Saturday, March 25, 2017

Homily Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
·         1 Sam 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a;
·         Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-6;
·          Eph 5:8-14
·         John 9:1-41

Christ Looks Deeply Into Our Hearts
 Today we celebrates  our trust in God’s healing light, and hope in his boundless love for us not measured by appearances! God in today's readings gives us the vision of light, cures our blindness (which could come in different forms) and looks into the hearts of each and every one of us. He is the ideal shepherd (Ps23, Jer 23, and Ezekiel 34 and John 10). He loves us where ever we are. He cares for us and does not judge us from appearances. He shines his light and scrutinizes from within! Today’s scriptures substantiate this divine attitude toward us, especially the catechumens who are to be admitted to the Sacrament of Christian Initiation, and those that the society considers weak or the improbable, but fortunately and consistently uplifted by the ministry and preaching of Pope Francis.

 In today’s first reading God chooses shepherd David, the youngest son of Jesse to replace Saul as the new King of Israel (1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a) to the amazement of everyone. He does this irrespective of other seven sons of Jesse, presented to Samuel for anointing.  This story illustrates God’s choice of improbable savior. It shows that God can write on a crooked line. The same young David would defeat the gigantic Goliath in a battle (1 Sam17). This is how God works. In many other places in the bible we have seen God chose Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Rehab the prostitute, Israel’s Judges, the prophets, prophetess and priests, our Mother Mary, and of course David, irrespective of their human weaknesses or lowliness to work his marvelous. Some of them like Isaiah would argue, “O God I am a man of unclean lips” or like Jeremiah, “I am too young.” Or like Mary, “how can this be since I am a virgin.” It goes back to the reading of today. God does not see as human being sees. Human being sees the appearance, but God looks and shines his light of love and forgiveness into the heart of each and every one of us. Even though David on the long run would have his own trials, but God would insist and establish for him an everlasting dynasty-- in Christ! Are we convinced that God sees through our hearts and choses us in spite of who were are?
Similarly, in the Gospel reading of today, Christ’s healing of the blind beggar (John 9:1-41) receives mixed reactions as David’s choice was. It is viewed differently and humanly by everyone, the passers-by, including the Pharisees who so much depended on external appearances and judgments.  For them Christ was not from God, because it was an abomination to heal and to perform charitable works on the Sabbath. There were also those who disbelieve that the man was born blind, in the first place (v.18). Christ must have been “faking the miracle.”

They did not believe in Christ. Disbelieve itself is a form of spiritual blindness. The more reason they went to confront the parents of the healed man in order confirm how their son’s healing came about. Out of fear they couldn’t testify much to the healing mercy of Christ. They simply said to the Pharisees “my son is of age ask him, how he got his sight.” Apart from disbelieve, sometimes fear and lack of spiritual courage can also blind us or deny us of an opportunity to speak or witness the truth. Each of us are called to go out to the whole world and witness the Gospel!
 Beside the image of David, we are invited to turn to the blind man as our model of faith. Or relate to his experience of encounter with the Lord, the Light of the world. We have to do this recognizing that we  do have our own blindness and weaknesses (which could be indifference to the plights of our neighbors, irresponsibility to our duties, arrogance, laziness, selfishness, tribalism, parochialism, lack of creativity, racism and jealousy...).

 In the case of the healed beggar, even though he is thrown out of the synagogue, persecuted, denied and rejected by family members and close neighbors (vv. 8-34), the cured man once again was found by Jesus, the Son of Man, whom he completely trusts and believes in (vv.35-36).  He worships Christ, who reassures him that, he” came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see and those who see might become blind” (v. 39).
 With this Christ like God his father who appointed David king of Israel, is drawing a contrast between human sight and God sights. He is drawing contrast between the blind man who responded in faith to the light of vision brought him by Christ, and the Pharisees who claim to see, but disbelieve in the works of Christ. Human fear and faithlessness displayed by the parents of the blind and the Pharisees, can blind us from the light of Christ.  They are “fruitless works of darkness,” according to Saint Paul (Eph 5:8-14).

The light of Christ penetrates the hearts of each of us, in every land, culture and nation. It goes deeper than appearances. It knocks off the barriers of division, jealousy, racism and blindness of injustices in our broken world. It shepherds us (Ps 23) and brings us hope.  As we make progress in our Lenten discipline may we continue to trust in God’s healing light, and hope in his boundless love for us, that surpasses mere appearances!
Reflection Questions:

1.    Are you convinced that God’s love for us is not limited to our appearances; but shines through the darkness of our hearts?

2.    How can you relate to the story of the election of David, king of Israel, as against his other handsome brothers? And to what extent do you  share this story with members of your faith community with different social/political ideologies and agenda?

3.    In the light of the story of the healing of the blind man in John 9 what would you identify as your personal, or community’s blindness? Do you trust in God’s healing light and encourage others in your families, places of work and communities to do so?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Homily Third Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo


Homily Third Sunday of Lent Year A:  Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
·         Exod 17:3-7;
·         Ps 95:1-2.6-9;
·          Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
·         John 4:5-42
 Christ Refreshes Us with his Gift of Love
Many of us are familiar with today’s delightful Gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4. It is a story of God’s incarnate, Christ, who consistently refreshes and lavishes each of us with his gifts, with the “water” we need, especially the “water “of his love and mercy, his journeying with us, his rapport and his dialogue with us and our families and friends!
 This loving rapport and refreshment in the gospel goes back not only to the time of creation but its also evidence in the first reading, about the first Exodus, during the time of the dryness of the Israelite in the Wilderness (Exod 17:3-7). As they journeyed through the wilderness, in their needs God not only fights for them, hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but he provides the leadership of Moses, love, food, manna, and drinking water for his chosen people, in spite of them: a community who complains; who acts out Massah, who repeats the story of Merribah, and are often distracted from acknowledging the everlasting love of God. His gifts of mercy and guidance on our journeys. God is the Rock and the Love of our lives!
 Paul, as well, speaks of this ever consistent, universal and refreshing love of God in the second reading (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8). He says, “Brothers and sisters, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith,” hope and love. Ultimately, Jesus proves his love for us in that while were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
How often do we not complain like the Israelites in the wilderness, at Massah and Merribah? What prevents us from returning to God in our desert experiences? How easy  is it for us to fail to recognize the love of God in our lives, his blessings, or forget the history of our RCIA, the history of our Christian faith, those promises we made during our initiation into Christian faith; the history of God’s love for us in our thirstiness, in our hunger; in our deserts? In our frustrations! Remember, no matter our drynesses God is there to refresh us!
 The activities of this refreshing love of God is heighten in today's Gospel passage, when Jesus encounters, dialogues, listens, and shares a cup cold water with the Samaritan woman  in John chapter 4 (John 4:5-42). It is a faithful afternoon, in John 4. Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi is travels in company of his disciples from Judea to Galilee. He passes through Samaria. Here he meets this Samaritan woman who comes to draw a fresh water from the well of Jacob. Everyone must have been thirsty to a different degree: the woman, Christ and his disciples, since it was in the middle of the summer heat. To the shock of everyone Jesus, a Jewish rabbi breaks protocols and dismantles the unnecessary status quo. He approaches, this symbolic, individual, a woman for a cup drinking water. He also spends sometime chatting with her, respectfully, to the tacit disapproval of his disciples!
This conversation and exchange are much more than the search and thirstiness for ordinary water. Jesus is friendly, respectful to women and people of all cultures. It is not long the Samaritan woman recognizes this. She recognizes the gifts and the compassion of Jesus. She recognizes his divinity, his love, his prophetic role, his saving mission, his patience in dialogue, his forgiving power, and his spiritual depth as a true source of the Living Water. She invites the rest of the Samaritan town to trust and visit with Jesus, the source of life, and the Savior of the World (John 4:42).
During Lent we find ourselves not only in the Samaritan woman, but in the Samaritan town. From this town, from our respective locations, Jesus invites us to listen to him. He comes to us. He talks to us. He dialogues with us. He loves us. He provides us drinking water.
This water cleanses our personal faults and assures our uncertainties. It refreshes and replaces our thirstiness for material things with spiritual need. It replaces our hunger for war with peace. It replaces our desire for revenge with a thirst for reconciliation. It refreshes our stinginess with generosity, our selfishness with charity, our despair with hope; our jealousy with contentment. This Living Water of Christ refreshes our divisiveness with unity; our exclusivism with inclusivism and helps us reach out to others, especially the poor, the aged, the immigrants, the sick, the weak and the marginalized of our society.
As we journey through our deserts of Lent and Exodus of hope, may we strive to imitate the Samaritan woman, disposing ourselves for Christ’s healing mercy. As recipients of God’s mercy and his refreshing love may we in turn reach out to others, inviting them to partake in this bountiful love of Christ, and share in his spiritual drink of faith like the Samaritan woman, like the Israelites in wilderness.
Reflection Questions:
1.    How often do we not complain like the Israelites in the wilderness, at Massah and Merribah (Exodus 17)?
 
2.    What prevents us from returning to God in our desert experiences? Or encourage other members of our faith communities to do so?
 
3.    How often do we not fail to recognize the love of God in our lives, or forget the history of our RCIA, the history of our Christian faith, those promises we made during our initiation into Christian faith?
 
4.    As believers, leaders, preachers and modern prophets do we see ourselves in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4)?
 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Homily Second Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Second Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Gen 12:1-4a;
·         Ps 33:4-5, 18-20, 22;
·         2 Tm 1:8b-10
·         Matt 17:1-9

Rise Up, Do Not Be Afraid(Matt 17:7)!

In today’s Gospel of transfiguration and renewal Matt 17:1-9, Jesus tells his disciples on Mount Tabor to “rise up and do not be afraid.” This seems to capture the essence of today’s readings and the spirit of Lenten prayer, alms giving, Lenten fasting and retreats, since our life’s journeys are characterized by uncertainties, challenges, hardships, trials, and sometimes humanly unpredictable circumstances. These trials can show up in our communities in any disguise: Trials of poverty and trials of abuse of wealth and inordinate desire for pleasure. Trials of lack of comfort and and trials of  abuse of comfort, forgetting God, the poor, the needy and the common good. Trials of impatience and trials of indifference about the plight of our neighbors. Trials of overreaction and trials of uneasiness about change, transformation, renewal or fear of the unknown. We can only accomplish our Christian journeys if we trust and hope in God, if we put our faith in God; if we are ready like Abraham, Christ's disciples and Paul to rise up, take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus on his journey to heavenly glory!

In Genesis 12 Abraham, our patriarch is told to embark on a journey to the land promised him by God and never to be afraid. Trusting in God Abraham did exactly the same. He leaves his native Mesopotamia, without a GPS to an unknown destination: a land that God would show him. He is met with all kinds of trials. Sarah is barren for sometimes. If she is barren how would the promise of many children by God come to a fulfilment (Gen 11:31; 16ff)? King Pharaoh threatens to the beauty of Sarah and the veracity of Abraham (Gen 12:10-20). This goes on and on. In these trying moments, the only thing Abraham has is putting his faith, hope and trust in God. He keeps going. He journeys on. He is ready for change guided by God. He is not beaten down by trials and the hardships of his journeys. How do we handle our daily trials, illnesses, deprivations, hunger, confusions? Do you throw in the towel or do we keep rising, keep walking, and keep going in faith, with openness for a renewal.

Going back to that story of transfiguration- on his journey to the cross Jesus brought his disciples, Peter, James and John to the mountain of transfiguration, mount Tabor, where Jesus’s face was transfigured and transformed. Christ’s face shone like the sun to the disciples. His cloth also became white as a bright light. Moses the law giver and Elijah the prophet also appeared to them, chatting with Jesus. So many transformation here. The brightness of the sun and the serenity of this mountain top gave the disciples such a joy and peace that they would want to remain there forever, building houses for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
 But for Jesus the journey was not complete, without his cross.  Tabor experience was only the foretaste of his glorious coming; a foretaste of victory over the cross.  The disciples would have to keep going and be patient with themselves, not to be afraid, and not complain or tell anyone about this mountain top experience, this vision, until the son of man has been raised from the dead. The glory of this vision is not earth bound, but heavenly bound. Our Christian journeys are  not earthly bound, but heavenly. Our Lenten charities and disciplines are not earthly bound but heavenly, at the resurrection!

 Paul understood this as well. His missionary journeys, after his conversion and personal transformation, were not without ups and downs. There were times he was beaten, ship wrecked and thrown into prisons. He bore it patiently because he knew they were not earthly bound, but heavenly where God’s glory awaited Paul. The more reason he specifically says to Timothy, “beloved bear your share of hardship for the gospel, with the strength that comes from God (2 Tim 1:8-10). Who’s God?  The God of God of Abraham (Gen 12), who commands Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel to ‘listen to him,” who commands us to “rise and not to be afraid” Matthew 17:7!
 What are your challenges as  you journey through lent: temporary pleasure, abuse of alcohol, drugs, your body, inordinate taste for power, material possessions; attachment to  electronic gadgets,  selfishness, indifference attitude and insensitivity to our neighbor’s sufferings? How do we move beyond these challenges, beyond the Tabor experience? Or are your challenges and trials in form of hunger, joblessness, uneasiness about change, experience of injustice, violent, scandal, stress, betrayals, illnesses and disappointments or difficulty to cope with the pains of the loss of someone we loved?

Whatever form we may experience trials and hardship the Jesus of Lent and the Son of the God of Abraham wants us to rise up and never to be afraid as we journey in faith, hope and love through life.

Reflection Questions:

1.    What are your fears and life trials and how do you, in the light of today’s bible readings  exemplarily handle them in your faith community?

2.    How do we manage our blessings of wealth, comfort, money etc so that they do not alienate us from the Glory of the Lord?

3.    In faith and trust in God, do we our Christian pilgrimage as earthly or heavenly bound?

 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Homily First Sunday of Lent Year A. Fr .Michael Ufok Udoekpo


 Homily First Sunday of Lent Year A.  Fr .Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7;
·          Ps 51:3-6, 12-13,17;
·          Rom 5:12-19
·         Matt 4:1-11

Temptations/Testings and Divine Grace in Lent!
Last Ash Wednesday, introduced us into another Liturgical season of Lent.  It is a season we commemorates the 40 days of Jesus' prayer, fasting and moments of temptations in the desert. It is a time for prayer, fasting, alms giving and spiritual renewals. So many things to pray for including ourselves, families, world peace, and newness of life of charity, heart to forgiveness, love, hope and trust in God grace, manifested in Christ, at all times. The length of God’s grace during Lent is immeasurable.

Lent is a time we re-learn to say yes to God, manage our temptations, trials and learning from Christ who resists temptations of inordinate wealth, power and position in today’s Gospel account. Lent is a favorable time for a change of heart. A time to closely look at ourselves on the mirror.  A time to rebuild what was broken in us socially, spiritually and otherwise. A time to restore, take retreat, repair especially our spiritual houses and repent from sins which alienates us from the love of God.

 Socially, and in the light of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, The Gospel of Joy, familiar to most us, perhaps Lenten season provides us a golden opportunity to reach out to our neighbors, to renew our relationship with the poor, and strive to include the needy, the weak, the voiceless and the marginalized in our political and economic plans of our lands and nations. It is a time we reassure ourselves that God is near us. That he accompanies us on our journeys. It is a time we pray and meditate intensely with Psalm 51, which today’s response says, “be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” It takes humility to pray that Psalm 51. How many of us sincerely recognize and accept that we are sinners? Lent is a time we contemplate scriptures with humility.
What about that First Reading (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7), the second creation account? It’s a reminder that our God, our creator, though transcendent is immanent. Like a potter he created us from the clay of the soil, to love him and to serve him, in and through one another. He is a famer who farms with us. He walks with us as he did with Adam and eve in the garden.  He is the source of that tree of life for which we must make use of in obedience to the Lord. God expects us to stay away from that which is forbidden- sins and temptations brought by any form of serpent. This Genesis account reminds us of the importance of relearning obedience, that covenant of love, justice, righteousness, peace and trusting more and more in God’s grace to overcome temptations of our times—of which there are many that we can testify!

 In testimony to God’s grace for obedience Saint Paul  says to the Romans, in the second reading,  “ for just as through  the disobedience of one man, sin came into the world and through obedience of one man also many were made righteous” (Rom 5:12-19). It does not matter how grave our disobedience might have been in the past the grace of God through the obedience of Christ his son is able to power us now and in the future to resist temptation as did Christ himself  in the Gospel account, after his baptism( Matt 4:1-11)
In Matthew’s account after his baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the satan thrice: “if, you are the Son of God, command this stone into bread, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of this building or if you prostrate and worship me., all these shall be yours.” The good news is that Christ did not give into any of these desert temptations as some of the Israelites did during their journey  through the wilderness to the promise land, in the books of Exodus and Numbers! What a learning Lenten season? What a reminder of how to behave in the face of temptations, trials and challenges!

 None of us is immune from temptation. If Christ could be tempted who are we then? Lent provides us a food for thoughts on this important subject of temptation, resistance and God’s grace. As we journey through this Lent let us think of those trials and temptations in our homes, families, farms, factories and in other public and private places of our lives.  Secondly, let us turn and pray for increase in grace, that enables us imitate Christ in overcoming our daily challenges as Christian pilgrims on earth!

Reflection Questions:

1.    What is the meaning of Lent for you?

2.    What are your trials and temptations you may be currently working so hard to overcome?

3.    Have you ever been a source of temptation, scandal or mislead any member of your faith community? Or a source of Divine Grace?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Homily Eighth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U Udoekpo


Homily Eighth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isa 49:14-15;
·          Psalm 62:2-9;
·         1 Cor 4:1-5
·         Matt 6:24-34

God, the Provider In-Chief
 Today we celebrate Christ, the rock of our salvation and Provider In Chief. He is God’s Son who loves and comforts us in our worries. He never abandons us (his children, stewards and servants) in our lacks, needs, challenges, “tomorrow’s frustrations and uncertainties” as stressed in today’s scripture passages, especially the Gospel, which says, “do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself”(Matt 6:33-34).  Remember there has always been worries throughout history!

In the first reading (Isa 49:14-15) while the Judeans complains in Babylonian exile  of their hardships and sufferings- the loss of the temple, land, relatives and properties, Isaiah the prophet is also busy  reminding them that God will never abandon Israel. And rhetorically likens God’s love and compassion to a loving mother who would never abandon her child, no matter what! Can a mother forget her infant? We are God’s children, the renewed Zion. Our Lord constantly watches over us in our worries and troubles! He will never abandon us!
Today’s Gospel particularly also reflects a Jesus, God's incarnate who knows and understands human nature, especially his disciple’s nature, of which we are a part today. They worried so much. We worry so much about many things and life’s vicissitudes: What to eat, what to wear, what to possess! Some people today  go to the extent of worshiping money, power, position, material things, which sometimes could be a hindrance to their faithful relationship with God and their neighbors! Christ toes a different line. For him, when we seek first the values of the kingdom of God, love, humility, simplicity of life, total abandonment, deep trust in God, every other things will be added to us by God his father, who is the source of life and “Provider in Chief” of all things we need in life!

Even to the distracted, worried, conflicted,  quarrelling, judgmental, material-oriented, boastful and self-seeking Corinthian Community, this was also Paul’s message to them in that 2nd reading, 1Corinthian 4:1-5. He advises them “Thus should one regard us; as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God...it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”
How trustworthy are we of God’s love by serving God alone and by loving our neighbors in our little ways? How trustworthy are we of God’s love by seeking first the kingdom of God? How trustworthy are we of God’s protection by adhering to the spirit of evangelical poverty, using what we have judiciously for the common good (CCC2545,)? How trustworthy are we of God’s love by using our power, position and wealth ethically, and selflessly? How trustworthy are we by relying on God’s comfort and on his foundation as our rock, rejecting frivolous pleasure and inordinate pursuit of material things?

Pope Francis recognizes the importance of these questions and wrote, in his Joy of the Gospel, “the great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience” (n.2).
This does not mean that we should not work and study hard, farm or earn a living; have a roof over our ahead, plan our calendar for the next day, week, month, and year. But for our Lord, in as much as we toil in this life, work hard, ethically and sometimes encounter setbacks, we should never feel abandoned by God. In fact, just as a loving mother does not forsake her baby, our Comforting God will never abandon us in our needs and difficulties, even at the ninth hour. He is our comforter and the rock of our salvation (Psalm. 62). He is our Provider In Chief

 Reflection Questions:
1.     In challenging times do you feel loved by God? Do you still see him as Provider in Chief?
2.     In moments of lacks, exiles, sufferings and worries do you think of the Christ of today’s Gospel that you should not worry about tomorrow since tomorrow will take care of itself?
3.     And in what ways do you, like the Prophet Isaiah share the Gospel of comfort, total abandonment, evangelical poverty, maternal care, deep trust in God and hope with members of your faith communities?

 

 

 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Homily Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:  Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Lev 19:1-2, 17-18;
·          Ps 103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13;
·          1 Cor 3:16-23
·         Matt 5:38-48
 Love and Charity: the fullness of Law in Christ!
Today’s readings from the Sermon on the Mount on “Love of One’s enemies” and “love of one’s neighbors from the Book of Leviticus may at first hearing/reading sound very challenging. But in taking a second look the readings are all about God’s mercy, love, justice, holiness of life, making room for changes in our lives, making room for renewal and forgiveness. The strongest response to hatred is Love which is a great form of holiness, the true nature of God (Lev 19:2).
Many of you were born before, during and after the Vatican II. For those who were born before the Vatican II Council, you would testify that there have been a lot changes, updating, innovation and renewals, particularly in the areas of liturgical teachings and laws in the Church to meet the needs of the time and culture. Remember, there were times priests were celebrating the Holy mass backing the congregation. But today Masses are celebrated facing the people. There were times Scriptures at worship were read only in Latin. Today we can read it in English. Different nations and cultures can also read it in their native languages. Thanks be to God!
In some nations there were times women and the minority were not allow to vote at elections. But today those laws have been changed around.  In other parts of the world where cast- system and dictatorship style of government are practice, many are beginning to realize the need for changes. What about the issues of equal pay? In the past men were paid higher than women. Today, we are all agitating for equal pay. What about the “stand your ground laws” in different parts of the United States, Florida in particular?  Or immigration laws. Some are asking that this law be reviewed while some are pushing back!
There has always been changes.  In the first reading Book of Leviticus 19 we are told “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But in today’s Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “love your enemy” (Matt 5:44), no retaliation, be charitable to all. We were told in the Book of Exodus 21:24-25, quoted even by Jesus, today, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Matt 5:38-42).
 Jesus saw the need for changes and renewal with these laws just as we do today experience changes and renewed ways of interrelating our day to day civil and ecclesiastical laws. The retributive ethics of the Covenant Code, ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for tooth” that Christ is working on today from Exodus 21:24-25 was not meant to promote revenge and retaliation. Rather they were meant to protect the citizens against un-proportional, illegitimate and unending retaliation. They were meant to say if a “fly perches on your food you don’t need to attack the fly with an atomic bomb or AK47.  Otherwise you might cause more damage than the fly.
 I remember the last Russian –Georgia war the language of disproportional use of force was constantly used on the media. But for Christ, charity must overcome the thought and the acts of retaliation and violence and disproportionate wars not meant to dissuade attacking enemies and acts of terrorism.
Christ also takes up the Holiness ethics of the first reading, Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Who our neighbor in this passage? Granted that it was referring to a fellow Israelite, since a different attitude was required towards those other nations that were hostile to them (see Deut 23:1-3). Certainly, Jesus requires a different approach to things. Not as business as usual!
In the Sermon on the Mountain Jesus teaches us today to take a different spiritual and moral steps and a refined position with regard to our relationship with everybody including those we do not like so much, or those we know do not like us. Or those we disagrees with. Everyone is your neighbors, love them (Matt 5:38-48).
This could be challenging no doubt. But requires faith. Without faith and prayers, Christ invitation to holiness of life of non-revenge and non-violence or practice of charity to everyone, and good neighborliness, sounds frightening and impossible. They are possible with the grace of God. And we can do this in many little ways. In the way we treat the immigrant, the poor, the aged, fellow student, worker, spouse and family members, or  those we meet in travelling bus, train, sailing ship and in the flight etc.
It is uncharitable even to select those we say “good morning” to. Or engage in gossips, negative criticism, retaliations or spread falsehoods about our neighbors. For Christ this will be a pagan way of travelling. And none of us would want to travel that low road. We want to live and travel the law which is of fullness of love in Christ! Let us pray at this Mass for the grace to live this law of love with deep universal charity and spirit of faith- perseverance to be holy as our Heavenly Father is Holy (Lev 19:2).
Reflection Questions;
1. How do you feel when someone offends you: retaliate, love or forgive?
2. What counselling do you give to members of your faith community who feel offended or violated by others or the unjust socio-political structures?
3. Could you think of a few instances in your life where you have chosen to love than hate or retaliate against those you thought might have offended you?
4. Do you consider everyone you meet on the way your Gospel Neighbor or not and why?
 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Homily Sixth Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo


Homily Sixth Sunday of Year A:  Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Sir 15:15-20;
·          Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34;
·         1 Cor 2:6-10
·          Matt 5:17-37
 Law of Love and Grace in Christ!
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn that “the new Law is called a law of love because  it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law, inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity and, finally, lets us pass from the condition of a servant who ‘does not know what his master is doing’ to that of a friend of Christ” (CCC1972).
 It is this Law of love, grace and freedom in Christ that we celebrate today. These Laws are particularly evidence on the pages of the Sacred Scripture, both OT and NT, especially in today’s readings. These laws were constantly renewed, studied, updated and reinterpreted to meet the signs of times. Just as the laws of our various nations and societies, are today constantly scrutinized and reinterpreted to meet the needs of time. Laws in Scripture, especially in the Hebrew Bible, in the OT sections are reinterpreted in light of the mercy, love, compassion of Jesus Christ as fulfilled in the NT, to meet our needs and the needs of the Church.
For example, the three major codes of the OT, if we may begin from here: the covenant Codes (Exod 19–24; 34), the Holiness Codes (Lev 16–27) and the Deuteronomic Codes (Deut 12–16) all  were constantly updated, innovated, renewed and reinterpreted by Israel’s prophets and sages. The goals of these sages were to preach justice, peace, righteousness, faith, orderliness and holiness of life, trustworthiness in God and in the covenant of love he had established with his chosen people, Israel.
These goals transcend time. Who does not need justice? Who does not need Peace? Who does not cherish righteousness, righteous acts? Who does not appreciate the role faith in our lives? Who does not love orderliness? Who does not recognize the importance of holiness of life? These are necessities for all times. They are boundless and timeless.
In the time of Hellenism, when Israel’s faith was threatened by secular and Greek philosophical thoughts Ben Sira (200-175BCE) insists in today’s first reading that keeping the Torah or the fear of the Lord was the greatest wisdom and the best way to approach the challenges of life.  He says, “If you chose you can keep the commandments it will save you…. if you trust in God you too shall live… immense is the Wisdom of the Lord…no one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin” (Sir 15:15-20).
 So also with Christ, who was emphatic on his divine mission. He did not come to abolish the law but to perfect it, to fulfil it and to teach us new ways of living these laws, as clearly presented in today’s gospel (Matt 5:17-37).  I am sure as we listen to this gospel passage, the difference with Christ is love and compassion which he has profoundly displayed in the course of his ministry;  In his forgiveness to sinners, prostitutes and adulterers; In his healing compassion to the sick, the blind, the deaf, the cripple and lepers and tax collectors;In his breaking of the barrier of discrimination and racism;  In his reaching out to the Samaritan and the Syro-Phonician women in John 4 and Mark 7, something unprecedented in the old laws. The list of love, grace and freedom in Christ goes on!
Recall also, in the old Law the sinful high priest sacrificed and atoned for his sins and that of the community, repeatedly(Leviticus 16), but in the new law the sinless Christ sacrifices himself once and for all(Letter to the Hebrews).  In the old law whoever kills his neighbor would be liable to judgment. But in Christ Jesus no one should ever dare to call others name nor abuse his or her neighbors. In Christ these are forms of subtle killings. When we abuse, intimidate or call others names, assassinate their characters, especially our children and the weak, the defenseless, it makes them feel they are good for nothing, and dampens their spirit and confidence. Even sometimes the pseudo-media propaganda against other nations, especially the poor ones can also be very damaging and killing.
 When we deny our poor nations or neighbors’ children access to good education, when we exclude the poor, we have indirectly kill their social, political and economic future (cf. Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis). We have killed their prospect of good jobs. Good jobs comes with good health care insurance, descent homes, good income, clothing, and livelihood that stands to be handed on to future generations.
The law of Christ is the new law of love, trust and freedom, forgiveness and compassion. We should not have to swear before we believe or trust one another. For Christ, our yes should be our yes, and our no our no! This law of trust and confidence in Christ Jesus; the mystery of God’s love is powered by the Holy Spirit and it is written in the hearts of every human person invited to share this love.
Paul says, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heart, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for who those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:6-10).
This is the law of love, the law of grace and the law of freedom in Christ Jesus! And blessed are those who follow these laws of Christ even in challenging times and circumstances!
Reflection Questions:
1.    Are we open to change and to the mysteries of God’s love?
2.    How often and in challenging moments of interpreting our various laws do we ask for God’s grace and seek wisely, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know what Jesus would have done in such circumstances?
3.    How often do we share the laws of God recorded in the sacred texts and in the Church’s documents with our neighbors through the prism of Christ of today's Gospel?