Saturday, August 30, 2014

Homily (2) 22nd Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 22nd Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63:2-9; Rom 12:1-2 and Matthew 16:21-27

 Trusting God during pains and sorrows

“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” (Ps 63:2b). This exquisite Psalm 63 captures the theme and the spirit of today’s Bible Readings and worship; namely “Confidence and Trust in God, even in times of pains and sorrows". Psalm 63 is a prayer of trust and a hymn of intimacy with God.

Truly, there are moments in our lives that God seems to be too far away. It is such moments that Psalmist refers to, through in metaphor, when he says, “earth, or land, parched, lifeless and without water,” (v.2). In those moments, we are called to look into the sanctuary of history. We are called to appreciate what God has done for us in the past. And realize that God is ever present with us (vv.3-6).

Experiences of temporary frustrations, agonies, pains and sorrows are not new. Jeremiah, Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ, had their  shares.  Jeremiah, of all Israel’s prophets, is the one who suffered most and who was often publicly rejected. He was once placed in stocks (Jer 20:1-2). He was put on trial by priests who demanded his death (26:10-11). Priests demanding the death of a prophet of God. Jeremiah was banished from the Temple (Jer 36:5), because of fearless preaching (Jer 7; 26). Jeremiah together with his friend Baruch were often made to go into hiding (Jer 36:19). Jeremiah was arrested, beaten and imprisoned (Jer 37:12-16). He experienced house arrest (Jer 37:20-21) and  life in a muddy cistern (Jer 37:1-6).  Of course, Jeremiah was human. His pains, frustrations and sorrows often led Jeremiah to complain.

The first reading of today is one of such complaints: “You duped me O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; every one mocks at me.” Have you ever been laughed at? Have you ever been mocked?  These are the parched lands, and the lifeless earths, without water of Jeremiah and the Psalmist.. But the good news is that Jeremiah like the Psalmist channeled their complaint and worries directly to God their trusting God, in prayer.

It was not all that easy for Saint Paul in all his travels and preaching of the Good News of Christ. Like Jeremiah, he was beaten, tried, rejected and imprisoned here and there. But Paul’ attitude to all these is evident in his Letter to the Romans (12:1-2). He says, “Brothers and sisters, I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”

It is such sacrifices that Christ reminded is disciples of, in today’s Gospel, Matthew 16:21-27. After Peter’s Confession of the divinity of Christ in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus praised and blessed Peter. He gave the keys of the Church to Peter, but went on to explain that he has to go up in order to suffer in Jerusalem, be killed and on the third day be raised. The disciples did not understand this type of talk. They are at a different level. But Christ insists, “Whoever wishes to come after him, must deny himself/herself, take up his or her cross and follow him.”

This call to self-denial explains the parched land and the lifeless earth, the waterless planet of the psalmist. This explains the duping and the frustration of Jeremiah. It explains the call to “spiritual worship,” of Paul.  Ultimately, it explains the fact that our relationship with God must go beyond the material level; from earthly kingdom to the heavenly kingdom.  It is with prayers, deeper trusting, constant longing and thirsting for God, that our pains, illness, tribulations, frustrations, rifts and misunderstandings, can be handled.

 As we brave our daily crosses,  personal trials, agonies or of seeming lifelessness and dryness, our lives must not exclude our concern for others. The more intimate we are with God, the closer we are called to be charitable to God’s extended families and our neighbors. And in our personal prayers to our God with whom we trust, we must seek to make our sense of this divine trust a reality, particularly to our neighbors, and troubling world, in general.



Friday, August 22, 2014

Homily (2) 21st Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 21st Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Ps 138:1-3, 6, 8; Rom 11:33-36 and Matthew 16:13-20

 Our God is full of Surprises

Many of us do not like to be surprised, except with anniversary gifts! But our God is a God of surprises. To be surprised implies that we have surrendered at least some of our autonomy. It means events, wonders and amazements have taken place in which we have little or no control, but only to trust in God. Many of such events abound in our lives. In those moments, God is at work. He creates and recreates. He admonishes sinners and welcomes the repentant. He can make king and has the power too to bring kings down. He promotes and demotes.  He changes sufferings into joy, failures into success, illness into good health, and death into life. This is true when we take a closer look into today’s Bible lessons, including Psalms 138.

 First of all, in the first reading (Isa 22:19-23), there is a contrast drawn between two court officials during the time of Hezekiah known as Sheba and Eliakim. Shabna was irresponsible, faithless, abusive, unstable, pompous and selfish (Isa 22:1-18) hence demoted and disgraced out of office (v 19). God surprisingly replaces him with Eliakim, whom he call his servant (v 20). Eliakim is a father to the people (v 21), dependable and solid like a peg.  What a surprise from Shebna to Eliakim!

During prayers we are challenged to believe in a God of surprises, who surprises us through others and through daily events and circumstances. Some of them may initially look ugly. But don’t lose the mystery of hope. Saint Paul reechoes this surprising nature of God in the second reading (Rom 11:33-36) when he says: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom, and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.”

 Similar elements of divine surprises occur in Matthew’s Gospel today. Who would have thought that the same would- be “Denying Peter,” during the Passion Week would surprisingly get the answer put by Christ, “who do people think that I am.” Surprisingly, ahead of other disciples, Peter got it. He professed Christ as the Son of the living God (matt 16:6).   As a result and like Eliakim who was given the symbols of power, the keys of the house of David in the first reading (Isa 22:23), Peter is divinely entrusted with the keys of responsibilities: to lead, love, forgive and preach faith and hope. He is pastorally blessed and confirmed as the rock upon which Christ’s Church shall be built (vv.18-19).

Rocks, repeated metaphors in today's readings in rural African families are used for multiple purposes. They are used to crack or produce kernels (from palms) sold for economic livelihood of many families.  Globally, they are used in most cultures for homes, offices’, road or bridge constructions to support and sustain nations and society. Of course, in another sense, bridges of unity, forgiveness, reconciliation, ecumenism, inter- religious or cultural dialogue and peace much needed today.

I know when we experience wars, threats of terrorism, tragedies, civil unrest and other forms of disorientation, we often succumb to the fallacy that God is not really interested in our affairs and concerns. We may feel that we are not persons, only numbers in a gigantic universe. Like Peter and his successors including Pope Francis, in particular, we are encouraged to trust in God. We are invited to be our neighbor’s rock of hope and support. We are called to be the rock and the pillars for our neighboring poor, the immigrants, the rejected, the homeless, the voiceless, the sick, the needy and the suffering of our generations.    

Finally, Psalm 138, reminds us to be praiseful and thankful to our God who surprises us always with his love and protection. He loves us constantly and eternally, even in the midst of our earthly predicaments. And he invites us to do the same to one another, and to pray, rejoice, and marvel at his manifold gifts and blessings of surprises!




Friday, August 15, 2014

Homily (2) 20th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 20th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isaiah 56:1.6-7; Ps 67:2-3, 5-8; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 and Matthew 15:21-28

 God’s Blessing Is Inclusive
God’s blessing is inclusive. It is a gift sufficient unto Jews, Gentiles, men and women, eunuchs and non-eunuchs, foreigners and non-foreigners, poor and the rich. God’s blessing are sufficient to people of all walks of life and nations.

These blessings include the gift of life, land and property; the gift of good health, the gift of our families, education and occupations. The virtues: faith, hope and love. The gift of patience and the healings we received from God whenever we are sick. The gifts of our communities particularly the Church and her teachings. The gifts to remember to pray and to be grateful to God! These are all blessings from God to everyone.

This subject of inclusiveness of God’s blessings is at the center of today’s Bible lessons. Psalm 67, for instance, pointedly presents us with a praying community that petitions God, “O God let all the nations praise you! (Psalm 67:4). The question is why would the nations, including Israel praise God? Because of all the blessings and gifts they have always received from God, throughout their history.

In the wilderness God was with Israel. He accompanied them through their experiences in exiles. The situation of today’s first reading, from Isaiah 56, is post-exilic (after- the exile), when Israel have just returned from the Babylonian exile. It was a time of high expectations and immense difficulties. There was tension between the returnees (gĂ´lah) and the people of the land, including foreigners who had been living in the area when they were absence, and the foreign wives and children married and raised in exiles.  They were limited resources, inefficient leadership, place and space of worship, small and perhaps under construction mutual suspicions and hostilities everywhere, injustices and element of discrimination and segregation prevailed.

 In the first reading Isaiah calls for openness, tolerance and justice. Isaiah advocates love and universalism in the new community. He says, “observes what is right and do what is just… for my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” Notice, God’s house is a gift from God. Notice, also Isaiah did not say this gift is ‘for some people,” but “for all people,” Jews and Gentiles, the weak and the strong, the sick and the healthy, the young and the old, male and female, adult and children.

St. Paul did the same in his own way, during his missionary journeys. He was often seen as a proud champion  universalism in terms of spreading the Gospel of Christ to all nations, the Gentiles. Though Jewish by birth, he calls himself, an “apostle of the Gentile.” He preached tirelessly everywhere, and reassured the Church, particularly in Rome the irrevocable mercy and  unlimited love of God to all nations (Rom 11:13-15, 29-32).

Furthermore, today’s Gospel episode (Matt 15:21-28) sums up these messages of inclusiveness of God’s healing love and favor to his people. Though Jewish, as well, Jesus loves the Canaanite woman. Jesus is merciful to the prayerful and humble sick Canaanite woman. To start with, the woman in the Gospel is so faithful. She is patient. She is gifted with persistence in prayer. Jesus does not care whether she is from south or east, north or west, white or black. All that he knows is that she is a faithful child of God! She cherishes her gifts. She is healed. She recognizes God as the source of prosperity and the giver of all gifts, and the healer of healers! Any of us could be this woman.  Do we pray consistently? Do we cherish our faith and gifts? Are we patient enough? Are we open to one another, and to the flow of the Holy Spirit?

We know there are problems everywhere today; violent and challenges of life, wars and threat of wars, illnesses and threats of illnesses- and even the loss of our loved ones. In every circumstances of our life it is important to recognize that our very being is a gift from God, including the  gift of the Church. We are called to be tolerant, receptive, loving, merciful and welcoming to one another. Our Church is a house of prayer.  It is a house of faith, a symbol of oneness, justice, humility and gratitude to God. It is house of love and temple of divine mercy for all, Jew or Gentile or Canaanite!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Homily (2) 19th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 19th Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85:9-14; Rom 9:1-5 and Matthew 14:22-33

  God’s Truth Endures Forever,

 The readings of this Sunday remind us that the promise made us by God endures forever. In the midst of all waves of suffering-exiles and wilderness of colonialisms, God promised to protect and save Israel, including his prophets, the poor and the faithful. He purposefully promised them kindness, truth, peace, justice, faith and hope. This is true in his divine provision for Elijah, his Son Jesus Christ and his disciples, the Church and each of us. The truth is that, God has a purpose for us; to save us.

 In the first reading of today (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a) Elijah fled Ahab and Jezebel’s threat and persecutions, having been accused of defeating and killing Baal’s prophets (1 kings 18:1-19:8).
In his suffering, loneliness and hopelessness Elijah was not alone. He was with the God of truth and hope for salvation.

 This truth providentially led Elijah to Mount Horeb, where Moses had once encountered God (Exodus 3; 24-33). Elijah remained in the cave only to be directed by the Lord, to “go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” By standing outside, Elijah had hope that God would be found in the fire, wind or in the spectacular earthquake as was the case in the sinaitic events of Exodus 19:18. Instead, God manifested himself to Elijah, on this mountain, in a very gentle and whispering breeze.

 What is this gentle -whispering breeze all about?  Is it a new order of order of peace and God’s truth? It foreshadows a new way of peaceful political leadership, unlike the violence of Ahab and Jezebel. It demonstrates God’s kindness and justice.  Echoes of these promises are also heard in today’s Psalm 85. It is a community lament which says’ “I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord proclaims peace. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land. Kindness, and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”

 These echoes are also heard in the entire ministry of Christ, who love, and fed the multitude in last Sunday’s gospel (Matt 24:13-21)). Today he gently dismisses the multitude; embarked his disciples on the boat to other side of the Sea, spent time in prayer on the nearby mountain, walks on the Sea. He also calms the fear brought by the tossing boat of his disciples (Matt 14:22-33). As God his father commanded the troubled prophet Elijah to stand outside for his gentle presence, Jesus recommended ‘courage” to his frightened disciples and commanded the faithless Peter to walk on the sea. Jesus also stretched his hands to help the sinking Peter.

Life as a whole, from baptism is like a journey on a boat. There are waves of suffering, anguish of fears and frustration of sinking in the Sea of life. In our lives, this Sea could be illnesses, including Ebola. It could be temptations to sin and to be uncharitable to one another. It could be temptation to abandon our Christian faith or to pursue non-Christian, violent, and business values. Sometimes we are tempted to feel that the wave is too much and perhaps  the God of our ancestors has abandoned us. Paul would have felt the same frustration and anguish once in a while and during his missionary journeys, as expressed in today’s 2nd reading, Romans 9:1-15). But he knew how to bounce back in faith and hope.

 In all these, including the on-going political crisis around the globe, east and west, it is important to step back, take a deep breath and re-examine the truth of God’s abiding, gentle, historic and constant presence in our midst.  It is important to hold onto that faith of promise, that God has a peaceful purpose for us; to love us and to save us. His gentle plan and truth endures forever!



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Homily (2) 18th Sunday of Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily (2) 18th Sunday of Year A: Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isaiah 55:1-3; Ps 145:8-9, 15-18; Rom 8:35, 37-39 and Matthew 14:13-21
The Boundless Love of God

  Throughout history, God’s love for us is inseparable and boundless, as we walk through events and vicissitudes of daily life, good or bad. He also wants us to love him boundlessly! Nothing, Saint Paul would stress particularly in the 2nd Reading, should stand between us and God, his teachings, his values, his ethics, his Torah and Words!

 In the Gospel reading of today, Matthew 14:13-21 John the Baptist has just been executed. But Jesus reacts quietly in prayer and reflection in a deserted place. He did not take arms to pursue John’s executors but reaches out with mercy and love to those who followed him to this lonely place. Rather, with five loves and two fish, looking up to heavens, in prayer, in consultation with God his father, he fed a multitude of five thousand men, as well as women and children who followed him. Jesus is capable of feeding us today.

 But how do we reacts in the midst of persecutions, economic, social, biological, natural and political hardships, hunger, violent, war or earthquake? Do we  reflect, pray, or look up to heaven, like Christ, trust in God and in his boundless love and feeding care?

 Clearly and truly Deutero- Isaiah in today’s first reading trusted in God’s boundless love and the capacity to feed and provide for Israel. He invited his suffering - contemporaries, exiled in Babylon to do so. And teaches us to trust God in every circumstance of life.  He says, “All you who are thirsty, come to me, come to the water. You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk…I will renew with you the everlasting covenants the benefits assured to David,” (Isa 55:1-3) in 2 Samuel 7, to bless and protect his house forever!

In other words, in the midst of life’s challenges or vicissitudes: hunger, poverty, illness, joblessness, deprivation, injustices of racism, bias, discrimination, fraud, and swindling of the weak, the poor or denial of our fundamental human right and freedom, as Israel of old, our God must be trusted and approached for care, compassion, consolation, justice, solace and comfort, kindness, mercy and feeding.

In fact, we want to be able always to say with saint Paul, who personally experienced hardships and persecutions, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature will able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35,37-39).

Homily (2)17th Sunday of the Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2)17th Sunday of the Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77,127-130; Rom 8:28-30 and Matt 13:44-52

Understanding the treasure of God’s Love

Throughout history the Lord is always loving, forgiving and ready to assist us with all our needs. In the first reading of today (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12) the Lord at Gibeon appeared to the young and inexperienced king Solomon in a dream. Divinely encouraged, Solomon asked the Lord neither for riches, long life, fame, nor for power to dominate those he disagreed with, but for the gift of the spirit of understanding and discernment of God’s ways of dealing with us.

In his dealings with us, God forbids tyranny, pursuit of evils, rash and harsh judgments of our neighbors and dictatorship of all forms that we sometime find in our contemporary leaders. In dealing with us, God forbids apostasy and worship of false gods, and rushing into decisions without first discerning and committing them to God in prayers.  Even in the midst of our daily sufferings and persecutions we need discernment to realize that “all things work together for good for those who love God.” (Rom 8:28-30).

And those who truly love God will, but pursue the values of His Kingdom, which Jesus in parables, compares with a “treasure,” and a “pearl,” discovered unexpectedly. It is also compared with a net that hauls in fish “of every kind”, bad and good (Matt 13:44-52).

What is important in the first two parables of the discovered treasure and pearl is our joyful and total response to finding God after a long and successful search. It doesn’t matter how long it takes us to succeed, to discover the treasure of God’s love and forgiveness. God's time frame is not our time frame. When we succeed God wants us as his disciples, and like the Evangelist Matthew to share with joy and humility our experience and giftedness of Him. He wants us to carry along those who are yet to succeed!

These gifts and faith we received from God as Christians must be at the service of our families, ecclesial and civil communities.  In our times, we want to share the stories of our faith with our children and grandchildren today. We want to tell them where we came from in faith, the journeys thus far and how God has blessed us, and how things were done before now, the movies that were watched, the seniors and the aged that were cared for and even the parents and the teachers that were respected. We want to share with our fellow workers, colleagues and friends- those values and honesty that were taught and promoted – the Christ that you have discovered. These treasures are not meant for our selfish custody.

Truly, sometimes our times are filled with selfishness, materialism, subjectivism, and abuse of power in some quarters, neglect of faith and the role of God in our lives, lack of understanding of our neighbors, our subjects, bosses, fellow workers and family members. Our times are also being mixed up with inability to separate evil from good, right from wrong. Anything goes! Sometimes freedom without responsibility!

Like Solomon let us pray for God’s wisdom today in our daily choices, judgments, evaluations and discernments. Let us also pray for the grace to always understand the treasure of God’s love, His goodness for us and the values of His Kingdom!

Homily (2) 16th Sunday of Year A: Michael U Udoekpo

Homily (2) 16th Sunday of Year A: Michael U Udoekpo

Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Ps 86:5-10, 15-16; Rom 8:26-27 and Matthew 13:24-43


Whoever is sown in Christ Grows into Abundance

Like last Sunday, Christ continues to speak to us, today through Matthew 13:24-43, and in parables. We are many blessings and gifts in God's hands.  These include a little sown mustard seed that gradually grows into a big bush with wide branches which  later come to accommodates varieties of birds of the sky. We are also in the hands of God, like a small yeasts that a woman mixes with three measure of wheat flour until the whole batched was leavened.

In addition, God sows each of us like a good seed sown in the field with great expectations. Though good seeds, they usually grows alongside other competing bad weeds. Those who cultivate Wheat and Rice know the risk of impatience or not handling the wheat skillfully in the midst of competing forces of weeds.

In today’s parable, it is better and wise to wait till harvest time to separate the weed from the wheat. From creation and through the history of Israel, God has planted us in this life amidst other weeds and tribulations or exiles, persecutions, injustices, acts of racism, discrimination, tribalism, parochialism, wars, terrorism, and other forms of  human- made hardships.

But in the midst of all these, it is proven, particularly in the first reading of today, Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 that, there is not God besides our God, and he “cares for all.” His might is the source of justice once denied, men, women, children and the weak of all ages. He judges, of course, with clemency and patience, and gives ground for hope and repentance. He is erekeh payim and full of hesed and tsedigkim!; for those who are childlikely disposed to his kindness, love and righteousness.

We are called not only to be patient with our weak brothers and sisters, but to be kind and nice to them. By so doing we remind ourselves of what Paul says in today’s second reading, that, “the spirit comes to the aid of our weaknesses, for we do not even know how to pray as we ought.”

In other words, like seeds sown by God that faces worldly competitions and all forms of temptations to sin, to fight back, to curse, to revenge, to terrorize, to be unkind, to discriminate, to lie, to be deceptive, to be selfish, to un-love, to be nasty, to gossip- may we come back to Christ, realizing that whoever abides in him or whoever is sown in Christ grows into abundance of his love and the goodness of his mercy.