Friday, January 30, 2015

Homily (2) Fourth Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


 

Homily (2) Fourth Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Deut 18:15-20; Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; 1 Cor 7:32-35 and Mk 1:21-28

 A True prophet is “a Prophet Like” Moses

There is a book in my Library, Great Speeches of our times, by Hywel Williams. This book contains speeches of Politicians and Human Right Activists such as; Eamon de Valera, Eleanor Roosevelt, J. F. Kennedy , and Charles de Gaulle; Martin Luther King, Jr , Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fidel Castro (Jan 1, 1999), Tony Blair  and  Barack Obama,-- our current president…

Speeches of the prophets, theologians and spiritual authors of our times, are not mentioned. The Bible readings of today, beginning with the first reading (Deut 18:15-20) reminds us these omitted speeches; the prophetic and reflective speeches of Moses; and Israel’s prophets (major and minor), their lives, their duties, their ministries, and the need for us to imitate them.

The prophet is one of us, a member of the people, a friend, chosen by the Lord to speak in the name of God (Deut 18:15). A true prophet is the mouth piece of God and a divine messenger.  A true prophet preaches with divine and moral authority, about God, not about him or herself. A true prophet is the conscience of the people.  A true prophet is not selfish, but sensitive to the evil and opt for the poor, the widow and the oppressed.   A true prophet cherishes the highest good and lives the truth with love, faith and hope for the divine blessings.

In matters of faith the true prophet is not a coward. He challenges every unjust status quo and seeks for a just and peaceful alternative. True prophets offer symbols and hope that are adequate to confront the horror and massiveness of the experience that evokes indifference and requires denials. The prophet is the one who brings to public expression those very fears and terrors that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we do know they are there. The prophet speaks metaphorically but concretely the truth of everyday life, that hovers over us, and gnaws with us. The prophet speaks neither in rage, nor with cheap grace, but with the candor born of anguish, passion, sympathy, empathy and compassion. In doing this the prophet free people from all types of slaveries, especially modern slaveries, and sins, mentioned by Father, Pope Francis in his 2015 New Year Message. Authentic prophets bring people, men, women and children to God.

The biblical Moses, of the Exodus, is an example of a true prophet. He suffered a lot, but endured a lot.  He challenged Pharaoh, and dismantled the politics of oppression and exploitation, by countering it with a politics of justice, true freedom and compassion and humanitarianism. Let my people go! He is a paradigm of all prophets. Speaking today in the first reading, says, “The Lord will raise a Prophet like Me from among your kindred, to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:19-20); because God speaks to us his will, and fulfil his promises to us through their mouths.

In every nations, lands and communities, times and places, even here in our Seminary Community, God is always raising prophets to speak to us in his name. Think of our parents, our Church Leaders, Popes, Saints, our teachers, professors, spiritual directs, the staff, spouses, and good friends, students, fellow parishioners around us, models of Christian virtues. Through these “prophets” we become better people each day, and strive to do the will of God!

In the second reading (1 Cor 7:32-35), Paul was also prophetic to the Corinthian community. Like Moses, Paul challenges the common but wrong practices of his time: factions, rivalries, abuse of marriages and our sexualities. Paul offers an alternative. If you are married, good! If you are unmarried, like him, good, be faithful to your vows of celibacy, for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Christ, in the Gospel (Mark 1:21–28), no doubt, is the prophet par excellence! And his prophecy is the norm for our lives. His birth challenges Herod and the powers that be! He introduces a new prophecy. He dismantles the proud and raises the lowly. He reaches to the poor, the Samaritan woman, the “Matthews,” the “tax collectors”, the “Mary Magdalens”, the “Zacchaeus”, the “Lazarus”, the “lepers” and the blinds, forbidden in the past.

Today he shocks the Pharisees and everybody in the synagogue of Capernaum, by preaching, healing, and liberating authoritatively on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21ff), against the status quo. For the status quo, the Sabbath was the sacred sign of social settlement. For Christ, the new Moses, the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. For Christ, the Sabbath must be a Sabbath for love, a Sabbath for healing, exorcisms, peace and forgiveness.

Jesus prophetic ministry is that of freedom from falsehood, deceit, false gods, intimidation, exploitation, immoralities, and deceitful practices. The ministry of the new Moses, Christ Jesus, also entails, unity, faith, hope, empathy, sympathy, compassion and justice. Christ invites all of us, wherever we are located, to take part in this prophetic ministry, beyond the shore of Galilee, but carry  our propheticism, prophetic spirit, to the ends of the earth, and to our innermost selves.

 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Homily (2) 3rd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily (2) 3rd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps 25:4-9; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

A Merciful and Selfless God, Slow to Anger, abounding in Love!

Today we live in the 21st century, standing on our faith traditions. But when we open our Bibles; when we read our Scriptures, especially the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we learn so much about God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, whom we are daily called to imitate. He is holy, generous, merciful, slow to anger and kind. We learn so much about Christ who once changed water into wine, healed the blinds, dialogued with the Samaritan woman, raised Lazarus from the tomb, ate with tax collectors, and encouraged Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, whom he later went to din with. He loved on the road to Calvary and forgave sinners on the Cross. He is selfless, humble and reaches out to everyone. He is persistence in calling us to himself, regardless of our "narrow nationalism," gender, language and culture, or which part of the continent, we may come from. Today’s readings seem to point towards the same direction.

In today’s Gospel, the selfless Christ knew a time would come when he would be “handed-over” he quickly initiated the calls of his disciples, beginning with Peter, Andrew, James and John, who were originally fishermen. Thank God, they left everything to follow Jesus, including their net, boats, parents, family and workers. They became fishers of men. What does this mean? Then became champions of God’s love, preachers and promoters of justice, unity, sources of divine mercy, and agents  of true evangelization, viceroys and conduits of the inclusive  of the message of God’s love.

This was something that was lacking in the Corinthian community that Paul was preaching to, in the 2nd reading. Selfishness, rivalries, abuse of marriages, sexualities, and overt worldliness perverted this community. Some of them forgot that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Many could not realize on time that everything is this world, our talents, our homes, money, power, wealth, our physical bodies our temporary and transitory.  We better make good and timely use of them, for the common good; for the glory of God, for the service of the community, and the entire church.

Jonah, in the first reading, also felt into the same trap of selfishness about God’s love, mercy and blessings. He is called by God to bring God’s message of love and forgiveness to enemy- folks in the far- East of Nineveh, in Assyria. Unlike Peter, Andrew, James and John, in the Gospel, Jonah resisted, and sailed the opposite direction, as far West as he can to Tarshish, I guess, to the direction of the present day Spain. In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, God has a way of insisting on his love and callings. No matter what, he keeps calling us. And perhaps, reminding us that, his divine thoughts, are not our human thoughts.

Granted that Jonah had problems on the way: shipped wrecked, swallowed by a big fish, tormented by nasty weather, he would eventually, by the grace of God, carry out God’s mission  of preaching repentance to the Assyrians, non-Jews and the Gentiles, as Paul did in Corinth.  

As funny and satirical as Jonah’s story may sound, together with the rest of today’s readings, it offers us a spiritual mirror to see ourselves as God’s instruments. God has called us to various missions which we must do selflessly, with all our talents, energies and enthusiasms. This story also offers us a mirror to see ourselves, how we still are, sometimes today in this 21st century: petty, intolerant to others, selfish and jealous to our neighbors, in many ways. And sometimes unwilling to let go, unwilling to admit that God’s love and mercy extends to all persons of every land and nations, Jews and Gentiles, gender and culture.

Therefore, If God is merciful, selfless, initiates all calls,  kind, forgiving, and compassionate, he wants us in our various states of life, offices and positions to  be forgiving, and merciful to those, who may have offended  or hurt us, and be loving to all those we meet on the way!

 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Homily (2) 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B: Fr. Udoekpo, Michael


Homily (2) 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B: Fr. Udoekpo, Michael
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-10; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20 and John 1:35-42

Listening to the Lord who Calls Us

 Today we live in a very noisy and pluralistic society.  Noise from fireworks, violence, religious extremisms, alarms, sirens, loud music, trumpets, car horns, sports whistles, cell phones, Tvs, Radios, gun fires, bomb blasts, thunders and wild winds, baby cries, sounds from animals and birds etc., plus people yelling/shouting at each other, wars and threats of wars, such that listening or paying attention in our various locations of life, is becoming increasingly important today, especially in matters that has to do with our relationship with God, who calls us reveals himself to us in different forms, especially in the poor, the rich, men, women and children.

In the readings, especially in the first reading (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19), and in the Gospel (John 1:35-42), the familiar call stories of Samuel and that of the Disciples of Christ: Andrew, Peter, etc., are presented, respectively. Each of these stories though delights of many preachers, are meant to remind us, among other things, that even though God initiates calling us to different stages of life, he expects us to respond with love and devotion. But, we cannot respond to what we have not heard. And how can we hear unless we listen, unless we remain focus, and resist those distractions!

In the first reading, Samuel is called do what many of Israel’s judges and the sons of Eli had failed to do. To carry the banner of love and keep the torch of the covenant-promise which the Lord had established with the house Israel. As a prophet Samuel would anoint the initial Kings of Israel. In hearing God’s voice he not only took counsel from Eli, but carefully and obedient responded, on the 3rd instance, as instructed, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” This might have well reminds us of Deuteronomy 4 , where Israel as a whole is called to listen, shamah Yisrael, but Samuel’s response, with a participle expression “listening” ([mv) adds to the force of his readiness and docility, also found in the voice of today’s psalmist, “here I am Lord I come to do your will” (Ps 40), and of our mother Mary, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me as you will” ( Luke 1:38), heard during Christmas!

Recognizing Jesus in the Gospel account, John the Baptist said, “Behold the lamb of God” (John 1, 29, 35-42), as we do at every Mass. Interestingly, “the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.” As Disciples of Christ God has called each of us in different ways, vocations and states of life: priests, religious, laity, celibate and in marriage. Many are also blessed in various areas of industries, socio-political and economic powers. In these callings, they are equally called to love, share their blessings with others, especially with the poor, the sick, the aged, the voiceless, immigrants, and the marginalized of the society.

 Not being indifferent to the plight of the poor is form of listening to what God expects of us today, which Pope Francis has also expressed in his recent teachings, particularly in his New Year message of Peace, “that we are no Longer slaves, but brothers and sister.” Our calling and how we respond to Christ must be inviting to others, women, men, children, the poor and the needy.

Let us pray that, in spite of the “noise,” the “distractions,” the “pluralism of ideologies,” the “sirens” that blow in all forms, we may like Samuel and the initial disciples of Jesus, of today’s Gospel, listen to his divine calling, and be ready to follow the “Lamb of God,” or say, in our lives and actions, “speak, Lord your servant is listening”!

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Homily (4) Baptism of the Lord Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo


Homily (4) Baptism of the Lord Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29:1-4, 3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38 (Alternative Readings for YB): Isa 55:1-11; Isa 12:2-3, 4bcd-6; 1 John 5:1-9 and Mark 1:7-11

 Come to the Waters; listen, that you may have life!
 Come to the waters, fetch it, all you who are thirsty that you may have life! This Prophecy of Isaiah 55, rhymes with the rest of today’s Scripture readings, and with the spirit of our celebration, the Baptism of Christ. It also gives meaning to our Christian baptism. Baptism gives foundation to our faith. Baptism washes away our sins, gives us the power, the freedom, the liberty to reject and renounce Satan.  With it “we are no longer slaves, but brothers and sisters,” as rightly articulated by Pope Francis in his 2015 new year Message. Baptism gives us that faith, the hope, and the grace to choose to do good and to avoid evil. With it we learn to love, bridge barriers, heal divisions, and are humbled. We learn to forgive, endure, and learn to tolerate others, the poor, the rich alike. It initiates us into the Christian life. We become soldiers of Christ and the light of the world. Think of the sacramental elements used during baptism, light, oils, candles, water, white linens, and even the feast after that, etc. With it we are born again in Christ, in the Spirit, and become God’s beloved adopted sons and daughters, “unless you are born again you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5).

In today’s Gospel Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. Coming up from the water, he sees the heavens open and the Holy Spirit in form of a dove descending upon him. He also hears a voice form heaven saying, “You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased,” (Mk 1:7-11). Are we listening? What are we seeing in the baptism of Christ! What are we hearing from today’s Bible readings? Or from today’s celebration!

Partly, perhaps, it is that Christ, a beloved son of God, sinless, submitted himself through the symbolic ritual of baptism not only in anticipation of his suffering, trials, death and resurrection, but to teach humanity humility as a requirement for a “life in Christ.” In his sermon Saint Augustine says, Christ, “desired to be baptized, so that he might freely proclaim through his humility what for us was to be a necessity’ (cf. Sermon 51, 33).

Isn’t this necessity pictured in the metaphorical banquet foretold by Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isa 55:1-11): “all you who are thirsty, come to the water? You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money… Listen that you may have life! I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.”

 The Baptism of the Lord invites us to come and share in the heritage of the servant of the Lord (40-55): the waters of justice, freedom, peace, the heritage of selflessness, the spirit of the common good, the heritage to love the poor, the spirit of inclusivism, the spirit to love and be faithful to the Church, the spirit to renounce sins, and the spirit to always love and pray for one another, especially those who are spiritually, morally and materially thirsty, or once exiled from the truth and the love of God, or had experienced difficulties in the past. Listening, changing hearts, seeking the Lord or willingness to come to this banquet are required of us, especially in a world full of other noises and distractions. In Christ’s banquet, in the Church, pardon, mercy, and love of God are available (Isa 55:6-7).

On the day of our Baptism each of us are brought into God’s house without material cost, but guided by the Spirit of God, without force!  It is a free renewal! No money is required for this banquet! Eat as you can! The wine and milk are free as promised Abraham and his descendants! Those promises are fulfilled in baptism! Only bring yourself!  Only listen and profess the Lord! Come into the gate of life! The love of God is free, the forgiveness of sin and the resurrection of the dead! In baptism we die with Christ. In baptism we rise with Christ!

In Baptism we receive God’s grace, love and faith. Johns speaks of this faith in the second reading:  “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him….whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith in Christ, who came through water and blood” (1 John 5:1-9).

As we celebrate the feast Christ's  baptism today, may we contemplate the meaning of our Christian baptism. May we, in our changing world of today, plagued with religious extremism, division, poverty of food, and even drinking waters;  terrorism and threats of war, diseases without immediate cure, continue to cherish our faith, gifts of been pardoned and loved by God as his beloved sons and daughters. And may we like our brother Christ, through the grace of our baptism be sources and conduits of life, peace, waters of spiritual refreshment, humility, attentive to the faith, obedience to God’s will, endurance, light of  hope, white garment of joy, happiness and loving service for one another.

Come to the Waters, Listen that You May Have Life!

 




Homily (alternate 4): The Baptism of the Lord, Year B:  Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 55:1-11; Ps Isa 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6; 1 Jn 5:1-9 and  Mark 1:7-11


 Baptism, a new Life in Christ


Today we celebrate the Baptism of Christ which reminds us of our Baptism. We celebrate our newness in Christ. I still remember that basic meaning of Baptism taught to me as I grew up. I was told that Baptism is Sacrament which cleanses us from sins, makes us Christians, children of God, and members of the Church.
I think this makes sense not only in the light of the Scripture readings of today where the post- exilic community of Israel are promised the gifts of new life of freedom and prosperity (Isa 40–55), fulfilled in the mission of Christ (Mark 1:7-11, Mtt 3:13-17, Lk 3:15-22; Jn 1:19-34).


Even when we think of the ritual of baptism it is refreshing.  The oil; the white garment, the candles, the salts and the Water. Prophet Isaiah says today “Come to the waters, listen, that you may have life.”  The responsorial psalm from Isaiah 12 also says, “You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.” Even though water (~ym) cleanses our personal faults and spiritual impurities, water has always been a symbol of life that goes back to the beginning of creation in Genesis chapter 1.
Jesus in his interaction with Nichodemus insists that unless he is born of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (Jn3:5ff).  In Baptism we are renewed in Christ. We are given a share in the supernatural life of God, the hope, the faith and the Love of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus by coming from Nazareth to be baptized today is not meant to show that he was a sinner. Rather Christ is identifying himself with us like the post-exilic Suffering Servant  in  the Prophet Isaiah . When Isaiah says, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water.” He is addressing those who had been suffering in exile without water and means of livelihood.
When he says, “you who have no money, come, receive grain and eat… for just as from heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there, till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the ones who sows and bread to the one who eats..” he is restoring the hope of life to those who were denied “life’ in exile. And Jesus for Mark and for us Christians is not only the fulfillment of what we had been promised, but the source of this life, which we all share when we die with him in Baptism. He is mightier and stronger than John and any other power, be it satanic and worldly (Mk 1:7).

Remember, soon after the Baptism of Jesus, and on coming out  from the water, there is a voice confirming Him to be God’s  beloved Son,  after which Jesus is led into the desert  of  wilderness of no water and food to be tempted by the satan (Mk 1:11-14). Just as our forefathers in faith narrated by the prophets resisted, and survived the pains, the agony the dryness of the desert experience and live to see the return to the promise land of milk and livelihood, we are all challenged to travel this road of faith and resilience against worldly powers and temptations. And this is the path of faith, the ambivalence of the wilderness that we all become initiated into during our baptism.
Christ whose baptism we celebrate today would be rejected. Being the Suffering Servant he would bear our pains and wounds. He would preach hope and love, justice, truth and forgiveness. He would resist temptation and demonic powers. As a beloved Son he will act always in obedience to the Father, doing the Father’s will. He would be the Light of the world and the Salt of the earth. By our Baptism, this is who each and every one of us is called to be.

 Let us pray at this Mass that as another Christ, the Baptism of Christ we share in, may remain a source of strength for us as we face the day to day challenges of our Christian living.

 
 


 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Homily (3) the Epiphany of the Lord: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily (3) the Epiphany of the Lord: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-2,7-8,10-13; Eph 3:2-3a,5-6 and Matt 2:1-12

Let Every Nation on earth Adore You O Lord!

The responsorial Psalm “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you Lord” captures the essence of what we celebrate today, the Epiphany of our Lord. Every Solemnity of the Epiphany brings us together “to adore the Lord,” and make him known to the whole world. Truly, our God freely and willingly manifested himself to us in Christ,  deserves adoration and our worship. He is the word that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This Word must be shared with our neighbors.

Saint Paul bore witness to this Word in his missionary journeys to the Gentile nations as noted in the 2nd reading. Paul says, to the church in Ephesus “you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefits…. That the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6).

 Paul’s message was long foretold by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See darkness covers the earth, and the thick cloud covers the peoples, but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appear his glory. Nations shall walk by light and kings by your shining radiance… bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Isa 60:1-6).

Christ's Birth is an entrance of Light into the world of darkness. It is an entrance of Light and Divine Strength into our human weaknesses, selfishness, self- centeredness, and sufferings. It is a manifestation, of divine goodness into our lives. It is an epiphany of God's love, his Mercy, his Tender Care and Kindness to all nations and continents, Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, queens and kings.

Epiphany is a manifestation of God to our children, to mummy and daddy, to husbands and wives, seminarians and priests, to friends, partners, politicians, poets, colleagues and peers. It is a feast when Jesus, who we celebrated at Christmas, is made known to the whole world, to every continent and nations: Lord, every nation on earth shall adore you” (Ps 72).

 Epiphany is a gathering of every nation to adore Christ. This is true even when you look at our faces, our colors, and our eyes, particularly our last names. I was recently in Africa and Europe the joy was the same at Christmas, every nation adoring the Lord- the power of faith- only Christ can gather us together at birth and at death. What a miracle of faith.

At his birth, manifestation many reacted: the angels, who sang, “glory to God in the highest,” the shepherds who traveled to the manger in Bethlehem to visit with the holy family, Simeon, the prophet sang the nunc dimittis, while Anna, the prophetess saw the uniqueness in Christ and spoke about this special child to everyone(Luke 2). What is your reaction to the story of Christmas, to the Christmas plays we watched, to Christmas carols and music we have listened to, to all the Christmas homilies we have heard from the lips of the Pope, bishops, different priests and pastors? Do you like Anna internalize it or be ready to go out a manifest this love to others, the poor and the rich? Or do you keep it to yourself?
 In today’s Gospel (Matt 1:1-12) the magi join in this chain of reaction. Guided by the star, they came all the way from the East, from abroad outside Bethlehem/Judea, to adore Christ, to worship Christ (proskunh/), to submit themselves to Christ. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and foretold by Isaiah the first reading.

Every nation adores the Lord, including those who studied the stars. God can speak to us. He can manifest Himself to us through our various professions and occupations. All that he requires of us are (the gifts of) disposition, willingness, openness and readiness, irrespective of our profession. You can be an attorney, a nurse, a doctor, a secretary, a receptionist, a broker, a plumber, a factory worker, a church volunteer, a student, employed or unemployed, a trader, wine maker/tapper, a bank teller, a football coach, a husband, housewife, a Jew or Gentile with deep faith.

We can learn from the Gentiles the Magi. Their journeys I believe were not rosy-rosy. Mostly likely there were some difficulties on the way. They must have left their homes, children and family members searching for Christ in a territory where Herod was appointed the king of the Jews by the Roman imperialism. I am sure being learned scientists they were not na├»ve, they knew, humanly it would be risky facing Herod, the reigning earthly king, when at the same time searching to adore the heavenly King, the true “King of the Jews,” and “the King of kings.” Being a faithful Christian in this New Year and at the same time a good citizen is not always easy. Being a good Christian and a good politician or a good member of the United Nations was never going to be without faith. These things are possible when we walk with deep faith, when we listen to the impulses of the Holy Spirit, when we follow the light of Christ not our own will, as the magi did and as prophesied long ago by the Prophet Isaiah “nations shall walk by your light.”

 Nations of professionals including the magi from Sheba shall submit (proskunh/) themselves to Jesus and worship him. The precious gifts the brought Christ from the East- gold, frankincense and myrrh are significant.    Gold recalls the royalty of Christ which lies in his mission of justice, peace, love, forgiveness and holiness of life- Not bullying, revenge and terrorism. In Frankincense we recall the perfume and the incense we use during worship- which is a symbol of hope and faith that we all place in Jesus our Messiah.

 In another place, Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthian 2:15. St.  Paul invites us to bring out that noble “aroma of Christ” among ourselves: peace, love, forgiveness, universalism, inclusiveness, friendship and acts of charity.  In Myrrh we recall the sufferings, the pains and passion of Christ (Mark 15:20-23; Matt 27:33-44). And it was with Myrrh in John 19:39 that Nichodemus anointed Christ’s body for burial.

 Epiphany is a celebration of our faith from the strength of our jobs, vocations and occupations. Many with various occupations gathered here have that faith. Many with various professions are still searching for that faith. Like in the case of the Magi sometimes the journey may be long and rough. In the case of the Shepherds they risked abandoning their flocks and rushing to see the Christ born at the manger in Bethlehem. Simeon and Anna did not mind their old age. They faithfully and passionate sang and spoke about the blessings brought to Israel by the redeemer- Christ.

For us when we finally find that faith we are call to share it with others. This is not a time for “globalization of indifference” mentioned by Pope Francis in his 2015 New Year Message. But a time to globalize the light/love of Christ to others. We are invited to share with and manifest the message of Christmas for our friends, relatives and in our communities. We are called to manifest that faith, to spread that aroma of Christ, that golden peace, that inclusiveness, that joy, that charity, that forgiveness, those gifts, among others, among every nation. Lord every nation on earth will adore you!

 

 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homily (3) Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God: Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo:


Homily (3) Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God: Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo: Readings: Num 6: 22-27; Ps 67:2-3, 5-8; Gal 4:4-7 and Luke 2:16-21

 Mary: Mother of Christ: Source of Peace

On every First January of each year the Church prays for peace, and celebrates the Solemnity of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and mother of Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Of course, she is also our mother, as confirmed her son, Christ on the cross, “mother behold your son, and son behold your mother”(John 19:25-26). She is the mother of the Church. Mary's motherhood is one of those special privileges given to her by God. Though human, Mary, full of grace conceived and gave birth to Christ, the source of peace and freedom. 

 Saint Paul in the 2nd reading of today, Galatian 4:4-7, acknowledges this special privilege given to Mary, and the human dimension of Jesus. Paul’s says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons" (and daughters). In Christ, we are  brothers and sisters; and " no longer slaves" as equally stressed by Pope Francis in his Jan 1st, 2015 New Year Message for Peace.

 This is an important dimension of our faith, acknowledging the human dimension of Jesus, why and how God came down in the person of his Son, Jesus, through a young Jewish woman, Mary. Through her, God enters into human history, and from the heart of history Christ proclaims the love of God and neighbors to us. He walks the street of Palestine. He reaches out to the poor, those in prison and slavery, the sick, the needy, raises the dead, cares for the orphan and the rejected, interacts with men, and children alike, without harming them, but brings them compassion and sincere healing love. Through Mary, Christ brought us peace and blessings!

 Today is also usually marked as the world day of prayer for peace.  Mary was peaceful all her life. And passed this on to her Son Christ. At the annunciation, Mary peacefully said to Angel Gabriel, “I am the Handmaid of the Lord be it done to me according to your Word” (Luke 1:38). She was not afraid to say yes, and to be opened to the will of God.  Never for once was Mary violent and abusive to those who disbelieved her or suspected her pregnancy. She dialogued with the family of Joseph and her family over the divine situation.

 In the Gospel reading of today, Mary and Joseph opened their doors and their hearts for the humble poor shepherd (Luke 2:16-21) who came to see them in the manger in Bethlehem, with the news of what had been told them about the Child Jesus. Mary, we are told, kept all these things in her heart.  What were all these things? All the reactions, including several prophecies of Simeon and Ann meant a lot for Mary. But she kept reflecting on them, peacefully. She trusted in Gods’ word, and handled all these events with serenity and gentleness. With this, Mary and Joseph, often known as a quiet and righteous, must have prepared Jesus for the ministry of peace, universalism and inclusiveness of the poor. Jesus of course would grow up to become the champion of peace.

 When we look back on the events of the last year be it  in our families, homes, Church,  the United Nations, in the Middle East, Africa or in Asia, Europe, North Korea including all the wars, trains derailing here and there, the natural and airlines' tragedies, the shootings and terrorist acts in our nations’ schools, movie theaters and religious centers, and other part of the world- recently in Russia- Ukraine, lSIS, Boko Haram, kidnappings of children in northern Nigeria, and human trafficking, threats of Ebola,  turbulent politics, health-care debate, government shut down, social and economic difficulties, or what Pope Francis would called in his new year message "globalization of indifference." Think of those who found themselves directly in these situations. Any of us could have been in such situation. We need to be grateful to God for this near year, and pray for one another. We need peace more than ever, in the world today.

Jesus, the Son of Mary is the source of this Peace (Shalom). He alone can heal us. He alone can heal our nations of our weaknesses, selfishness, our divisiveness, our doubts and skepticisms. He alone can give us that wholeness, that friendship, that sense of justice, that sense of oneness, that community spirit, that forgiving spirit, that Christian love and charity that we all need.

The priceless Peace, which Jesus the Son of Mary brings is a grace and blessing! This peace was among the blessings that God gave to Israel, through Aaron in the first reading (Num 6:22-27). Blessing Israel, Aaron said:  May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

  Today is also the day we say to ourselves “Happy New Year!” in various languages. We count our blessings and gifts of the past new year today. We make new year resolutions.  Think of the  blessings of life, our families, jobs, clothing over our nakedness,  roof over our head, food, soda, candies, cookies, ice cream, transportation, the security in our nations, the gifts of faith, the gift of the Catholic Church, the gift of our New Pope, the gift of our bishops, pastors, priests and deacons, our parents, teachers, our youths,  the gifts of our volunteers and parish staff, the gifts of the Knights of the Church, the Columbiates, the choir, our trustees, and various pious groups here in our Parish; the gifts of our jobs.

 As we begin a new year, we wish ourselves peace, trust, hope and faith in God. We wish ourselves a non-violent year, a year of the family. We wish ourselves good health. We wish ourselves the grace to forego bad habits. We wish ourselves greater respect for the dignity of the human person, greater sense of social justice and respect to the fundamental human rights of every person, men, women and children including the poor, the seniors and those at the margin of the society in our nations, the right to practice and treasure the Catholic faith, the right to wear cross, and crucifixes, the right to pray publicly without being ashamed of your faith and religion.  It is a year we want to continue to pray for the souls of our loved ones gone before us marked with the sign faith.

 As we begin a New Year, may Mary the Mother of God, Mother of the Church, intercede for us and our families, so that we may be blessed with lasting peace, and joyful New Year! And May “The Lord bless you and Keep you! May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.  May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace” in this New Year (Num 6:22-27)!

Happy New Year!

 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Homily (3): The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (3): The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Col 3:12-21 and Luke 2:22-40( Alternate 1st and 2nd  readings for Year B: Gen 15:1-6;21:1-3; Ps 105:1-9; Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19).

Re-Learning Family Responsibilities from Mary, Joseph and Jesus

It is not surprising that following the celebration of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, we re-gather today to contemplate and celebrate the virtues of the Holy Family of Mary Joseph and Jesus. In fact, this Feast makes a lot of sense for us, since we are all fruits of a given family, a community of parents and children, brothers, sisters and relatives. Today, we celebrate the responsibility we owe each other. The family belongs also to the people!    The family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus was a family of “Yes!” and openness to God. Mary, in those Christmas stories knew how to say, Yes, fiat to the Lord, “Be it done to me according to your Word,” (Luke 1:38).  The righteous and quiet Joseph, listened to the angel Gabriel as well. He took Mary Home (Matt 1:24). Joseph provided for the safety of baby Jesus in Egypt. Jesus’ parents were humble. They paid close attention to whispering of the Holy Spirit into their ears. They knew their responsibilities.

 Today’s Gospel presents us with the episode known as the presentation of Jesus in the temple; which is the 4th joyful mysteries. Remember the five joyful mysteries, the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity [birth of Christ], the presentation and then the finding of Jesus in the Temple. These are all part and parcel of today’s Gospel, which actually sheds light on the responsibilities of the Holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.  Like any other family, after the birth of Christ, Joseph probably must have gone back home, and perhaps going about his carpentry work, and having to deal with customers; while Mary probably was busy with household works and changing of diapers.  These did not distract them from prayers, singing the psalms or keeping their customs.  They remained devout and prayerful.
 In the Gospel, we are told, when the time came Mary and Joseph  carried out the Jewish customs and rituals of offering back their male child to the service of the Lord, remembering the sparing of their Hebrew male children in Egypt (Exod 13:1-2, 11-16 Num 18:15-16) and the purification of the mother (Lev 12:1ff).  In the Temple they met Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jews, who all recognized Christ as the Messiah, to  the amazement of Mary and Joseph. Simeon sang the Nunc Demittis ((Lk 2:29-32). They were grateful to God for what he has done for them. For them Christ was not only the Messiah,  the redeemer, He would be a sign of contradiction and the cause for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and a Light for the Gentile.

Mary and Joseph were also told by Simeon that through this light for the Gentiles, “a sword would pierce their hearts.”  Through Christ, some would rise and many would fall.  This sounds scary. But it came to be fulfilled. Jesus would challenge the status quo. Jesus would preach the truth fearlessly. He reached out to the poor, to the marginalized, healed those they were thought could not be healed. He ate with sinners defying ancient traditions, not to do so. These, of course, would cause resistance among the Pharisees, Jewish elites and the Roman soldiers, against him. His life from conception was a mystery!

Truly the mysteries surrounding the life of Jesus, which we daily recite when we pray the rosary, were challenging to Mary and Joseph.  They were like a sword to Mary and Joseph. Many swords actually pierced their souls.  Think of the swords of poverty, humility, (anxiety, when Christ was lost in the temple and the event of the Holy Week/Easter—can summarize this)! They were very poor. Mary and Joseph had no place in the Inn. They slept in caves days leading to Christmas. After the birth of Christ, some of their guests were those poor Bedouins and the shepherds. During their customary purification ritual Mary and Joseph were so poor that they could not afford a lamb or a sheep, except two turtle doves (Lk 2:24).


 Isn’t it interesting that the mother of the Lamb of God could not afford a lamb for ritual cleansing? Mary and Joseph did not deny their lowliness, who they are, something we could learn from. Mary openly acknowledged her lowliness and poverty with joy, every now and then, especially in the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).  Besides the sword of poverty, Mary and Joseph experienced the swords of opposition to Christ, false accusations against him. Mary in particular witnessed the suffering and death of Christ. She was at the foot of the Cross. The sword that pierced through Jesus' side pierced through Mary's heart. Mary suffered with Jesus. She is our co-redeemer. Mary and Joseph teach us how to endure in raising our children, in redeeming our children, even from drugs and other abuses. They had nothing, except, hope, faith and love, which they share with us. The faith learned from Abraham, Sarah (patriarch and matriarchs, Gen 15, Heb11)! They teach us how to be  good fathers, mothers, and neighbors.

 We can also learn from Christ, then the Child Jesus. Each time they made to the temple, for Presentation and Passover, we are told in the scriptures, the child went back home and was submissive and obedient to the parents.  He responded to the love of his parents. He learned basic wisdom and the facts of life, the “fear of the Lord,” from them.

 On the feast of the Passover as narrated in the last section of Luke 2:41-52, Jesus, then 12 years old stayed back in the temple without the knowledge of his parents. Realizing this at home, and like every good parents, they went anxiously looking for Jesus. As if it was another sword, Mary said “son why have you done this to us, your father and I have been looking for you with anxiety.”



At the end of the day Jesus went back home with his parents. And Scripture says, he “was obedient to them,” (Luke 2:51).  And was advanced in age and wisdom before God and man (Luke 2:52). He obeyed his parents. Echoes of such obedience are heard in the first reading of today (Sir 3:2-6, 12, 14), that, Whoever honors his parents atones for sins and preserves himself/herself from them. When he prays he is heard, and whoever respects the mum stores up wealth and riches for him/herself and will live long (cf. Exodus 20:12; and Deut 5:16).

 

You and I know, especially our parents that we live in a different time today. Today, there are many fathers and mothers who walk away from their mutual responsibility to their children, leaving them with third parties under the name of personal freedom or 'too busy at work." Divorce has also become the order of the day, to the detriment of our children. Today’s society is also searching for where to draw the line between rights of parents and of those of their children: the movie they watch, the drinks they take, the conversation they engage, and the examples they are shown. Are they adult food, drinks, movies? What examples do we show to our kids!: how we treat each other, how we return home from work on time, join the family at meals and how we relate and respect our next door neighbors?

 I am  the sixth child in a family of 4 surviving brothers and two sisters from same mom and dad. I have other step brothers and sisters. Customarily we respect our parents. We honor them. We show gratitude to them for many reasons- for raising us, for breast-feeding us, for the food, clothing, for the tuition, for teaching us the faith, name them.  We never talked back to our parents.  The respect is so deep and mutual that we cannot call our parents even our elderly ones by their first name. Usually whenever there is any misunderstanding in our family everybody is eager to work hard to have the matter resolved with compassion and love.
 This is the Family Life in the Lord that St. Paul addresses in the 2nd reading (Col 3:12-21). The family is a place where each of us would learn to put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Like the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ it is place where we learn to pray, to sing Psalms, cultivate wisdom, respect, honor one another and lay our spiritual foundation.  It is a place where we learn to visit our parents and seniors in the nursing homes, hospices and hospital. It is a place where we learn to be our brother's and sisters' keepers. It is a domestic sanctuary for faith, hope and love.  It is a domestic church, school of virtues, where we lay the foundation for the values and virtues we bring to our larger Community, churches, schools, places of work and governance.

As we approach the table of the Holy Eucharist today, let us pray that each and every one of us may return home today, nourished by the virtues and exemplary lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.