Monday, September 26, 2011

Feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael- Reflections, Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels- Reflections
Readings: Dan 7:9-10, 13-14 or Rev 12: 7-12ab; Ps 138: 1-2ab, 2cde-3, 4-5 and John 1:47-51

I have no doubt that I was selected to preside over today’s liturgy, Feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael because I was named Michael by my parents at Baptism, at the watch of Fr. Walsh an Irish missionary.  Yesterday I was looking at the faculty listing to see if I could find, Fr.  Gabriel or Dr. Raphael on the faculty, there was none. But I know we have many Michaels and perhaps Gabriel and Raphael in the community as a whole. And I want to wish all of you including myself, a happy feast day.

Michael, (who is like God), Gabriel (the power of God) and Raphael (God’s medicine, or God heals); these three archangels have always been venerated throughout the history of the church. They are Scriptural as well.  We find Michael as the champion and defender of believers in the Book of Daniel10:13-21; in Revelation 12:7 and in Jude chapter 9. Gabriel features in bearing the good news of the mystery of the incarnation in the first chapter of Luke. While Raphael is found in the Book of Tobit, caring of Tobias on his journey.

Their existence is always proof of God’s loving care for humanity, for us. A divine care presented in symbolic imageries, in dualistic and apocalyptic languages of today’s Bible readings. I know of some priests and pastors who take a mini-vacation or accept Doctor's appointment when Daniel and the Book of Revelation show up at Liturgy. For them they are so difficult  to preach on, to interprete. They look for another priest to celebrate Mass that day for them!

Daniel 7 or Revelation chapter 12 consistently bears the Good News of hope, the gospel of encouragement for the oppressed, consolation for the persecuted and courage for the distressed believers and lovers of God of all times and culture, beginning from the 2nd Century BC, through the 1st century Christianity to our time.  The defeat of the symbolic dragon by Archangel Michael encourages each of us to hold onto that faith mindful of the help and defense these Archangels. When we hang out with them we can always resist temptation, receive healings and conquer all kinds  of difficulties and "dragon" of adversities in this life.

Even in our personal vocation, of various levels and roles here in the Seminary, as students, staff and professors we want to continue to see what we are doing here as a divine call. This is the same call that we hear Christ the Son of Man calling his first disciples Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael in today’s Gospel. They were call to be messengers, angels to their neighbors. Nathanael who was studying and teaching the Torah under the fig tree is proclaimed a perfect Israelite.  None of us is perfect. With the helps of these angels we are invited each day to strife after perfection in Christ, to be  his messengers. 

 Responding to this call, learning the Torah, mastering Christ, his values and vision not our own visions could be met by all kinds of “dragons’, challenges and road blocks of personal preconception. This is where we need God’s Grace and guidance of the Archangels. We also want them to help us become our brothers and sisters keepers, to become angels and messengers to our neighbors, within and outside this Seminary. And we are call to do this by words, deeds, thoughts and our daily body languages.

As we celebrate this feast today let us pray that Michael, Gabriel an Raphael the Archangels may intercede for us, protect us from all dragons and evils of our time, and inspire each of us to constantly imitate Christ in the midst of our daily work and studies and in the way we relate “angelically” with our neighbors, students, staff and fellow professors. Peace be with you.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year A; Reflections - Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Twenty –Six Sunday of the Year A: Reflections- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Ezek 18:25-28; Ps 25: 4-9; Phil 2:1-11 and Matt 21:28-32

We are called to do the Will of God

Today’s readings build upon the readings of last Sunday. We are called to obey God’s will and strive to understand His own meaning of justice. He loves us without boundaries. He demands actions and complete obedience and not empty words from us.

Ezekiel the prophet of Exile  made same message  clear to his contemporaries, including Kings like Zedekiah. He warned them that disobedience and sins have consequences, including  Babylonian exile. However, exile may not be the end. Repentance  and turning to the Lord brings restoration .  In other words, righteousness does not depend on empty recitation of the Ten Commandments. These must be translated into their daily lives.
This message is also well driven home in Jesus’ parable of the  two sons in today’s Gospel. 

In this parable  two sons were instructed to help out with some work in the vineyard. One hurried to “yes I will do” but turned out to do the opposite. He did not do the job.  While the one who initially said no, ‘I will not be able to do,”  finally went to do the  job. Does this sound familiar? These tendencies abound in our daily lives.

No doubt, many in Jesus' audience  including the Pharisees  listening to this parable must have been challenged, and embarrassed  to search  who to identify with, between the two sons. This parable teaches us to  do the will of the Father and not to be like the son who acceptes in theory what he turns out not to do in practice (v. 30). Following Jesus is a matter of consistency and practice. Doing  after the examples of Christ takes precedence over the sayings of the Pharisees!

This is the  same Christ-like obedience that Paul stresses in the Second reading. He says, “have in you that same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself taking the form of a servant, coming in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even to the point of death” (Phil 2:1-11).  Jesus is a doer not a talker- He says yes to God His father in every way to the cross, which turns to be a victory and a glorification (John 18–19).

 Whereever our social and religious locations are today, homes, schools, seminaries, offices,  religious houses and communities, factories, court rooms and farms we want to humbly recall  in prayers, those moments we have  fallen short of matching actions with our words. 

We want to prayerfully recall with regret those times we have fallen short of keeping our covenant promises-promises to love, to forgive, to denounce satan, to seek common good in imitation of Christ's loving obedience.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A; Reflections- Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Twenty- Fifth Sunday of Year A: Reflections – Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 55:6-9; Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 and Phil 1: 20c-24,27a and Matt 20:1-16a.

 Merciful God: A Generous  Father to All

Today we celebrate the surprising goodness and the generosity of God to everyone without boundaries. In Psalm 145, the Covenant of this same God endures for ever. His ways  are not only just but right; his greatness unsearchable. He is always near to all who call him, including those he sets free from the bondage of sin and exile.

 Humanly, this exile must have been painful and complete restoration challenging and frightening. Isaiah is absolutely right, that God’s thoughts were above theirs just as heavens were above the earth (Isa 55:8-9).  Restoration indeed is on the way, but there has to be new world of forgiveness, love and peace, worship of true God and of course complete repentance and acceptance of others!

God must be sought where he may be found (vv 6-7), especially in how we treat one another; and in how we forgive one another, in how we become less jealous  and less resentful of the good fortunes of others who have been likewise, or like us,/like you, blessed by God.

This was the case in today’s Gospel parable where the land owner, God in this case decided to distribute equally his wealth of denarius ,to  three groups of laborers  whom he had employed in the morning hours (6 and 9 am ) and late in the evening that same day. He rightly says he was not unjust because he has not broken the contract he had with the first two groups as stipulated by the law (Lev 19:13 and Deut 24:14-15).

 Quite similar in a way, to the story of the loving Father in the narrative of the prodigal son in Luke 11:11-32, the land owner(God) here is wondering whether he no longer has freedom to use what belongs to him as it pleases, including helping the evening employee who had been neglected to idleness (Matt 20:3, 7) by the status quo- put in place by a few privileged.

For those with narrow-minded sense of justice and spirituality, who grumble for no reason,  jealous and sad about the good fortunes of others, mercy, love, true justice, forgiveness of sins, generosity and universality belong to God, who distribute them as He wants, be it in the morning, after noon or evening. God can write on crooked lines. He can turn a “denarius a day” (Matt 20:2) into a “denarius each” (Matt 20: 9).

This parable sound familiar to us in a world or rising unemployment and resentfulness of others at home and work places even in the corridors of churches, synagogues and other religious structures.  It reminds us of the need to pray for our government, and the teaming  unemployed, homeless and the uninsured of our society today.  Particularly, as Christian/religious communities of faith and labor we want to constantly accept “many” new comers of all walks of life to Christ the author and sustainer of all labor factories and work places, who hires for His Vineyard, as he pleases.

  Also cognizant of  so “many” that are working hard  to discern their calling,  and to live their marriages or celibacy ,  we want to  constantly encourage  them including  members of our particular faith communities in  a way worthy of the gospel of Christ ( Phil 1:27).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year A: Reflections- Fr. Udoekpo Michael

Twenty Fourth Sunday of the Year A: Reflections- Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Sirach 27; 30–28:9; Ps103:1-4, 9-12; Rom 14:7-9 and Matt 18:21-35

 A Community of the Forgiven

 In the Second reading of today Paul says, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live ,we live for the Lord and if we die, we die for the Lord" (Rom 14:7-9). This  makes sense when we look back individually, as a family, a seminary, a church, as a community or society at God’s gratuitous acts of creation (bara’) in Genesis 1–11. 

 Yes, Adam and Eve had disobeyed, Cain offended Abel, man was arrogant with the structure of tower of Babel, yet God would still forgive. He would love. He showed this loving plan in His covenants with Noah, Abraham (12–50) and Moses (Exodus) whom he called. Besides Peter, Paul, Augustine and other saints in recent history, many Judges and Kings had come and gone with fractured covenant promises that led to exiles, but with enduring hope of restoration in a forgiving Christ, God’s incarnate.

This same forgiving image of God who freely and gratuitously created us in his own likeness and liberated us through his compassion is extolled by the Psalmist today:

“The Lord is  kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” A God who creates and liberates no matter what! He wants us to be like him, to imitate him in his compassion, orderliness and peace.

How do we respond to these image likeness of God? His compassion, forgiveness and love. How do I react to someone who gives me hard time challenges my faith, my beliefs and values so that when I pray as a Christian my sins would be forgiven?

Ben Sira and his contemporaries  had undoubtedly suffered terrible injustices including threats to their faith and existence in hands of Hellenism. Sometimes something similar to what we may continue to suffering today. Yet he recommended in the first reading, forgiveness and practice of those laws given to Moses by God in the midst of such difficulties. “Wrath and anger” he says are “hateful things.” We should always “think of the commandments” overlook faults and hate not our neighbors with vengeful spirits.

Similarly in the Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus reminds us that there should be no limit to forgiveness expressed rhetorically in “seventy-seven times seven,” (v 22) completely opposite Lamech’s vengeful spirit in Genesis4:24.  The illustration of Jesus with this parable of the unforgiving servant, once forgiven is compelling. If the master had forgiven  him, showed him clemency and mercy, he is supposed to imitate the  master- Christ in this case by forgiving  his friend in return, even with such  an incomparable  fragment of debt (v 33).

We need prayers at this Holy Mass, because it is getting harder and challenging in today's world of  wars, revenge, terrorism, litigations and discriminations, sometimes in a very fanciful and disquised  "sugar coated " manner. Where do we draw the line between particular civil laws of particular nations, of particular culture and the universal message of the Gospel- even after adaptation and inculturation. As a forgiving community when do we go to  civil  courts as Christians and when do we begin to imitate Christ, Paul and Ben Sira, or forgive as a community of the forgiven?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Charity of Fraternal Correction in our Christian Communities

Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year A: Reflections- Fr .Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Ezek 33:7-9; Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; Rom 13:8-10 and Matt 18:15-20

Charity of Fraternal Correction in Our Christian Communities

I am three weeks in our Seminary Community, and of course one of the newest faculty members, to teach the Sacred Scriptures. I thought it would take a few more weeks before my turn to be the Presider at our Sunday Community Worship.

But here I am today with great joy, perhaps fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 55:8-9 : “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,...for as the heavens are higher than your ways…my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”

The Readings of today for me seem to be very straight forward. It invites each and every one of us to deeply reflect on the themes of “Fraternal Correction, conflict resolution and unlimited forgiveness in our Christian/ecclesial communities.” How do we relate with one another when it comes to making corrections or helping to bring back to faith a “lose sheep” or a weaker member of the community.

Ezekiel, the Prophet of exile, in the first reading was confronted with these problems-with his contemporaries, returning from exile; the same Babylonian exile prompted initially by, idolatry, breaking the Covenant of God’s loving relationship with Israel, disobedience and stubbornness of heart. It is to this same community that the Psalmist sings to, “O today you would listen to his voice, harden not your heart,” (Ps. 95:7-9).

Ezekiel a contemporary of Jeremiah  preached to this  community once exiled, there is always hope; a light at the end of the tunnel, a hope of restoration, but for Ezekiel this must be accompanied by a complete change of heart (metanoia). Prophet Ezekiel also wants us to be aware that we owe ourselves, individually and as a community that prophetic responsibility of speaking out, that moral duty of assisting and correcting one another when necessary, for the good of the community and the church, but we must do this with mercy and deep compassion and mutual respect.

It is true that often we feel humiliated or put down if we are corrected by another person, our friends, parents, superiors, spouses, professors and formators.  With love, humility and openness we should not feel this way.  This is the love that St. Paul spent most of his apostolic career preaching about in almost all his 13 Letters. In the Second Reading, Romans 13:8-10, he says, “Love does no evil to the neighbor- but it is itself the fulfillment of the law."

Similarly, in the Gospel we are told in the same spirit of love and community care, if another member of the church sins against you go personally and point out the mistake when two of you are alone with the hope that he or she will listen, and the matter resolved (v15). But if you are not listened to take one or two other members as your witnesses (v16), something closer as was the case in the Book Deuteronomy chapter 19:15, for multiple witnesses could be persuasive. But you only have to tell it to the church or the local assembly if he or she still does refuse to listen to neither you nor to the witnesses you had brought along with you, and then proceed to treat him or her (proverbially) as a “Gentile or tax collector: “a tax collector”? This might sound a little harsh!

 But I will take this proverbially knowing in many places in the Scriptures, especially Matthew 8:5-13 Jesus extended his healing mercies to the servant of the Gentile tax collectors. Recall Jesus’ compassion to Zacchaeus and many others that the society had considered terrible sinners. He was accused of being a drunkard, a glutton a friend of the tax collectors and sinners.  The truth that Jesus teaches us is that, weak members of our community must be treated with love and compassion, individually and as a church.

I do not know if you have also notice in the short pericope of Mathew 18:15-20, read today, precisely only about 5 verses.  As short as it is  the verb “to listen” (akou,w )[= eva,n sou avkou,sh|(“if he/she listen to you,” ;  eva.n de. mh. avkou,sh| “ if he does not listen to you,”  eva.n de. parakou,sh| = if he /she refuses to listen to you.”]  akouein is  being used almost  about 4 times, once in verses 15 and 16 and twice in verse 17.

The implications of this is that, “To listen” in the Gospel Matthew is not the same thing as listening to the radio or news on the CNN, but it include an element of appropriate response. Many had listened to Jesus and responded inappropriately- the Scribes, the Pharisees. Some people can also listen to music in the radio  and get up and dance inappropriately. Listening, in Matthew’s Gospel means taking notice of, paying attention to, responding positively, repenting, being present for one another, understanding the needs of your neighbor.  In our own context, understanding the need  of your fellow member of this Seminary Community, students, professors and staff;   the needs of your spouse, friend, including the need to forgive and to be forgiven.

Let me give you another scriptural example, remember in Matthew 10:14 when Jesus had sent out the apostles on mission he gave them an instruction- saying “if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words—shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that town.”

We are invited to be listening and welcoming- community and church- to one another- and this I must say we are doing it well here. I learnt a lot on the Rector's day, in the class room, in the narthex and the hall ways, in the dining room and during recreations- the sense of oneness and fraternal corrections among the students, among the faculty members and the staff- reminding me of that portion in the Apostolic Exhortation- Pastores Davo Vobis of Blessed John Paul II article 66.  In talking about genuine unity in the Seminary Community, he says,

 “The educational community of the Seminary is built around the various people, the Rector, the spiritual father or spiritual directors, the superiors and professors. These people should be profoundly united to the Bishop, whom they represent in their various roles. They should also maintain among themselves, a frank and genuine communion. The unity of the educators not only helps the educational programme to be put into practice properly, but also and above all it offers candidates for the priesthood a significant example and  practical introduction to that ecclesial communion which is the fundamental value of Christian living and of the pastoral ministry.”

The community that prays together, confidence that the Lord is in their midst, be it here in the Seminary or in our various homes, has a responsibility to the fidelity of its members. The ultimate goal of each one of us is to love and care for one another and to persuade our weak brothers and sisters to repentance.

Let us pray at this Mass  for that spirit of love, compassion, oneness, fraternal corrections and conflict resolutions within the confine of our Christian communities as well as for the grace to always  genuinely listen  with loving- care to one another within our respective homes and communities.

Peace be with you!