Saturday, May 30, 2020

Appreciating the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (A) - In Our Times ...; Homily for Pentecost of Year A (2020)

Homily: Pentecost Sunday Year A
Appreciating the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (A) - In Our Times ...
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Acts 2:1-11
v  1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Gal 5:16-25
v  John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

In the past weeks we celebrated the joy of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Today [even in this time of ongoing pandemic, uncertainties and violence in our communities] we celebrate Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit promised to us by Christ came upon his church. After Easter, it is the second most important day in the life of the church. And it is a popular day for the sacrament of confirmation. Some of us were confirmed on this day with a package of spiritual gifts, including peace, the Holy Spirit of unity, and courage. These are expressed in our way or the other in today’s scriptures.

In today’s Gospel  we are told: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ . . . ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ ” (John 20:19-23). You might wonder why the disciples were afraid. Why had they locked themselves up? What were they afraid of? Perhaps they were afraid of persecution and violence. They were insecure and lived in fear. They were wrapped up in and held captive by fear and uncertainty.

Today [in the Twenty first century], many of us live in fear for one reason or the other. We still do have our own anxieties and worries. We are still being surrounded by and wrapped up in daily problems [pandemic, terrorism, racism, poverty, discrimination, division, injustices and violence] and all kinds of uncertainties. Jesus, as we saw in the Gospel, has the solution to these problems. He is the source and conduit of peace, freedom, and liberty, and the breath that ushers in the Holy Spirit of love and evangelization.

 Like the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles records that as soon as the disciples had received this Holy Spirit, they were heard speaking in different languages (Acts 2:1-11). It is amazing to see what difference the Holy Spirit brings us. With it, we hear Christ well and we have the courage to share what we have heard or received from Christ with others. Of course, Christ speaks to us in our language and in our own cultures and uncertainties. He visits us in our homes, on our chairs, in our beds, and in every circumstance of our lives: poverty and illnesses. And we need the gift of the Holy Spirit even to appreciate Christ’s presence in our lives. We need the Spirit to listen to one another’s music and language, and appreciate the talents and blessings that each of our neighbors brings us. We need the Holy Spirit to bring Christ to our neighbors and neighborhoods.

Finally, in the second reading, if I may return to that, Paul recommends the gifts of the Spirit for the troubled and divided Corinthian church. Although Corinth was booming in a material sense, its inhabitants were full of themselves. The Corinthians were arrogant, corrupt, and displayed rivalry among themselves. They rivaled for power, money and possessions. Division was apparent even in worship centers. Paul uses the analogy of a unified body composed of different parts to remind the Corinthian church of the importance of the unity of the church, the Body of Christ. I am sure this sounds familiar. Paul might have been addressing us today. Irrespective of our color, height, size, or looks, we are one in Christ, in whom we were all baptized.

The significance of Pentecost cannot be overemphasized in a world plagued by division, war, racism, distrust, and discrimination. Only Christ and the Spirit of God can change or refresh the face of the earth. Only Christ and the Spirit of God can give us the courage to share the good news and God’s given gifts with others.

We pray at this Mass [where ever you are virtually] that the Spirit of the Lord, which Pentecost brings, may restore unity, peace on earth and replace sickness [of this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic] with good health and sorrow with joy in the world.

Reflection Questions
1.  In the midst of ongoing pandemic and uncertainties in our communities how do you relate to today’s readings and celebration?
2. How often do you appreciate the role of Holy Spirit in your life?
3. Do you allow all that you do to be guided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including dialogue and unity?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Missions of the Post-Ascension Church in Times of Pandemic (A)/Praying and Waiting in the Upper Room, Homily 7th Sunday of Easter Year A

Homily: Seventh Sunday of Easter Year A
 Missions of the Post-Ascension Church in Times of Pandemic (A)
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Acts 1:12-14
v  Ps 27:1, 4, 7-8
v  1 Pet 4:13-16
v  John 17:1-11

In today’s Gospel, the last chapter of the book of glory, Jesus prays for the church and speaks of his glory with God, to whom he has ascended in heaven (John 17:11a). He prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:1-2).

This prayer is an expression of Jesus’ unity with the Father. It is an expression of love for the church he established. It is also a report of his mission of love, compassion, feeding the poor, forgiving sinners, and healing the sick while on earth. It is a report of the faith he taught, the suffering he endured, the cross he carried on our behalf, and the community of believers he formed (John 17:6-8). In his glorification, he will give eternal life to this community of faith. This eternal life includes the knowledge of God and his inspiration and spirit for the church, the Christian community, to continue his mission in good times and in bad times, in times of pandemic or not.

Jesus, whom we are invited to imitate in this time of pandemic, was a man of prayer, from baptism to the cross. He continues his prayerful character after his ascension. The first reading (Acts 1:12-14) presents his disciples continuing in this mission of prayer in the Upper Room after his ascension. We are told that after Jesus had been taken up to heaven,

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Each of us (in this time of corona virus) is invited, in our little ways, places and locations, to be Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, and Mary: men and women of prayer who delight in following in Jesus’ footsteps at all times. Truly, we face many challenges: frustration, low grades, hatred, insults, discrimination, racism, disappointments, betrayals, illnesses, corona virus and loss of loved ones. In the midst of these challenges remember, before his ascension, Christ himself faced many challenges and severe suffering, even to the cross.

Today’s second reading, 1 Peter 4:13-16, further confirms this and reminds us how to react to suffering. It teaches us how to handle the challenges of life. It says, “Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name” (1 Pet 4:16). Peter also stresses the importance of joy, saying, “Rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet 4:13).

As scientists and others have suggested in this time of pandemic follow the rules, take a walk, listen to music, reach to friends,  the poor and the needy, as well your families on social media and in your prayers as we hope for the best.

In the midst our challenges we are hopeful that Christ will never leave us as orphans. He constantly prays for and watches over us. We ask the Lord to help us also recognize the importance of prayer, faith, and hope despite this pandemic. We ask him to help us be encouraged by the unity of the post-ascension Christian communities as they kept the words of Christ and promoted his values and mission to people of all walks of life, especially the poor, the weak and those mostly affected by this pandemic.

Reflection Questions
1. How often do you recognize the importance of prayer and encourage others to pray in your religious communities, in moments like, the ongoing pandemic?
2. What prevents you from engaging in constant prayer?
3. In this period of pandemic what ways do you pray for and concretely encourage the poor and weak in your society or neighborhood?
4. What is your additional mission, not mentioned here, as a Christian in this time of pandemic?

Seventh Sunday of Easter Year A
Praying and Waiting in the Upper Room In Times of Pandemic (B)
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Acts 1:12-14
v  Ps 27:1, 4, 7-8
v  1 Pet 4:13-16
v  John 17:1-11a
The ascension of Christ is celebrated by some dioceses today. We joyfully celebrated Christ’s ascension on Thursday. We saw in our Scripture reflection and sharing that although Christ has departed, or has been lifted up, he remains with us in the tabernacle (John 12:32). He remains with us in the Holy Eucharist. He is with us as we read the Bible. He is with us as we turn to say “hello” to our neighbors, whom we are encouraged to love. He is with us in the songs we join the choir in singing, in our hearts that our disposed to listen to the sermons, in our friends, in our church and family members, and in our children, husbands, and wives. He is with us even in moments of pandemic. Jesus will be there with and for us until the end of time (Matt 28:20).

Sometimes this is hard for us to understand. When I was a little child, I would cry my eyes out when mom left home to work or get groceries. Waiting for her to return was always painful. It took me a while to recognize the importance of waiting—and to realize that if she didn’t buy groceries, our dinner would be incomplete and we wouldn’t have milk for breakfast.

The readings of today’s liturgy describe the church waiting in prayer for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This Spirit of peace, love, serenity, gentleness, grace, and courage joins us on our Christian journeys, particularly in this period (of corona virus pandemic).  Imagine the believers—the eleven apostles, Mary the mother of Christ, his friends, brothers, and sisters—who had gathered in prayer in that Upper Room (Acts 1:12-14). Without prayer, it would have been very difficult for them to handle the “seeming absence of Christ in their midst,” the entire paschal mysteries.

Christ, who was in deep union with his Father, knew the journey was not going to be easy for his post-ascension disciples and church. It is no wonder that in the high priestly prayer of today’s Gospel (John 17:1-26) he committed our well being and faith into God’s hands. He prayed that through the gift of the Holy Spirit, each of us may be brought into the deep union and friendship that he had shared with God his Father.

This union is only achieved through prayer. With prayer, everything is possible, and every gift of the Holy Spirit is achievable (Isa 11:2-3; Gal 5:22). As we make decisions—whether it’s deciding what college to attend, what doctor to visit, what suggestions to make at family and executive meetings, which Mass to attend, what menu to choose from, what book to read, what movie to watch, or which friends to hang out with(  or most importantly and urgently, how to handle the ongoing corona virus),—we pray that the counselor we have as children of God would always be the Holy Spirit.

At this Mass (where ever you are, virtually in times of pandemic), remember this is our Upper room. Let us dedicate our life’s mysteries into God’s hands. Let us imitate our Mother Mary and the apostles, who waited patiently and prayerfully for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Reflection Questions
1. How often do you recognize the importance of prayer and encourage others to pray in your religious community, especially in this time of pandemic?
2. What prevents you from engaging in constant prayer?
3. In what ways do you pray for and concretely encourage the poor and the weak of your society and neighborhood?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Loving God - Even In Times of Pandemic, Homily- 6th Sunday of Easter Year A

Homily: Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A
Loving God - Even In Times of Pandemic
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
v  Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
v  1 Pet 3:15-18
v  John14:15-21

In today’s Gospel reading (John 14:15-21) Christ says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17).

This message from Christ comes to us on the eve of his ascension to God the Father, which we celebrate on Thursday or next Sunday. As Christ departs to the Father, he wants us to be consistent in our love for him, his teachings, and in keeping God’s commandments. Sometimes it can be difficult, like in this moment of pandemic, but this call to love and keep God’s precepts will be guided by the Holy Spirit promised us by Christ as he ascends to God the Father.

It is this same Spirit that came upon the Samaritans when Peter and John prayed and laid hands on them in the today’s first reading (Acts 8:5-8,14-17). But before Peter and John arrived to lay hands on them with the grace of God, the Samaritans received healing because they paid attention to Christ Jesus, the wounded healer, proclaimed by Philip. Christ heals those who listen to him, and he brings the spirit of joy, happiness, and hope to those who pay attention to him and his precepts.

This Spirit comes to us in various ways. It comes to us in the readings we read, in the liturgy we celebrate, in the psalms and songs we sing, and in the bread and cup we share. The Spirit of God comes to us on our journeys in the people we meet, the peace we promote, and the justice we champion. It comes in the sins we forgive and in the wrongs we put right.

I recall few years ago, around this month of May I led a pilgrimage to Poland, retracing the footsteps of Saints Faustina, Maximillian Kolbe, and John Paul II. It was a spirit-filled pilgrimage. We arrived at Warsaw on May 13 and went to celebrate Holy Mass at Saint James Church. This is the very church where Saint Faustina first went to pray when she arrived at Warsaw on the way to join the Convent of the Holy Mercy Sisters. The following day, May 14, we went to 39 Zytnia Street, where we celebrated Mass at the Convent of the Holy Mercy Sisters.

Each of us on the journey could feel the Spirit of God, the yearning for the love and truth that only God can give. On May 15 we proceeded to Niepokalanow and celebrated Mass at the Franciscan Monastery of Maximillian. We spent a great deal of time at the House and Museum of Maximillian Kolbe, who taught us how to love our enemies and die for one another. On May 16 we visited the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa, and celebrated Mass at the Holy Rosary Chapel of the Basilica of Jasna Gora. We embraced there the spirit of a loving mother. We went to Wadowice, where we retraced the origin of Saint John Paul II, who taught us how to trust in God and keep his commandments, irrespective of our cultures. We went to Auschwitz and Birkinau concentration camps. This was a sorrowful part of the journey, seeing “man’s inhumanity to man.”

We were also at Zakopane, where we experienced the Spirit of God on the mountains. At Krakow we visited the Wielicka’s Salt Mines and celebrated Mass at Saint John’s Chapel, about 300 meters in the Salt Mines. There, we learned we are called to be the salt of the earth, to preserve truth and God’s words. We had private Mass at Saint Mary’s Church Legiewniki and in the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy. All these we believe were guided by the Spirit of God, his love and divine mercy

Each day of our lives, this Spirit enables us to defend the truth, embrace our crosses, and prepare us with answers and explanations “to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,” which Saint Peter talks about in the second reading (1 Pet 3:15-18). It enables us to condemn what Hitler did to the Jews. It brings hope wherever there is despair; it brings joy in place of sadness; it brings patience whenever we are met with impatience.

With the gift of the Holy Spirit, may we joyfully continue to stick with Christ, embrace our crosses, follow the examples of the saints (Faustina, Kolbe, John Paul II), keep God’s commandments, remain in his love, and love our neighbors as Christ has first loved us. Most importantly, may we allow the Spirit to stimulate this love in us, especially in this time of pandemic and uncertainties!

Reflection Questions
1. How often do you keep the commandments of the Lord and encourage others to do the same, especially in moments of difficulties?
2. What challenges do you face in this regard?
3. Do you allow the Spirit of the Lord to guide you in your decisions in this time of pandemic?

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life In moments of Pandemic- Homily 5th Sunday of Easter Year A-2020

Homily: Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A- 2020
Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life In moments of Pandemic
Fr. Udoekpo Michael Ufok

v  Acts 6:1-7
v  Ps 33:1-5,18-19
v  1 Pet 2:4-9
v  John 14:1-12

Last Sunday we celebrated Christ the Good Shepherd. Today, the fifth Sunday of Easter, despite the ongoing health threat caused by Covid-19, we celebrate Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In some places, like the US, it is the mother’s day as well. We need a greater understanding of these metaphors or images, just mentioned as we approach the mysteries of the ascension and Pentecost in the coming weeks. We need a deeper understanding of these metaphors in this moment of corona-virus pandemic. We must also take into account these images—way, life, and truth—as we me make choices in life: the goals we pursue, the manner in which we endure pain, illness loss of our loved ones, how we love and forgive, how generous we are to our neighbors, balance our needs, and how faithful we are to Christ and his church, especially in this time of virtual worshiping.

From the early church and the spread of Christianity to now, there is nothing we could accomplish without the gifts of the Holy Spirit and Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The gifts of the Spirit are important because sometimes the way of Christ—a way characterized by love, forgiveness, and patience—can be bumpy and challenging. Challenging in how we can remain prayerful in times of economic needs or in moment of crisis as was the case in the early church, who had their own share of challenges.

Consider the challenging process of the choice of Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicarnor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, the seven deacons in today’s first reading. These men were selected in the midst of the need for the community to balance their needs. They were selected to serve the poor and the needy not because they were gifted in the politics of our world or shrewd. Scripture tells us that these men were selected to cater to the temporal goods of the church because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Recall I mentioned few days ago that the entire stories in Acts of the Apostles could also be called “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” We need the acts and guidance of the Holy Spirit in this moment of crises- to lead us, the leaders and the followers, to bring the best out of us to reconsider provision of basic health care, food, water, education, electricity, road networks infrastructures to our citizens.

Marking mother’s day this year must also be challenging to all of us- parents, mothers, families and children. No matter what we must rely on the gifts of the Holy Spirit while exploring various ways to be present to our mothers and our loved ones.

St. Paul in Galatian 5:22 tells us that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and chastity. These are also the characteristics we find in Christ, who is the Way, Christ-like values that we must follow at all times

In Evengelii Gaudium, Pope Francis elaborates on the importance of these fruits, and values especially as we spread the Gospel to people who are poor and marginalized. The spreading of the Gospel must be done with humility, patience, endurance and joy in spite of the uncertainties and challenges associated with following Christ.

This moment of Covid-19 is challenging for everyone. As Thomas and Philip would have asked Jesus today for the way and the knowledge of the Father, let us pray at this Mass for the grace to recognize that we are a holy nation, a people set apart to praise and worship God (1 Pet 2:4-9), love him, and follow his ways, to participate in the common priesthood of sharing Christ’s values in spite of the challenges we face today.

And may the mercy of God be upon us (Ps 33:22) in this difficult time, so that as we travel the way—be it a highway, a narrow avenue, or a bumpy or smooth street—we may always pattern our choices, our opinions, and our lifestyle after the example of Christ, who is the ideal Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:1-12).

Reflection Questions
1. How often do you see Christ as your way, especially in this moment of Covid-19 pandemic?
2. In what manners have you shown the blind and ignorant of your community the way to the Lord?
3. Are there moments you may have mislead others in matters of faith?
4. I what ways are we actively present to our Mothers and parents?

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Listening to Christ, the Good Shepherd In Times of this Pandemic, Homily.. 4th Sunday of Easter Year A

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A
Listening to Christ, the Good Shepherd In Times of this Pandemic
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Acts 2:14a, 36-41
v  Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-6
v  1 Pet 2:20b-25
v  John 10:1-10

In light of today’s reading, especially in this time of pandemic, we could name today’s celebration Good Shepherd Sunday. As a metaphor, “good shepherd” is an old biblical concept. For instance, we sang it in Psalm 23 toady. We read it also in Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34 and in many other places in the Hebrew Bible. Though an ancient concept, it remain relevant for us today. Many of our parishes and institutions are not only named after Christ the Good Shepherd, but we the metaphorical sheep are particularly invited to listen to his voice, the voice of life (John 10:10). We are called to follow him and listen to him, through his good representatives. We are invited to make Jesus the gate, the entrance of our life’s endeavors. Sheep are humble creatures, especially in comparison to goats or lions. And those who pasture them are usually very caring, responsible, compassionate, sensitive, and approachable. I have witnessed this firsthand in the Holy Land (Israel, Egypt, and Madabba in Jordan) during my years traveling and studying the material culture of the Bible.

The images of today’s readings—sheep, shepherds, and gates—made a lot sense to the early Christian community, and they are still relevant to us today. If Christ is the shepherd, we must imitate Christ in our dealings with one another. If Christ is the gate, the way to life, we must strive to walk the way of Christ. Since we are the sheep and the flock, we want to listen to Jesus—through holy Scripture, sermons and homilies, the Holy Eucharist, the sacraments, the magisterium (the teachings of the church), and Christ’s signs and miracles. We as sheep can also hear Jesus through one another, whether rich or poor—through our parents, experienced teachers,  civil and ecclesiastical laws, leaders, scientists, especially in this time of Covid- 19. We can hear Christ through our good mentors. We want to follow him. We want to recognize Christ’s voice, not the voice of strangers.

By “stranger,” Christ isn’t referring to somebody from California who happens to come to New York City or Holbrook, depending on where we are. He is not referring to people of other nationalities who happen to visit a church or find themselves in a new physical environment. There is no stranger in the church if you obey Christ and strive to do God’s will. When he speaks of the “stranger” in John’s Gospel, Jesus is referring to Pharisees, who all along have rejected Jesus and refused to acknowledge his divinity.

The “strange voices” of which Jesus speaks were those of the Pharisees who refused to acknowledge his miraculous power to change water into wine (John 2). Strange voices were those who questioned his cure of the royal official’s son. Strange voices were those who questioned Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Strange voices were those who rejected Christ’s compassion toward the sick on the Sabbath. Strange voices were those religious leaders who doubted Christ’s multiplication of loaves and his feeding of the hungry (John 6). Strange voices were those who questioned Christ’s forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), his healing of the man born blind (John 9), and his rising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:44-53).

In this time of pandemic we must watch out for strange voices in our own society.  Strange voices can come to us in our selfishness. It can come to us in our acts of indifference to the poor and the needy of our society. It can come to us in our indiscipline behavior or refusal to keep the rule of law in our respective locations and nations.  Strange voices can come to us in bad movies, corrupt leaders, inappropriate TV programs, the literature we read, the company we keep, and the non-biblical ideas we hear. As a Christian, when somebody advises you, think through their advice and double check to see if it conforms to the teachings of Christ or of his church. Or if it makes sense!

Even though the times we are in are hard and difficult, Let us from our different places of virtual worship pray that we may always, in good and bad times listen to Christ the Good Shepherd, the guider of our souls (1 Pet 2:20b-25). Let us always follow him. And like Peter and the eleven disciples (Acts 2:14a, 36-41), let us go out to share the love and justice of Christ, the good and ideal shepherd, with our neighbors.

Reflection Questions
1.  In this time of Pandemic do you consistently recognize Christ as the Good Shepherd and encourage others to do the same?
2. How often do you pray for your leaders and the heads of your families, that they may imitate Christ the Good Shepherd?
3. Can you think of any moments when you have not played the role of a good shepherd or of a listening sheep by being a good citizen or follow?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Difficulties that Bring Out the Best in Us!;; Homily- Wed, 3rd Week of Easter/St. Catherine of Siena

Homily Wednesday of Third Week of Easter (M. Saint Catherine of Siena- Udoekpo, Michael, Fr.@ shsst chapel
Readings: Acts 8:1b-8; Ps 66:1-3a, 4-7a; John 6:35-40

Difficulties that Bring Out the Best in Us!

 (1)In the midst of ongoing Pandemic, we celebrate today the life and remember the contributions of Saint Catherine of Siena,  virgin, co-patron of Europe, and the first woman or lay person to be named a Doctor of the Church. In addition to her life story we are also blessed with a good selection of scriptures, especially the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles 8:1b-8. Reflecting on this passage and on the Life of Saint Catherine of Siena in this era of Corona virus remind and challenge us to the sensitivity of the irony that sometimes difficulties can bring out the best in each and everyone one us! If there are difficult situations we cannot change; let the situation be a moment when we can change our lives, adjust and mend our approach towards a more and deeper trusting life in the Risen Lord, who is the source and Bread of life(John 6:35-40)!

(2) In the first reading Luke tells us that it was a result of the persecution of the Church of Jerusalem that that the gospel was spread to Samaria and beyond, in fact, to non-Jews towns and territories. Stephen became the first martyr. He was killed and buried under this umbrella of persecution and difficulties. Saul who would soon ironically receive his calling and conversion to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, in Acts 9, and occupy almost one-third of the NT later, was a key player. His primary goal initially was to destroy the Church. Scripture tells, he moves from house to house dragging out people, men and women for persecution, torture and imprisonment.

(3) The Greek verb used repeatedly in Acts’ passage (vv.1, 4; 11:9), that coveys this irony is diaspeirĊ, meaning “scatter.” But, I prefer to translate it as “spread.” It has a missionary implication. As members of the early church including Philip were running away from persecution and difficulties they spread the good-news, the bread and source of lives. They are healed, cured diseases, the cripples and paralyzes. In other words, seeming difficulties can sometimes bring out the best in us!

(4) In the case of Saint Catherine of Siena history has it that she was born prematurely with her twin sister, Giovanna into a very large Italian family. Giovanna, the twin sister later died at infancy, while Catherine survived.  About the age of six Catherine had a mystical vision of Jesus smiling at her and blessing her and leaving her in a state of ecstasy- perhaps to the amazement of her family
(5) When her older sister Bonaventura died, her parents wanted the 16 year old Catherine to marry her sister’s widower. She fought back and opposed the idea. As a result she was badly treated. She experienced all kinds of difficulties, including ill health, and opposition from her family not to join the Dominican Convent.  Catherine, after he had gone through a lot, finally joined the Dominican tertiaries in 1335, took the habit, and remained at home in prayers for three years.

(6) In 1336 she experienced a “mystical marriage” with Jesus, and actively expressed her faith through actions. She was a mystic and an activist. She cared for the sick, the needy and the poor. If it were today she would be center and front assisting victims of the ongoing pandemic. She was also a peace maker, and would often initiates a dialogue between quarrelling parties in Italy. Even though she went through difficulties and died at the young age of 39, her difficult life’s journeys brought the best out of Catherine, She became who God had wanted here to be: a Saint, a mystic, an activist, a lover of the poor and the sick, a co-patron of Europe and a doctor of the Church, whom the Church keeps honoring year after year!

(7) As the world continues to experience challenges and difficulties, as a result of Covid-19, many, politicians, civil and church leaders, are also realizing that the challenge of this virus can bring out the best in all of us- citizens and leaders.
(8) Andrew Cuomo, the governor of NY, during his press conference yesterday made this very same point. He said that the ongoing pandemic could make us Americans (Nigerians etc…) rethink of how vulnerable we are. How we are lacking in areas of tele-education, evangelization/spreading the gospel through media, health care system and in many other areas we thought we were invincible. This pandemic, he said, reminds us to appreciate more and more our essentials workers: cooks, drivers, cleaners, health workers and many others…..

(9) So for us here (and elsewhere..), when we want to get over-worried about our difficulties…. : be it about our ordinations' dates;  the rest our seminary formation, or travelling plans affected by this pandemic,  may the courage  and gospel faith displayed by members of the early Church and by St. Catherine of Siena, despite their difficulties(persecution, illnesses, loss of loved ones’, family rejection etc), inspire and  challenge us to continue to trust and hope for the best in the Risen Lord!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Recognizing Christ, Who Walks with Us- In this Time of Pandemic; Homily 3rd Sunday of Easter Yr A (2020)

Homily: Third Sunday of Easter Year A
Recognizing Christ, Who Walks with Us- In this Time of Pandemic
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Acts 2:14, 22-33
v  Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
v  1 Pet 1:17-21
v  Luke 24:13-35

The Emmaus story of today’s Gospel is a delight of preachers and commentators. It speaks to people of all ages including our own, this pandemic generation. On this Third Sunday of Easter, we are called to celebrate and recognize Christ, who walks with us on our journeys. He shows us the path of life (Ps 16:11a). Through the lenses of the readings just heard, we are invited to imitate Christ’s disciples: Peter, Cleopas and his companion, the eleven disciples, and the women who not only stood at the foot of the divine cross but were the first to witness the empty tomb and to recognize the truth and redeeming effects of the resurrection of Christ. In this time of Pandemic when, how and where do we recognize Christ’s redeeming power in our lives? Do we recognize it in our moms, colleagues, students, fellow staff member, children, and dads? In the poor and needy? In our neighbors, in our health care workers, civil and ecclesiastical leaders, in the songs we sing during worship, in the Eucharist we share, and in the sermons we listen to? In our offices, places of work, classrooms, and libraries? I believe there are so many opportunities for us, out there, to encounter Christ, like Christ’s disciples just mentioned.

In the first two readings we see Peter, the foremost disciple of Christ is at work. In the first reading (Acts 2:14, 22-33) we see him delivering a Pentecost speech, and in the second reading (1 Pet 1:17-21) we see him preaching the redeeming blood of Jesus. Initially, Peter had his own doubts; he had his ups and downs and human path to walk. Remember, Peter experienced failure: He violently cut off Malchus’ ear, and then proceeded to deny his master three times. But today he has chosen a different path: the path of life.

In this path of life, Scripture presents Peter as courageously and convincingly proclaiming faith in the truth of the risen Lord. He is not worried about his former failures. The Petrine passages we read today are not ordinary rhetoric; they are an enduring testimony to Christ’s love for us, the miracles he worked, and the healing compassion he brought us. He can do the same thing for us today in this time of corona virus. What Peter does in today’s readings is recognizing the power of God and the truth that sufferings, persecution, or the tomb was never, from day one, going to be Christ’s final destination. It was never going to be possible for Christ to be held by death. Peter’s life is an example of how God can change us and move things around in our lives, even in the face of sufferings and threat of this pandemic.

 Isn't it challenging for us that the denying Peter of the Passion Week has become a courageous disciple who uses every opportunity to bear witness to Christ.  The question we may ask ourselves: Do we explore every opportunity in our lives to bear witness to Christ or to recognize his enduring presence at our side? Or to be more personally, am I ready to change my path, which could be human over anxiousness, fear of the unknown, and follow the path of Christ- divine providence, and total self- surrendering to God’s will?

In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 24:13-35), the conversation between Cleopas and his companion on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus illustrates Christ’s disciples’ struggle with the Jewish community and the fear, sadness, and doubt they faced regarding Jesus’ messianic and redeeming presence following his death on the cross. We all have our own conversations, fears, and doubts in moments of crisis. This moment of pandemic is a good example.

Notably, in the Gospel Cleopas was walking back to Emmaus with a companion. Who was this other disciple that Cleopas traveled with? The name is not mentioned in Luke, but many theologians and spiritual authors thought she was "Mary the wife of Cleopas" mentioned in John 19:25. But, for me this once again rings the bell that we are in this faith journeys together, men and women.

We are called to strive to recognize Jesus in one another. Jesus was there for a long walk alongside Cleopas and his fellow traveler. However, they failed to recognize him until the sharing of the word of God and the breaking of the bread. These represent two key things we do when we gather, physically and virtually to worship: We celebrate the word of God, and we break bread—the holy Eucharist. The Scripture that Christ explains, from Moses to the Prophets, transforms Cleopas and his companion’s mindset and spiritual path. It changes their uncertainty to certainty. It calms their fear and restores their hope in Christ the prophet. They recognize him as a true redeemer and a peaceful Messiah. He has come not to fight his enemies and opponents with weapons and ammunition, as Peter had initially thought, but to bring them love, peace, and forgiveness. No wonder they said to Christ, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over” (Luke 24:29).

The Eucharist we break and the Bible lessons we share from our readings. Even on social media, radio, television, in this time of pandemic are great opportunities for us to encounter the risen Christ and have our faith nourished and restored, as was the faith of Cleopas and his companion.

Each of our faith journeys can be seen not only in light of Peter and the eleven disciples, but in light of Cleopas and his companion’s journey on the road to Emmaus. We must seize every opportunity on our own journey through life to recognize and feel God’s presence on our path. We want him to stay with us and walk with us. We want Jesus to be with us during meals, at Mass, as we read the Bible, as we pay attention to the sermon, when we’re on our sickbed, as we wrestle with this pandemic, when we’re experiencing bad times, and when we’re celebrating good times. We want Jesus to be with us whether we’re poor or rich. We want him to be with us at home, at church, in the classroom, in the workplace, and at school. We want Jesus to be with our children, our priests, our parents, health workers, fire fighters, our leaders, and our neighbors. He travels always with us on our paths. He shows us the path of life in this time of Pandemic!
Reflection Questions
1. How often do you recognize that Christ accompanies you every day?
2. How do you relate to today’s readings?
3. In moments of loss, or in this moment of corona-virus pandemic do you feel that the Lord is with you?