Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thirty-First Sunday of the Year A: Reflections- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Mal 1; 14b–2:2b, 8-10; Ps 131:1-3; 1 Thess 2: 7b-9, 13 and Matt 23:1-12

Models of Leadership: Christ and  Saint Paul

The readings of today basically reminds us that those who have been entrusted with a given office of responsibility in the Church, in the Community or society at large, must carry out their responsibilities with humility, rather than arrogance and self-aggrandizement.

In the fifth Century BC Prophet Malachi reminded his contemporaries especially  the priest that they must refrain from corruption, keep the Sinaitic Covenant, walk with the Lord in humility and refrain from showing bad examples and causing others to falter.

Similarly, Jesus towards the end of his earthly ministry warned his disciples of the importance of evangelizing, teaching the gospel with love, even when he will no longer be there with them, physically (cf John 13). They must not behave like the priest of the time of Prophet Malachi nor like the Pharisees and the Scribes.

 These poor leaders and selfish leaders “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders; they will  not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” Not motivated by passion for Christ and the community they are called to humbly serve. As if these were not enough, “they like places of honor (front seats) at banquets as well in the synagogues,” where they will be seen, and not where Christ will be seen better nor serve better with humility.

On the other hand, true disciples and prophets must be willing to listen  to God, put God first,  , communicate godliness, give glory to God always recognizing that Christ is the only teacher (Matt 23:9). Jesus summarizes his instruction to the disciples saying, “The greatest among you must be your servant” (v 11).

In the same manner, Paul reminds us of his own behavior of service and leadership to the Thessalonians Community. While exercising our positions and duties be it in our families, in the church or government we must do it with the love of a good “nursing mother”. She cares tenderly for the child. She labors, she toils, bathes, cleans feeds the baby with love (I Thess 2:7b-9).

 Again, when we lead, teach humbly and preach with love, sense of true friendship, showing good examples, as witnesses and servants of the word, the message will be received not as “human word, but as it truly is, the Word of God,” (1 Thess 2:13).

For the priests, pastors and teachers, staff and faculty members in the Seminaries, the particular impact will be felt not only in the Seminaries and churches communities but also in the society at large.

Let us pray at this worship that in various places of leadership we may imitate the examples of Christ and St. Paul, not the Pharisees and the Scribes, as our models for loving, humble and selfless services.

Thirtieth Sunday of Year A: Reflections- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Thirtieth Sunday of the Year: Reflections – Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Exod 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thess 1: 5c-10 and Matt 22:34-40

Love of God and Neighbors

This Semester I am teaching the “Pentateuch and the Historical Books” at Sacred Heart School of Theology, a Seminary located in Hales Corners, Milwaukee.  The  14 students in the Class, are very curious to know, to learn more about Jesus, his ethics of love and what he expects of us in these challenging times,  especially when  the “language of love” if not misunderstood, has also become the order of the day, sometimes in a very subjective manner. Thanks be to God, the Holy Father, Pope, Benedict XVI, in his Deus Caritas Est, shares with us the facts  of true love, namely since God has first loved us we are invited to respond  to this  love by sharing God’s generosity and his image with others.

Laws in the Ancient Israel, including the first reading of today, (the Covenant Code/laws in the Exodus 20:22–23:33; Holiness Code Lev 16–26 and the Deuteronomic Code/laws Deut 12–26) were constantly rewritten, updated, innovated and renewed to meet the needs of time and to highlight the image of a just, loving and liberating God who is always Holy, forgiving and full of compassion. 

These laws were also many and sometimes confusing, such that even the rabbis, went to inquire from Jesus which of them was the greatest, “love of God or love of neighbor.” Sometimes we don’t blame them. How many of us today still do not argue about  what our founding fathers said or the best way to interpret our existing constitution?

 Many would argue that the rabbis were testing Jesus. Many would also argue that the rabbis had limited knowledge of the true meaning of their “neighbor”.  I guess, either way we can always learn. Who are we to tempt God? Who are we to store or hide God’s love only for our benefits, and not to share it with other peoples of all walks of life?

Jesus does it so well today as he did with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-28. He updates the old law. He combines Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 to form a summary of the new law of God’s love and redefines our neighbors, to include people we do not like so much. We are to love them not superficially, but with all our hearts, souls and minds just as we would have loved God and ourselves.

Talking about ourselves, I have once come across a friend, a very selfish person. He thinks of himself in a very egoitistic manner before others. If there any food on the table- he takes the lion’s share.  Everything is about himself before others, very domineering in attitude. At every meeting, he talks from the beginning to the end. His ideas are the “best” in the world and no other one. He has the monopoly of the “truth.”  This is not what Jesus is talking about. We all know the limit of selfishness and greediness. The Lord wants us to be able to treat others just as we would expect others to treat us (Matt 7:12).

The poor, the orphans, the widows, the aliens, the strangers mentioned in the First Reading, Exodus must be seen as our neighbors. They must be treated as members of our families. The way we treat  those we meet on the way, (Seminary, Parish Communities, Residence Homes, UN Assembly etc) with care, love, respect, kindness, politeness, compassion even visiting with the sick, and the aged measures the amount of inner love we claim to have for God.

 It also indicates how much we respect and love ourselves. It mirrors our thinking, thought and planning processes and  demonstrates how far we are willing to serve and engage with our true and living God (1 Thess 1:5c-10), who has first loved us.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Twenty-Ninth Sunday Year A; Reflections- Fr.Michael U. Udoekpo

Readings: 1sa 45:1, 4-6;  Ps 96;1, 3-5, 7-10; 1 Thess 1;1-5b and Matt 22:15-21

Give the Lord Glory and Honor!

 The summary of today’s Bible lessons can be located in the opening prayer of this mass, and in Psalm 96, particularly verse 7b which says, “give God glory and honor,’. Why?  There are so many reasons that we cannot exhaust here!  God is the source of all we have including our very existence and being. We are always his instruments- good or bad is another thing! But know that God can even right on crooked lines. God is the source of everything including civil, ecclesiastical and political authorities. These powers are meant for the common good.

The first reading of this Mass, Prophet Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 shows how God chooses  the Persian King Cyrus, as his divine instrument to deliver and save his  loving people from Babylonian exile.

Three things stand out in this reading: (a) salvation and deliverance of those in exile would be accomplished not by Cyrus but by God’s help, who “goes before Cyrus to level the mountains and shatter iron bars,” (vv 1-3a); (b) this deliverance will be accomplished for the sake of God’s people, “for the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel my chosen one” (v 4). Finally, (c) it will be accomplished so that all people, including Cyrus himself might know that the Lord alone is God “men will know that there is none beside me” (Exod 3:13-14).

Even when we carry out our civil duties including paying of taxes as recommended by Jesus in today’s Gospel of Matthew, our civil authorities and politicians’ today, whom I may choose to call, “Cyruses of today” must realize that God had called them by name. He selected them just as he had selected the Persian King Cyrus.  He puts them where they are, and expects them to act with equity and  deep sense of justice in distribution of goods and services to all citizens.

God wants them to have respect for natural law and fundamental human rights that touches and affects peoples of all cultures, towns, cities and villages. He expects them to promote that common good, not always their personal gains, but the ‘collective or common gains.”

You would agree with me that the challenges are still there everywhere: in our families, in our formation process in the Seminary, in hospital sick beds, nursing and residence homes- in those moment of loneliness or when we deeply feel neglected, abandoned, rejected, homeless, uninsured, insulted, exiled, I want you to know and believe that God is watching over you- to deliver you-just a little trust in Him is sufficient! He will “level the mountains” and shatter the ‘iron bars” of your life.

For our political leaders too, recent global protests in the main and wall streets, I believe are also some indication of dissatisfaction with their services. I am sure it will remind them that to whom much is given much is expected.  

Let us pray today, with St. Paul, calling to mind, faith , hope and love; that our daily lives ( and that of our political leaders ) may be guided by the  power of the Holy Spirit  to give honor  and glory to God, by the way we act responsibly and selflessly to foster common good in our neighborhood, in our faith communities, in the Church and  in the society at large.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Twenty-Eight Sunday Year A:Reflection- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Twenty-Eight Sunday Year A: Reflections – Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 25:6-10a; Ps 23; 1-3a, 3b-6; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 and Matt 22:1-14

Wrong Responses to Divine Initiative

Today’s Bible lessons deal with wrong responses to divine initiative. From creation God took the initiative in loving and calling us. How do we respond to this call and love of God as an individual, as a family, as a community and as a Church?

This time the central image relating to these lessons is that of a wedding banquet. We know throughout the Scriptures,banquet is a frequent image  which  expresses not only eschatological event, but  the reign of God, in which God gives himself freely  in order to save us.

In the first reading prophet Isaiah of Judah employs this familiar image of a banquet to describe the fullness of life  which God out of his own initiative has bestowed upon us, not just to Israel, but to people of all walks of life and culture, men women and children, married and unmarried.

The Lord, the Good Shepherd (Ps 23) invites us to attend this banquet: “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples, a feast of rich food and juicy wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this (same mountain) he will destroy the veil that veils all people, the web  that is woven over all nations, he will destroy death for ever… and  he will wipe away tears from all cheeks”( Isa 25:6-8).  All will take place during this special dinner or banquet.

In the Gospel Jesus uses this same banquet image in his parables of the invited quests and that of the man not wearing the wedding robe. Both parables deal with being invited to the kingdom by Christ.  It is a banquet, a call to intimacy with God, even through the Eucharist we celebrate daily. It is a call to a deeper and more personal relationship with Jesus and with our neighbors.

For the Evangelist Matthew this call is so important here. In verse 3 of the 22nd  chapter just read, he uses the verb kalein with double meanings (“to call” and “to invite” or summon), “summons and invitation are the same. They have a double duty here: “the servants were dispatched to “summon the invited guests” or literally ‘to call the called." A call that was being rejected by many who were invited.

As the parable went down we saw in verse 9 that this invitation or call and summons to this banquet, this Kingdom of God is irrevocable. God love for us is irrevocable. His love is not restricted to a particular social class or groups people, elite of or wall street, but even those on the main street are invited as well; everyone is invited, the good and the bad.

 Do you feel called to be here? Each of us is called. And what is God calling you to do? What is God calling me to do? And how do I respond to this call? God invites all of seated here to follow him in a different number of ways- good wife, husband, child, good and holy seminarian and priest! With him who strengthens us everything is possible (Phil 4:12-14).

On Friday, October 7th the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin I celebrated my 16th anniversary as a priest. I have always seen and cherished my priesthood as a “call.” In the various pastoral places which I have worked and studied since 1995, be it in Africa,  in the Middle East, Europe and here in the United States, I have always endeavored each day to remind myself that I am called to be a man of prayer, a missionary, and a man of communion who strives to imitate Christ the Good Shepherd- the same Shepherd song in Psalm 23, John chapter 10 and spelt out for by the Blessed John Paul II in the Pastores Dabo Vobis.

One thing that also struck me on my ordination day was  the homily by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then Nuncio to Nigeria, now in the Governotore of the Vatican City.  His emphasis was on the missionary Church. The Archbishop said, “Four of us were called to be missionaries even to our own families.” And this point is repeated today by the Congregation for the clergy, in the Circular Letter, The Missionary Identity of the Priest in the Church: that ‘the missionary dimension of the priestly ministry emerges clearly from the Christological starting-point’ Jesus was crucified and risen for all people, whom he wishes to gather together into one flock… the priest cannot fail to open his heart to all people” (cf. pp20-21).

At 16th I also had the chance yesterday to respond to an invited dinner. I didn’t turn it down! But I also had the chance to reflect on what Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote many years ago on the priesthood in one of his works entitled A Priest is Not His Own. Here Sheen stresses the uniqueness of the priesthood of Christ, which we all share in one way or other. In Christ’s priesthood, different from every other one which we read in the in the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ is both the priest and the victim.

In a changing world, where some of us will soon be ordained to serve, we must be ready to be ‘victim’ with Christ. We must put selfishness in all its ramifications aside and be ready to pour out our lives in the service of Christ, in the service of the Church and in the service of our neighbors. We do not want to act like those unresponsive guests, without garments absorbed in their personal activities, except God.

But we want to constantly cherish God’s divine initiative, which calls and loves us. He invites us to be in communion with him. He summons us into that intimacy with himself. He brings us into community with others and calls us to constantly work with the hope of salvation at that final invitation, prophesied by Isaiah, and fulfilled in Christ’s Eternal banquet.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflections Twenty- Seven Sunday of Year A: Udoekpo, Michael

Twenty-Seven Sunday Year A: Reflections – Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 5:1-7; Ps 80: 9,12-16, 19-20; Phil 4:6-9 and Matt 21: 33-43.
The Song of Love of God

I do love songs and music. I believe most people do. Song, in my native languages, (Efik/ Ibibio and Annang), is known as Ikwo. But the question is what type of “song, or Ikwo do we sing or listen to? What ever our selected and individual songs may be, particular songs are recommended in the  Bible lessons of today; the songs of our duty to God, fruits he expects us to bear, keeping the covenant, (Exod 19–24), the song of the love  of God and neighbor that runs, through our Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

Prophet Isaiah of the 7 century BC of Judah lives always with the tension of warning Judah of the danger of not bearing fruit of the love God and neighbors. He does this creatively and skillfully in the allegorical hymn of his beloved God about his metaphorical vineyard, Judah.

In spite of all the loving care God has lavished upon Israel from creation through Egypt’s and desert’s liberations, it has produced nothing except “wild and worthless grapes,” bloodshed, injustices and all kinds of violent cry, rather than righteousness.

Echoes of Isaiah’song are clearly heard in the Gospel of Matthew today. God the Land owner ((oikodeespothj) has planted us  as his vineyard (ampelwna) in this world in various roles and places to bear good fruits, to be accountable, prudent, responsible and to act justly in loving God and our neighbors. This is the Song!

Often times these could be very challenging in the manifest secular songs of subjectivism, terrorism, and wars, violent and faithless acts of rejecting the teachings of Christ and of the Church which we see daily in our contemporary world today.

In spite of these challenges and many more, St. Paul in the Second Reading gives us a quick reminder not to be ‘wild grapes,’ but bear those good fruits expected of us: doing “whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, excellence and worthy of praise”  and all that we have been taught by the Church (Phil 4:6-9) and seen in the lives of the saints.

It might include, feeding the poor, restraining from violent and war mongering, visiting the sick and the aged, embarking on a charitable apostolate with friends, families and community members, working to heal the wound of divisions and being faithful to our divine callings, the Covenant. This is the Song!

Lord may we continue to realize that you have given everything its place in the world, and no one can do otherwise.