Friday, February 25, 2011

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time C- Reflections, Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Eighth Sunday of the Year C; Reflections by Fr. Michael U Udoekpo
Readings: Sir 27:4-7; Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Cor 15:54-58 and Luke 6:39-45

Speech Reveals Character

Speech is one of the gifts from God. Like any other gifts it could be used wisely or abusively.  It can be use to build the community. It can also be an instrument of destruction and negative criticism. Ben Sira and Jesus today recommend prudence in the use language in everyday life and how we judge our neighbors openly or secretly. I want to add to inordinate use of speech, our other actions and negative silence. These exercises reveal our true character.

By their fruits we shall know them. Ben Sira from his wisdom writings addressed to daily and practical human problems of his time first of all reveals his character. Definitely, he was a wise man. He was a man and teacher of faith. He loved God, the Scriptures and his faith tradition.  For challenging imprudent speeches he must have been very charitable in his use of speeches and someone who would think and reflect before he speaks. Even when he was not using language, his life style and silence merits him the honor of a man of integrity, honesty and diligence.
With challenges of Hellenism he was aware of human suffering even in the course of doing Good or living the faith.. He taught perseverance and trust in divine justice.

And believes that, “the text of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just. The fruit of the tree shows the care it has had, so also does ones speech discloses the bent of one’s mind,” (Sir 27:4-7).

Or put differently by Lukan Jesus (Lk 6:39-45),

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. A good person, out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of the store of evil produces evil, for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

This calls for a Christian’s reevaluation of who we are truly called by Jesus to be.  We want to be good trees. We want to bear good fruits.  There is always a clear mark of differences between religious zeal, counseling, corporal / spiritual works of mercy and harsh judgment of our neighbors.

No one wants to spend his or her whole time on gossips, backbiting and criticising others uncharitably. We do not want to spend all our time pointing at the splinter in our neighbors’ eyes while there is a wooden beam sitting in our own eyes. These are not what we have in our storage. Rather we want to show that we are filled with love, sense of friendship, faith and the decency that Christ and Ben Sira have taught us by their examples.
 We want to be that good natured trees of Psalm 1 that bear good fruits of love, good will, prudence, with constructive words towards our neighbors, since “out of the fullness of heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45).

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time B: Reflections, Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Eighth Sunday of the Year B Reflections- Fr. Michael U Udoekpo
Readings: Hos 2:16b, 17b, 21-22; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 2 Cor 3:1b-6 and Mark 2:18-22

Groom’s Love, Christ’s Love

Today we celebrate the Love of God. In the pages of the Holy Scriptures from the Old to the New Testament this Love of God is expressed in different ways.  In the Old Testament God is always a metaphorical spouse of Israel (Isa 54:4-8; Jer 2:2).

For example in the first reading of today Prophet Hosea uses the imagery of unfaithful wife, Gomer to describe the unfaithfulness of the kings and the people of northern Israel of his time, in the 750s BC. Some were unfaithful to God. And some had also inflicted injustices on their neighbors, especially on their poor and weak fellow citizens.

For Hosea just as a loving and caring husband or partner would forgive  his or her unfaithful partner, God’s love for is quite if not more intense as well.  I was taking a ride a while ago with a young African American Lady attorney from DC to Baltimore area. One of the questions she put to me was “Father, what is the teaching of the Church if a wife or a husband cheats on his or her partner”? My answer was a long one. But the summary was that the Church teaches that such a cheating and unfaithful act is wrong no matter who does it, wife or husband. The church also teaches the need for repentance and forgiveness. I also wanted to know from her why upon all the questions in the world she picked that particular question. She told me she was once cheated upon by her husband, but she still loves him.

In fact, partners in history have also suffered pains and traumas  caused by unfaithfulness of their loved ones. It’s always a very painful and difficult thing to deal with. But many have also shared with me that the love they had had for them cannot be abandoned.

Similarly in Hosea, God is like a husband who has been offended by and unfaithful wife, Israel or vice versa. But this love is never shaken. He/she continues to love her or him. God loves us and “espouses us forever,” (Hos 2:16-22) as a groom to the bride.

Allegorically, this image of God as a loving bridegroom is seen in Christ Jesus who loves us and the Church. We read this in Matthew 22:1-14(the wedding feast), Matthew 25:1-13(the ten virgins) and the very popular one in Ephesians 5:22-32.
And Mark in today’s Gospel does the same. He adopts the spousal imagery of Christ to the life situation of his community when he says, “Can the wedding guest fast while the bridegroom is still with them” (Mark 2:18-22).

Like the presence of the groom at the wedding, the ministry of Jesus brings us joy and happiness, forgiveness and newness of life. It is metaphorical new wine and new garment, new evangelization, renewed preaching and renewed zeal for the Word of God.

 It is the good news of God’s victory over the power of Satan and darkness. It is a new covenant of love to everyone, including our enemies. Remember, Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors and with the Zacheaus  of his time. From the South He drank water from the Samaritan women from the North.  And taught universal charity in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. In John “everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-20). And there is no greater love than that of Christ who laid down his life for us his friends (John 15:13).

He wants us to do the same with people with meet on the way, loving them, everyone as God, Israel’s Groom, has first loved us.  As St. Paul would put it today, Jesus, the new prophets and the Church’s Groom wants us, our lives to be a "Letter of Recommendation" to the world (2 Cor 3:1-6). Such that people; men, women and children could see our lives, words and deeds and be able to give glory to God.

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time A Reflections -Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time A Reflections by Fr. Michael U Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 49:14-15; Psalm 62:2-9; 1 Cor 4:1-5 and Matt 6:24-34

Does God really care about us?

 The lessons of the readings of this Sunday particularly that of Matthew’s Gospel and Paul both are hidden in the lessons from the first reading, Prophet Isaiah Chapter 49:14-15, that God’s affection for us is greater than the love a Mom has for her child.  In Matthew Jesus stresses the danger of possessiveness, acquisitiveness, greediness, and pursuit of perishable treasures. He stresses the need not to be over anxious about things in this life (Matt 6:24-34). And Paul defenses his ministry against negative criticism and underlines the need for Christians to remain heaven focus through how we live here on earth with one another.

 Christ says, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). You and I know that sometimes possessions and wealth can distract us from serving God, from giving God our complete obedience. If we want to use the example of service here, an employed staff, worker or servant is expected to be completely dedicated to his or her duties. This had been the rules even from ancient times and that of Jesus.

Christ went on to say, “Do not worry about tomorrow.” Do not be anxious about your life, food, house, what to wear. For the poor and the destitute in Matthew’s community this must be have been a very tough sermon to assimilate at first hearing.   Is it possible for anyone poor or rich to stay without worries about anything at all in life, be it food, roof over their heads, or jobs with good benefits that are sometimes not easy to come by?  Or is it just enough for us to remain lazy at home with the imagination that God will walk into our door and dress us up  like the grasses in the field and with beautiful colors like  those birds there in the sky?

In our relationship with God, in as much as Jesus is not encouraging laziness, Jesus wants us in our various positions in this life, rich and poor to be completely and wholeheartedly trusting in God without limit, confident that the Heavenly Father would always provide for us in the most difficult worrisome situations of our lives.

What are your worries? Human worries will always be there. But we have to surrender them to God, recognizing His care.
For example, the other day I took a cap ride from the airport to our parish. The lady cap driver was a mother of two children, all boys. As soon as she knew that I was a Catholic priest, and cheerful, she was very relaxed, opened up to me. And our conversation from the city ride to Holbrook was on her two lovely boys, Catholic baptized and how smart they are. Two boys never for once talked back to their father nor to her. She said she was very closed them. And they were very closed to her. Her greatest worries were actually not food, nor what to eat or wear, but she was going to be by herself when they two children would leave for college.

 You see, not all worries are about food and clothing. Anxiety is never monopoly of the poor. Many worry about their children, their health, their love ones, the exams they had just taken, will I pass or not. Some worry about their investments. There have been rich people with a lot of money and property   who cannot go to bed at night because they are constantly worried that they would lose all their money to thieves, fraudulent individuals or to stumbling and crumbling in stock market. And they would return to the level of material poverty. Some cannot go to bed because they are worried they will lose whatever power they think they have.

There are some families that are like the Corinthian community Paul was addressing today’s in the Second Reading (1 Cor 4:1-5),  overtaken by quarrel, envy, jealousy, negative criticism, possessiveness, controlling and talking back loudly to one another. If you are from such a family or community I am sure it worries you when you are driving back home from work or school.

We all have these worries. It is a darkness part of our lives. Sometimes the darkness might be so intense like in the case of those who returned from exile in the first reading, to embrace a devastating community with harsh economic and political realities. Some thought God had forsaken them.  There moments we want to know where God is!  The truth of the matter is that He has not forgotten us. Just as a good mother would not forget her nursing child God will never forget nor forsake us in our worries and difficulties(in our search for peace in our homes, for the healing our loved ones, for that job to come our way, for a better understanding of ourselves in  our homes, parish community, and work environment).  Even should a nursing mother forget her baby God will never forget us.”  In fact, God’s affection for us is even stronger than the love of a mother nursing to her baby (Isa 49:14-15).

 And if God could care for plants and birds, God cares for us all the more. God will always be there for us in every circumstances of our lives provided we belief and trust in Him.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reflections Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time C- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time C: Reflections by Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: 1 Sam 26:2, 7-9,12-13,22-23; Ps 103:1-4, 8,10,12-13; 1 Cor 15:45-49 and Luke 6:27-38

Trials of Supernatural Endurance

The story in today’s first reading is a powerful faith story. It is a story of how we can love. A story of how we can be merciful unto one another. A story of how we can endure hatred and difficulties. It is a story of how vunerable we can also become sometimes, even when we presume we have it all. It is a story of how we can respect consecrated persons and things. It is a story of how we can respect one another the temple of the Holy Spirit.  It is a story of how we can forgive including those we know are not on our side.

Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, the first King of Israel, because of David’s popularity became envious of David. He sought to kill.  David fled from Saul’s army to the wilderness of Ziph with his friend Abishai. David as God would have it discovered where Saul was hiding and sleeping in the other side of the camp. His body guard and commanders including Abner were also asleep. All the deadly weapons that Saul and his military had were laying helplessly to their own detriment. In fact, Saul’s spear was stuck to the ground next to his neck and head.

Abishai, David’s friend suggested that the available spear be used to nail him to the ground for  immediate slaughter, but David for the second time spared Saul’s life, for he was God’s anointed.

Saul’s sins against David did not make Saul less anointed king of Israel. Sparing Saul’s life shows us how we can endure with God’s grace trials and all forms of injustices in this life, and how we can forgive and forgive in this life ( Matt 18:21-22).

I am positive that at least once in our life time we may have offended our neighbors before. And there are times at once we may have felt offended also. David teaches us to forgive and pardon during those circumstances.

St. Paul in Romans 12:17-21 says,

“Do not repay anyone evil; be concerned with what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, in your part, live at peace with all. Beloved do not look for vengeance, but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather if your enemy is hungry feed him/her; if he is thirty give him something to drink, for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

David really had a great heart. And David’s greater Son Jesus had a great heart of love of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus taught us how to pursue the right thing the right way not the wrong way.  In Luke 4:5- 8 Jesus refuses Satan’s short cut to the cross. He never works miracles to promote himself except, God. He updated the commandment of revenge to forgiveness.

In the Gospel of today (Luke 6: 27-38), He updated the rule of love of those who love you to that of love everybody including our enemies. We are to bless those who curse us and pray for those that have maltreated us as well as be charitable in passing judgment on our neighbors.  Christ also wants us to do to others what we would love done to us- the golden rule (Matt 7:12). Like David and Saul the foundation of this is God’s love. In John 13:34 he says, “I give you a new commandment, says the Lord, love one another as I have loved you, (to the cross).”

 Since we are Christ’s own let us pray at this worship for the greatness of the heart of love, endurance, mercy and forgiveness to those who have offended us, and forgiveness from those we have offended.  And may we always seek for an opportunity to love rather than to revenge.
Peace be with you!

Reflections Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time B-Fr. Miichael U. Udoekpo

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time B: Reflections by Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; Ps 41:2-5, 13-14; 2 Cor 1:18-22 and Mark 2:1-12

Bringing Christ’s Healing Touch to the World

In the last few Sundays we saw Jesus consistently doing good, healing people, including the illness of Simon’s mother-in-law. He went on to heal the lepers in Mark 1:40-45. Today Christ the new Prophets continues to forgive sin, to love and show comfort. Particularly he heals, forgives and wipes out the offenses of the paralytic brought to him by four men (Mk 2:1-12) at Capernuam.

We have so much to learn spiritually and pastorally from this healing gathering in Capernaum as well as from the liberating journeys of Israel from the dryness and paralyses of exile we have heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

When Isaiah says today, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago, consider not, see I am doing something new,” What is God telling Israel/ us through Isaiah? I want to believe that is all about God’s saving role in the life of Israel; God’s role in liberating Israel from the Egypt, the wilderness experience, the journeys through that desert which was fundamental to the existence of Israel.

Even after the liberating hardship from the desert’s journeys they found themselves again in the wilderness of exile in Babylon. Though liberated from exile how to get home became a problem as well. It was frightening. They needed words of comfort from Isaiah. It is sometimes hard for us to appreciate what a scary prospect this journey from Babylon to Israel must have been for them especially for the young ones who were born in Exile, Babylon would have been the only home they knew. We are talking about more than 900 miles on foot from Babylon to Israel on a stony dusty road. This will take months and months. But God was on their side wiping away their sins and guiding them throughout their dangerous journeys from Babylon to Israel.

The dangers and the hardship of exile can be compared with dangers of   illnesses, paralysis and even the dangers of sins that put a barrier between us, God and our neighbors. The Four friends of the paralytic knew that Jesus was there in Capernaum. Most of them also thought that being bed-ridden were as a result of sin (Jn 9:2). They also had knew with faith that it was Jesus alone who could heal and at the same time forgive sins.

 It must have been heavy to carry this man on the stretcher. Plus their faith, the unroofed the roof to make sure the sick man was brought to receive healing and forgiveness from Jesus. When Jesus saw the faith of the four friends he forgave the paralytic and cured him body and soul.

What a moving healing scene. Our Christian faith is not just reasoning but living. Faith has no boundary it can break through all kinds of barriers, including that of hatred to love, exclusiveness to inclusiveness. With faith we can also help our spouse, friend, brother, sister, parents and children to see the beauty of the forgiving power of God in the sacrament of reconciliation and in union with Christ in other Sacraments.

The four faith-filled friends who carried this stretcher represent who we are called to be, namely our brothers and sisters keepers. We are call to recognize how dependent we are on one another, and to assist one another in different areas of lives, seeking peace, justice, and working for the common good. We are call to offer good suggestions to our needy friends in our different professional circumstances; in the church narthex, hospitals, schools, offices, and homes.

And may the healing touch of Christ upon us today enable us to bring Christ’s forgiving and loving presence to the rest of the world.
 Peace be with you!

Reflections Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time A- Fr. Michael U Udoekpo

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time A: Reflections by Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
 Readings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23 and Matt 5:38-48

 Charity towards Everyone
I was born in the time of the Vatican II, just like many of you in this Congregation. But I have also seen that, there are many of you who were born before the Vatican II council. This group 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!
Remember there were times women and the minority were not allow to vote at elections in this country. 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 and update.
Why I am saying this? I am saying this because of today’s Bible readings. The Book of Leviticus 19:17-18, part of the Holiness Code (Lev 17–26) says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus today, in Matthew’s Gospel says “love your enemy” (Matt 5:44), no retaliation, be charitable to all.   The Book of Exodus 21:24-25, quoted even by Jesus, said, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but Jesus says, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Matt 5:38-42).
 What we must  bear in mind  as we reflect on these Bible passages is that just as we have laws in the church and in the society today been constantly reviewed or updated the ancient society also needed laws that were been constantly reviewed, innovated and updated to regulate it. Every Society beginning from the time of Moses, Paul and Jesus needed laws and ethical principles to regulate it. They needed an acceptable way of dealing with those who disrupt it.  For examples  laws in the book of Exodus were constantly updated in Leviticus, in Deuteronomy, in Nehemiah down to the time of Jesus. Think of what our society would have been without laws against running the red light or robbing a bank.
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.” And “neighbor” here  is  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 during the time of Christ these laws were also changing. But 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. Christ is telling us today that everyone is your neighbors, love them. We see the true Christian definition of a neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 29-36. We see this in the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan women in John chapter 4:4-42. This is what faith does. This is what the water of baptism does.
Sometimes without faith and prayers, Christ invitation to holiness of life of non revenge and violence or practice of charity to everyone sounds frightening and impossible.  They are possible with the grace of God. And we can do this in many little ways.
Christ did not come to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them. He rather came replacing s violence, racisms, discriminating love with his mission to the corss (Luke 23:24), teaching us how to love and forgive all including those who persecute the church or ill-treat us. It is uncharitable if we rush to  rashes judge our neighbors, “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16-23)  or put up a stone face or domineering behavior, becoming absorbed  in our personal limited opinions, and world-views in place of openness, a warm smile, or 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.
Let us pray at this Mass for a deep life of universal charity with perseverance in faith to be holy as our Heavenly Father is Holy.
Peace be with you!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sixth Sunday of the Year C- Reflection by Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Six Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C: Homily by Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 17:5-8; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6; 1 Cor 15:12, 16-20 and Luke 6:17, 20-26

True Happiness is found in God
Few Sundays ago we reflected on the spiritual significance of the nine beatitudes recorded in Matthew chapter 5:1-12a. Today we are presented with only four of them in Luke’s Gospel;
Blessed/Happy are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God
Blessed/Happy are you who are hungry now for you will be filled.
Blessed/Happy are you who are now weeping for you will laugh
Blessed/Happy are you when people hate you… behold your reward is in heaven

 This Sermon of Christ on the Plain (Luke 6:17, 20-26) among other things remind us that true and everlasting happiness does not reside in riches but in humble obedience to doing the will of God. This is not to say that to be poor is a pleasant experience. Imagine if you are poor to the extent of not affording a meal, a cup of coffee, no roof over your head, no health insurance and medical bills, no job, no tuition fees for your kids etc. We are told those who listened to this Sermon were the Twelve whom he had just chosen (Luke 6:12-14).  Just as we have people from all parts of Holbrook in this church, A great crowd of the disciples and a large number of people from Jerusalem and Judea, were there listening to the sermon of Jesus.
 I believe some of them may have been richer than others. But most of them were really poor in the true sense of the word.  Many may not have yet recovered fully from the pains and losses they suffered during those years of exile and colonial domination. Some of them may have also read or heard about the difficult experiences and the courage of the prophets like Jeremiah, particularly the text of this worship, that those who endured and trust in the Lord to the end shall flourish like a tree planted at the bank of the river.
Jeremiah a contemporary of Zephaniah, Nahum and perhaps Habakkuk preached in a very difficult time- in the context of the last years of existence of Judah as an independent political entity. It was not long when many were killed, deported and exiled in Babylon. It is a clear context of poverty, suffering and denial of freedom and justice- called it is a context of economic, social, religious and political poverty. It is also a context where the rich Babylonians and their collaborators are filled to the detriment of the hungry people fled to exile. It is the context of the laughing Babylonian military compared to the weeping children of God on dragged to imprisonment of exile. Jesus audience would have been familiar with the messages of the Prophets or come across their scrolls.
 Part of Christ's audience, his disciples, shortly before this sermon had also left everything, including their fishing nets and families to follow Jesus, to join not only the ranks of the poor, but their mission like that of Jesus was going to be ministering healing, freedom, liberty to people of all walks of life including the poor (Luke 4:18) and the marginalized.
It is also hard to imagine correctly what went on in the minds of the listening audience of Christ.  Iam sure there must have been at least one hungry person in that gathering or someone who felt not being loved enough. And even the rich in the audience who listened to the woes: ‘woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are filled now, woe to you who is laughing now. Perhaps, their reactions might have ranged from anger, frustration, and anxiety with regard to their place in the Kingdom of God.
When we look around it is true that our wealth when they are ill- gotten or even when well gotten, when they are not well used can also be the source of our unhappiness or un-blessedness. Sometimes we are rich with electronic equipments and poor of good human touch and relationship. Sometimes I do not know how correct these statistics are, the happiest group of people on earth is not necessarily from the most industrialized and computerized nations.
I want to believe, Jesus’ Sermon in Lucan Beatitude is a reflection on Psalm 1. It is an important Psalm about what really makes one happy.  For me it is a summary of today’s message. It is by walking not in the counsel of the wicked. It is by making good choices in life. (The choice not to talk back to mummy or daddy. The choice to listen to my teacher. The choice to do my home work. The choice to bear the crosses of our various states of life patiently) But by keeping the Torah, trusting God always and walking and serving with humility in this life within the parameter of God’s love and his Kingdom values.  And this include having a sense social justice, living the corporeal and spiritual works of mercies and using with humility our wealth , our God’s given potential  for the common good, bringing hope to the hopeless,  feeding the hungry, supporting our social ministry in this parish for the greater glory of God.  This is who we become not only happy, but shall flourish like a tree planted near the running Stream (Ps1).
 Peace be with you.

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B Reflection by Fr. Michael U Udoekpo

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary time Year B:  Homily By Fr. Michael Ufok  Udoekpo
Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31–111; and Mk 1:40-45

Compassion and Healing Mercy of Christ

Last Sunday Jesus healed the fever of the mother –in-law of Simon. The readings of today continue to present Jesus as new prophet, a martyr-messiah and a miracle worker. He brings mercy, forgiveness, compassion hope and renewal for the people of God especially the lepers as against the oppressive rulers and the establishment of the Scribes and the Pharisees in Jerusalem.

The compassionate healing of the leper by Jesus in today’s Gospel must have been shocking to everyone. Because as narrated in today’s first reading Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 whoever suffered from this type of skin/surface disease, leprosy (t[;r"+c')- we might call it Hansen disease, was regarded by the community as unclean and a threat to others. In fact, it was regarded as an incurable condition ( See also Matt 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-16).  Some in the ancient days thought it was even a punishment from God as a result sin. It was an image of sin. Remember that story in the Book of Numbers 12:10-15 after Miriam and Aaron had spoken negatively against Moses, Miriam is said to have been afflicted with leprosy because she committed the sin of speaking against Moses, God’s Servant (see also Deut 28:27; 2 Kings 5:25-27). As the disease progressive on the human skin, their limbs, hands, fingers toes, noses, mouth could be disfigured with flies paging on the sores.

For fear of contaminating others, they were driven away from the neighborhood and kept in isolation and restricted from using common roads, stores and facilities. They must let others in the society know that they were lepers by not covering their hairs. They must also wear torn pants and clothing’s. If there is any reason for them to step outside their isolated camps they have to alert others by shouting “unclean, unclean, and unclean.” This disease hand the power of separating members of the family from each other since contact with them would make others unclean!
If for whatever reason a leper thought he was cured he or she must go through a very prolonged ritual of cleansing procedure, as stipulated by the Levitical Laws (Lev 13–14). These elaborate rituals include animal sacrifices as well bringing oneself to be certified as cleaned and cured by the priest. Read Leviticus chapter 13–4 you will see it was not an easy process. This is what Jesus was dealing with love and instant compassion. No Levitical Bureaucracy.

It must have been an extraordinary healing session even to have a leper in the city, outside their camp. I am sure others were scared when they saw the man coming kneeling before Jesus. He didn’t “please Jesus kindly healed me.” Rather we said “IF YOU WISH YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN.” Probably, he knew, the hope of his hopeless condition was only going to be realized in Jesus. Jesus said to the leper, “I do will be made clean.”  “God show yourself to the priest, but tell no one.” But he went and told everyone. This understandable, the experience of gratitude of been healed. The experience and the joy of freedom from the discrimination, and isolation.  Freedom from the terrible stigma of leprosy and freedom from sins.

The highpoint of this lesson is the compassion of Jesus and the challenge to each one of us to be imitators of Christ’s compassion and forgiving spirit in our relationship with one another (1 Cor 10:31–11:1). Jesus acted with a deep sense of compassion. He touched this leper against the Jewish law. He did not cure him from a distance (which reminds me of the care I see a certain lay woman brings to the seniors, voluntarily in one of the health care facilities- not the best in our country). He showed how deeply he cares for us and ready to forgive and to bear our infirmities. Jesus has the will and the power of God to turns things in our lives. He can turn our talking back to daddy and mummy to listening obedience. He can turn our lack of attentiveness to our teachers and pastors to attentiveness. He can turn our selfishness to selflessness. He can turn our bad health to good health. He can turn our sadness to joy. Jesus can turn our peace-less-ness to peacefulness. He can turn our exclusiveness to inclusiveness. He can turn our weaknesses to strengths.
As it must have been for the leper, may our encounter with Christ today bring memorable healings and peace in our lives.
 Peace be with you

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A Reflction by Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A: Homily by Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
 Readings: Sir 15:15-20; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Cor 2:6-10 and Matt 5:17-37

Newness of Life in Christ

Some of my friends, students and parishioners have always said to me Father Michael I love the New Testament. While others would say I love the Old Testament. But my answer to them is always “I love both the New and the Old Testament. You need both of them as a Christian.

The New Testament tells us of the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. But that plan was always there from the beginning of time’’ “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…” (Jn 1:1). The Old Covenant which the Jewish people, our ancestors in faith call the (Torah and the Nebiim) the Law and the Prophets (Matt 7:12 Rom 3:21), are not outdated, rather they lead up to the New. The OT can only be fully understood in the light of its fulfillment. And only in the Light of the OT can Christian fully understand the paschal mysteries of Christ, his ethical teachings about various aspects of our lives including, murder, anger, adultery, divorce and oath taking or swearing. Jesus talks about all these in today’s Gospel. (Matt 5:17-37), which brings out a new way of living the law.

 For Christ  did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophet but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). This is the Law that the Pslamist insist on today:

And the Psalmist today says:

“Blessed are those who follow the Law of the Lord”.
 Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
 Blessed are those who observe his decrees,
 Who seek him with all their hearts” (Ps 119:1ff).

This Psalms not only brings out the importance of the law of Christ, but calls us to be faithful. It calls us to seek Christ with all our hearts. It implies that the Covenant God made with our ancestors in faith has not been annulled and shall never be cancelled. St. Paul in Romans 11:29 says, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” It is a perpetual covenant (testament, diatheke, berit) of love and redemption, God’s purpose. This purpose was to be fully achieved by sending his Son Jesus Christ to the world to mark the beginning of a new era of love, of faith, a new era of spirituality and a new era of forgiveness a new era of righteousness, restoration, perfection and renewal descended from the old- the Church.
In fact prior to the time of Christ and Paul, the Jewish people had always seen the Law/Torah and embrace the teachings of the Prophets as the main prism which enables us not only to live spiritually and ethically but to understand the meaning of life. It creates for us an awareness to endure threats of false teachings, idolatries and the challenges of life, to love one another, abide by the truth and to respond to God’s love.

 These challenges have been witnessed in different forms by different generations. During the time of Ben Sira (200-175BCE) Hellenism or empty human and Greek Philosophy was the greatest threat to their faith, their freedom, respect for women and children, social justice, ethical living and keeping God’s precepts. Torah or the fear of the Lord, the true love of God was what Ben Sira identified as the greatest Wisdom. 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.” (Sir 15:15-20).
 St. Paul also follows the footsteps of Ben Sira. For the quarreling and disorderly Corinthian Community, fill with empty slogans and human thinking (1 Cor 1:10-31). He recommends steadfastness to God’s precepts and Wisdom. For Paul God’s Wisdom which has been predestined surpasses the wisdom of this age. The ministry of Jesus brings to a completion (Plerosai ) call to obedience, full meaning and full revelation of this predestine wisdom and purpose of God.
Think of the different ways that humanity both ancient and today handle human problems including anger, murder, offenses and dialogue different from that of Jesus’ model. Sometimes we swear because we want to persuade our listeners. But for Jesus a simple “yes” or “no” or simple truth telling is sufficient for a child of God. Our differences can also be resolved through dialogue, by talking to each other, rather than resort to violence. This is where the newness of life in Christ comes in.
 For Jesus we can live the fullness of not  deeper conflict with our neighbors  by avoiding unnecessary anger and by refraining from cursing our neighbors and calling them names. We all know what anger can do or lead to. It can lead us into doing things we would regret shortly after.  It can also lead to broken homes and divorce that Jesus addresses also in today’s Gospel. Cheating or infidelity to one’s partner though wrong is not the only cause of broken homes and marriages today.  From the point of view of Jesus, Selfishness, desire to become rich overnight, lust that is harboring of desire for illicit relationship, envy, lack of the spirit of contentment may also compound problems for us. We know that when Jesus uses the metaphors of cutting away hands, eyes that lead us to sins, he meant to remind us to avoid some of the occasions that might lead us to ruining our relationship with God, and make room for forgiveness when we are offended or when somebody who was mean to us comes back to say, “I am sorry.”
In other words, God’s judgment comes with the flavor of forgiveness an newness of life. There is no limit to divine will and his love. Our kindness and forgiveness to one another must not be limited nor should violent be permitted to replace peace. Let us pray at this mass for the grace to always walk the path of the values of Christ by striving to live the newness of Christ love in full.
Peace be with you