Christ is the “visible image of the invisible God,” so our neighbors (rich and poor, tall and short, white and black, brown and yellow, heavy and slim, young and old, male and female, boy and girl, Jews and Gentiles, N-S, E-W), are the visible image of Christ living in our midst. God speaks to us in our hearts. He speaks to us through Christ and through our neighbors.

This is what we mean when we sing that Matthew 25 "whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren so you do unto me..?" And this is truly what Jesus meant by telling that scribe, that professor of the law- the gospel parable of today, that familiar and popular parable of the Good Samaritan.  In that parable, the Good Samaritan, unlike the other two uncharitable religious leaders (priest and Levi) went to the assistance of the man who was almost beaten to dead, and abandoned with fatal wounds, on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. What a beautiful way of reminding us that we can only truly say we love God by loving our neighbors, by behaving like the Good Samaritan- who responded with mercy and compassion to this robber’s victim.

It is true that no single person can solve all the world’s problems in all the continents: the poverty, the racism, the gun violence, the selfishness, the decline in Christian parenting, and the “you are on your own attitude.” Neither is God asking us to board a plane from (JFK etc)…. now to Jerusalem-Jericho road in Palestine to assist the robber victim. Not Necessarily! Rather, as believers, there is another road from Jerusalem to Jericho that passes right through our homes, parishes, our streets, our home towns, our neighborhoods, dioceses, schools, and work places. In these roads, there may be some spouses, children or parents lying emotionally wounded in our homes, due to one form of abuse, insults, violent or another!  There may be a brother or a sister living nearby, sitting nearby, living next door who has special needs that we can meet. It could be a simple greeting or a smile! It could be a simple looking into their eyes, saying, hello!

Finally, the Good Samaritan challenges us today [especially in this Year of Mercy], to be open-minded to everyone, to be charitable, to be compassionate, to be forgiving, to be down to earth, to be approachable, to be available, to be loving, to be merciful to our neighbors, those in need, the church in need, that town in need, or to people of all walks of life- irrespective of color, height, race, culture and religion!

Reflection Questions
1.     Do we believe that faith in God is expressed through love?
2.     What are the challenges or darkness that beclouds our faith and love of God and neighbors?
3.     Are we the light of the world and the salt of the earth?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Spirit of Witness and Oneness Needed! Homily Seventh Sunday of Easter Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

The Spirit of Witness and Oneness Needed!
Homily Seventh Sunday of Easter Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Acts 7:55-60
·         Ps 97:1-2,6-7,9
·         Rev 22:12-14,16-17,20
·         John 17:20-26
The Gospel reading of today is widely known with the appellation:  the “Priestly Prayer/ or the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus," (praecatio summi sacerdotis- David Chytraeus),or "farewell prayer," prayer of Jesus(R. Bultmann). In this last farewell prayer, and important testament of Jesus, we are told, “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying, ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me…”

This prayer, especially the phrase, “that they may all be one” (Ut Omnes unum sint),  as intercessory as it may be (according to the patristic fathers), is a delight of many pastors, exegetes, commentators, scholars and Church leaders. Many Bishops (e.g. +Camillus Etokudoh) have also chosen it as their episcopal motos, and guiding principles of ecumenism and evangelization.

It is a timely prayer that fits the 7th Sunday of Easter, a post- ascension Church.  It gives answers to the questions: what happens to the Church after the ascension of Jesus. It calls for a spirit of witness, prayers, and perseverance within the church even with the seeming physical absence of Jesus. In this prayer, ut omnes, unum sint (that they may all be one”) Jesus, the high priest stresses unity, faith, love and peace after he might have ascended to the Father. Jesus anticipates a Church marked with despair, distress and persecution, like in the case of Stephen, in today’s 1st reading, Acts of the Apostle chapter 7.
Churches, Christians, families and even politicians everywhere can relate to this priestly prayer, recognizing ab initio, that the causes of disunity may include, ignorance, jealousy, envy, and lack of respect for one another’s culture and religion.

In the United Nations today, the question of how to cope with wars, and global terrorism posed by Isis and other religious extremists remains alive. America like any other nation on earth, has its own problems and challenges (racial, denominational divides etc) currently addressed by members of both political parties: The Republicans and the Democrats and by those who are Independents. In Nigeria, where the prayer for “Nigeria in Distress” has long been maintained, the activities of Boko Haram, and recently of some radical Herdsmen and corrupt elected officials are among those realities threatening the unity of that nation.

No wonder the recent and timely meeting of the Nigerian Catholic Bishops with President Muhamadu Buhari on May 2, 2016 has unequivocally address the following unity-related needs:
·         For the Church and State to collaborate in building a united post-Boko Haram Nigeria
  • ·         To urgently address the recent farmers’/herdsmen’s conflict in Nigeria
  • ·         For Freedom of worship, education and religion in all parts of Nigeria
  • ·         To address current socio-political and economic hardship in the country
  • ·         For a greater and collective sense of patriotism

In the face of these challenges a true life of witness is expected. This may include, interdenominational prayer, change of attitude, freedom of speech, respect to the dignity of every human person, their fundamental human rights, security and freedom of education, worship and true dialogue among religious groups, followers and leaders and promotion of unity and sense of patriotism in our homes, families, villages, towns, states, nations,  churches, and dioceses.

Those who witness to this spirit of unity and oneness in the face of distress, could be liken to those describe in the 2nd reading (Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20). They have washed their robes of unity, oneness and witness ready to participate in the right of the tree of life and entrance into the heavenly city through the gates of life namely, Jesus, who remains the way, the truth and the life.

Reflection Questions
1.    How do we relate to today’s scripture passages?
2.    What prevents us from promoting unity, oneness, and sense of common good in our communities?
3.    Do we realize that Christ is the way, truth and life?

Friday, May 24, 2019

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled;Homily Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

The Presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit

Homily Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
·       Acts 15:1-2, 22-29;
·       Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
·       John 14:23-29

Easter Cycle is winding down as we approach the Ascension and the Pentecost. With this, today’s readings reminds us of the ever presence of Christ in our midst, through the Holy Spirit. This Spirit brings us reconciliation, unity, joy, love of God and peace.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles paints a picture of disputes and misunderstanding between Paul’s community and the Jerusalem Community concerning the OT practice of circumcision and practice of mosaic laws. This dispute, we notice was not resolved with weapons and military might, nor with protracted court litigation, but with mutual dialogue between the two parties. This is an excellent example for how Christians, especially in a volatile world of today, should resolve conflicts: with prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and through mutual respect, dialogue of peace and love.

This love is the way of Christ. And Christ minces no words in today’s gospel when he says to his disciples, whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Whoever imitates Christ and follows his teachings have Christ constantly dwelling and living with him or her in Spirit.

This Spirit of Christ radiates joy in place of sadness. It promotes reconciliation instead of revenge.  It brings us peace (shālôm), growth and prosperity, instead of decay, war, violence and terrorism. And when Christ says in the gospel, “ Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” as a Jew, he meant to say, he wishes us everything that is good in this life: success in the works of our hand, our well -being, unity, good health, long life, and many other blessings that only God can give.

As Christians, when we receive these blessings, we are obliged to reach out and to share these blessings of joy, reconciliation, respect for all, dialogue of love and peace with the society of our neighbors, lit by the light of the glory of God (Rev 21:10-14, 22-23), and of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions
1.    Do we realize that Christ is ever present in our midst?
2.    Are we agent and conduits of peace to others?
3.    What are our challenges in terms of embracing Christ’s presence in our communities and a families?


Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Homily Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Acts15:1-2, 22-29
·         Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
·         Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
·         John 14:23-29

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.” These are words of Jesus addressed to his disciples in today’s Gospel John 14:23–29), on this 6th Sunday of Easter. Similar message could be heard both in the 1st and in the 2nd reading as well. Same message was heard over and over again during the papacy of Blessed John Paul II—do not be afraid!

What troubles you? What makes you afraid? Is it your neighbor; high cost of living, our corrupt political system, the question of who wins the next election..,  uncompassionate leaders, the examinations that we need to pass, and the promotions we expect, the strict laws we need to keep, the unforeseeable future in our careers; those sudden departures of our loved ones, insecurity, broken family structures, our broken temples, broken churches, cities, dilapidated infrastructures,   rifts, conflicts, uncertainties, the estranged relationship with our  friends, unpredictable economy or our times or imminent wars, or  is it the rampant terrorism of our day? Any of this is enough to cause fear in you!

In the case of Jesus and his disciples in this gospel portion- the book of glory, the last supper discourse- it was Jesus’ prediction of his departure to the glorious cross that sent chilling fears into the hearts of his disciples. They must have been wondering where he was going, and what will happen to them socially, economically, religiously and politically.  You see, with fear we can make wrong choices. With fear our heads spin! With fear we can forget the love of God and his teachings. With fear we can forgot those baptism promises. Jesus rather prefers loves. He recommends love to his disciples saying “whoever loves me keep my word, and my father will love him.” Which words? Those words that Jesus had preached in their company. Those miracles he worked. Those healing he made. Those feet he washed! Those words on the Cross,”Eloi Eloi, Lama Sabathani," ----"Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing!
For the group of the early Church in today’s 1st reading,  Acts of the Apostle 15, the question whether the Gentile Christians should observed the dietary laws or strict Jewish-Mosaic laws was contentious enough to cause fear in the early Christian community. Thanks be to God with the guidance of the Holy Spirit it was decided that it was unnecessary to place the burden of physical circumcision and observance of Mosaic laws on the early Christian. The council of the Jerusalem decided that “the early church should not be troubled, or be afraid of been forced to observed the dietary laws physical circumcision.
It is the image of this New Jerusalem that we see in today’s 2nd reading, Book of Revelation 21 and earlier in the Prophet Ezekiel 47-48. It is a new city of hope and life gleamed with the image and splendor of God- love, mercy, freshness, forgiveness, charity, and inclusiveness. Inclusiveness, in the sense that, it has 12 gates, not one gates, not selected gates, but 12 gates, and the names of the 12 tribes, not one tribe, not some tribes, not selected tribes, not favored tribes or villages and towns, but all the 12 tribes of Israel is inscribed in this new city of Jerusalem, an ecumenical council, the Church. A free wall. A city and a Church that welcomes immigrants, Jews and Gentiles alike, the Weak and the Strong (Romans 14-15:13).

Therefore, no one, irrespective of your conditions, losses, sins or brokenness, should be afraid to come or aspire for this city—namely the Lamb of God, Christ our merciful and loving Savior, who says to each of us today, “Do not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Reflection Questions
1.    Do we realize that Christ is ever present in our midst?
2.    Are we agent and conduits of peace to others?
3.    What are our challenges in terms of embracing Christ’s presence in our communities and a families?
4.    What are our fears in matter of faith?