Friday, February 27, 2015

Homily (2) 2nd Sunday Lent Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Homily (2) 2nd Sunday Lent Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15,16-19; Rom 8:31b-34 and Mark 9:2-10

Offering It Up To the Lord!

Lent is one of those intense liturgical times. It is  a kind of a great retreat. A time of prayer and penance, when we are called to offer ourselves to the Lord: our  personal feelings, our freedom, what we love, our ears and hands, our bodies,  our families, jobs, our opinions, our illnesses, sufferings, pains of the loss of a loved one, fears, joys, faith, hope, and treasures to the Lord!
All these are communicated in today’s Bible Lessons, beginning with the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac to the Lord!. Abraham is a righteous man, a saddiq, because, he listened, he obeyed, he left everything in Ur and embarked on a journey of faith. Faith in the Lord was Abraham’s GPS (Gen 12ff). His journey was marked temptations such as; conflicts with Lots, his Nephew; with Abimelech over Sarah, above all the barrenness of Sarah.

When the only child, Isaac finally came, Abraham, in the first reading is, asked to offer Isaac to the Lord (Gen 22). Abraham did not “spare his son.” He offers not only his son readily and willingly, but his listening and obedient services to the Lord, at the land of Moriah. Abraham and his descendants are blessed with many gifts, for not withholding Isaac, his beloved son from the Lord, foreshadowing God’s gifts of his Son, Jesus Christ, to us.
Saint Paul stresses this mystery of God’s teaching gifts and offering of himself to us through Christ, in the Roman Church, to whom he ministered.  Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”(Rom 8:31b-34).

Christ’s healing, loving and forgiving mystery up to the Cross is God’s offering and ultimate sacrifice for us. Prior to this Cross, is the Tabor experience of Christ’s transfiguration and prediction to his disciples, Peter, James and John (Mark 9:2-10).  With the dazzling cloth and glorious face of Jesus, the disciples would want three tent to be built Israel’s great prophets, Elijah, Moses and Jesus. Like in the case of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac, Peter’s proposal is met with a voice from heaven, “this is my beloved son listen to him” (Mk 9:7b, Matt 17:5).
Lent is a time self-emptying. It is a time of listening to the New Moses more closely, in the Word, Scripture Readings and through the Sacraments. It is a time of sacrifice and offering up our senses, our treasures, our illness, talents, joys, fears, hope and sorrows! Making sacrifices also involves, participating in acts of evangelization, parish ministries, for the sanctification and salvation of others. It involves forming somebody we are responsible for, our children and grandchildren, our students; seeing the need to forgive generously and promptly; feeling forgiven and loved by God and our neighbors!

Sacrifices and offerings can also be expressed concretely in charitable works, in improvement of attitude and conduct, in taking side with God and promoting issues of social justice. Thus, we are invited during lent, to imitate Abraham, Paul, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Mother Mary in searching for those Lenten opportunities, in our everyday life, during which we can offer ourselves, time, and talents generously to God, through our neighbors, around us!



Friday, February 20, 2015

Homily (2) 1st Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Homily (2) 1st Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Gen 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-9; 1 Pet 3:18-22; and Mark 1:12-15

Renewing Our Covenant with the Lord!
On Ash Wednesday we all received the Ashes, and were introduced into a new liturgical season of Lent, a Church’s offering.  Lent, knowingly, is a season of prayer, fasting, repentance, spiritual and covenant renewals. It encourages us to listen more and more, and of course, to break and share the Word of God with greater generosity.

 With today’s Gospel, it is also a reminder of those 40 days Christ spent in the desert, fasting and praying. We are reminded during lent of the value of obedience to God and how to manage trials and temptations that we face in this life (Mark 1:12-15).
It provides us an opportunity to reconcile not only with ourselves, but with our “seen neighbors” who leads us to our “unseen God.” It provides us an opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries of charity,  clear consciences, works of mercies. During Lent, we recall our baptismal promises, and renew our covenant with God.

In my “The Pentateuch & Historical Books’” Class, I often, ask my students to share with the class the concepts or their basic understanding of biblical covenant.  In their responses, I do hear: an alliance, contract, promises, identity, relationship, pact, faithfulness, trust, obedience, union, abiding presence, and our un-breakable bonds with God etc.

 Lent provides us, an opportunity to review our covenant, our alliance, pact, our relationship with God. What about our identity, who we are call to be, as Christian- clergies, religious and lay faithful, while we remain opened in obedience and humility to be nourished by the Word of God, the Sacraments, and by the examples of the saints!

In the first reading, for example, we recall the spirituality of not only God’s covenant with Noah, and the theology of the sign of the rainbow, which affirms God’s abiding presence among us, but the centrality of covenant theology in our relationship with God.

Truly, after God’s benevolence creation (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; 4) came the fall of man, first parents, Adam and Eve,  the slaughter of Abel by Cain, and the preoccupation of humanity with pride of the Tower of Babel, threatening God’s creation.

God, therefore, prior to Abrahamic and Sinaitic (Gen 15-17; Exod 19-24) covenants, made unconditionally possible the saving Ark of Noah (Gen 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10), which foreshadows the baptism of Christ and his saving mission, for those who keep the covenant. This, we hear from the mouth of the psalmist this day, “your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant,” (Psalm 25:4-10), not matter the trials.

These, include, those promises we made on our day of baptism, confirmation, first holy communion, wedding, ordinations, vows and religious commitment, to randomly name, but a few. This is what the 2nd, (1 Peter 3:18-22) seeks to stress. Even though originally addressed to baptized Christian-communities in the Asia Minor, who were facing persecution, temptations and trials of all kinds, we too, today can relate to Peter’s exhortation, in the midst of today's trials and temptations.

 In other word, today, we might be confronted, with poverty, economic crisis, diseases, Ebolas, loneliness, extreme secularism, modern slaveries, (listed by Pope Francis, in his New Year Message for peace), terrorisms, bokoharamism, isisism, unwarranted wars, and threats of nuclear wars, socio-political/geographical conflicts, rifts, divisions, racisms, and violent that need the soothing of the exhortation  we hear from 1 Peter, today’s 2nd reading. Should we distrust God? No?

1 Peter takes us back to what we professed during Creed, our Credo.  In Baptism we die, bury and rise with Christ as prefigured in Noah’s Ark.  Baptism, among other things, washes away our sins, replenish, nourishes our spiritual deserts, and strengthens us in our imitation of Christ (of today’s Gospel Mark 1:12-15). It prepares us for the resistance of sins and numerous temptations of our modern day! In our sufferings, we must keep in mind that, Christ suffered and died for the sins of mankind- the unrighteous(1 Pet 3:18-22) ! He resisted Satan in the desert!

 As we journey through this special season of Lent, let us as a new creation, facing new challenges, new sufferings, pray for increase in grace, to imitate Jesus by overcoming trials, sufferings, and temptations, strengthening our covenant relationship with Christ, whom we also worship through our relationship with our neighbors, and by the proper and charitable use of the gifts of God’s creation. 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Homily (2) 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Homily (2) 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31–11:1; and Mk 1:40-45

Christ, Our compassionate Healer
Last Sunday Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother- in- law of her fever. In the bible readings of today, Saint Paul invites us to selflessly imitate him in Christ, who is the healer of our leprosies and our Ebolas, so to say!

Ebolas and leprosies, scary diseases! Christ’s healing ministry in today’s gospel (Mark 1:40-45) must have been shocking to everyone. First of all leprosy was not an easy illness to handle in ancient days, just as Ebola would scare all of us, these days!  As narrated in the first readings (Lev 13:1-2, 44-46), victims were treated differently, isolated and closely monitored by the priests. Some of their neighbors thought they would never be cured (Matt 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-16).  Some thought it was a punishment from God as a result of sin. It was an image of sin, an uncleanness that the society must distance themselves from. In the Book of Numbers, we may recall, when Miriam sinned by speaking against Moses, God’s servants, she was afflicted with leprosy.  But I am sure, today, we have different images of what is sinful in our society!

 However, as the disease progresses 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 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 had the power of separating members of the family from each other, since contact with them would make others unclean! It is terrible to be isolated from our community. Here, we might want to think of what isolate us from our family member, friends, and community, and even from the love of God. What separates us from the love of God?

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 included animal sacrifices, as well bringing oneself to be bureaucratically certified as cleansed and cured, by the Levitical priest.

In today’s Gospel, Christ is a different type of priest. He is very compassionate, in an extraordinarily healing session. There is a leper in the city and outside their isolated camp! He kneels before Jesus and 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, his healing grace and mercies!
 He mercifully said, to the leper, “I do will, be made clean.”  “Go show yourself to the priest, but tell no one.” But he went and told everyone. This is understandable, the experience of gratitude of been healed of been liberated. How do you feel when you are liberated from any burden or difficulty? I mean the experience and the joy of freedom, from debt, student loans and - could also be from the discrimination, and isolation; freedom from the terrible stigma of leprosy and freedom from sins in the case of this particular leper.

The highpoint of this lesson is not only the compassion of Christ, but the need for us to acknowledge our “leprosies,” our “sins” and our “Ebolas,” so to say, which could come in different forms today. Paul notes some of them in the 2nd reading (1 Cor 10:31–11:1), to include being offensive to others and selfishness. For Paul refusal to avoid giving offense, a type of idolatries, divisions, and rivalries, that went on in the Corinthian community of Paul, are forms of leprosy.

Pauline disapproval of "offenses" against the Jews, Greek and the Church, can come to us today in form of what we say, about the church and others, the war, bokoharamism, and terrorism, the racism and discrimination, we wage against people of other faith, culture and religion. It could also come in form of our refusal to imitate the virtues of Paul, his selflessness, endurance, his promotion of common good, and doing everything for the greater glory of God!

 In other, words we are “lepers” in one way or the other; morally, socially and spiritually. All these can be cured in Christ! Acknowledgment of this, can provide us an opportunity to approach Christ as the leper did. We can do this in our neighbors we forgive, through the sacraments, especially of reconciliation we celebrate, and through acts of kindness, compassion and charity we do.  All that Christ wishes to say to us today is that, he wills to heal and forgive us, and our society!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Homily (2) 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147:1-6; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39

Suffering in Communion with Christ!

In his Book, When Bad things Happen to Good People, Harold S .Kushner explains why he took to this theme. It was because of his personal family tragedy. His son, Aaron became sick of what is called “progeria,” that is rapid aging. It was a sad news difficult for Harold and his family to handle. Yet, he knew he was trying his best to live the gospel, the good news, in obedient to the Lord. But if the news of the Lord is always good, how can the Lord allow his son become sick, inflicting immeasurable pains and anguish to the family? Harold’s question could be related to the biblical Job, Habakkuk, Paul and to the mystery of the Gospel of Christ’s Gospel, the cross, the sufferings, and healings, God’s justice, addressed in today’s bible readings. Or, as Joseph Cardinal Bernadin would write in The Gift of Peace, “Suffering in Communion with the Lord.”

Job, a pious and righteous man kept the rules like any of us. Obeyed God, was prosperous but also suffered terrible set back and misfortunes in life. He lost his property, his children. He was afflicted and tormented by all kinds of diseases. He felt restless and as if he had been assigned months misery (Job 7:1-4, 6-7). He would have loved to have rational answers to the cause of his set back and sufferings. But they were not forth coming, yet Job deepened his trust and love for God through his experiences of suffering.

Job’s suffering- experiences in his relationship with God could be liken to that of Paul. In his ministry, after his conversion, he experienced suffering, torture and imprisonment. He was once shipped wrecked and beaten many times for the sake of the Gospel.  These sufferings did not change Paul. He kept the faith.  He felt the compulsion to preach the Gospel of Christ. In the 2nd reading he strongly says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor 9:16).

What is the Gospel for Paul? It is the “the good news of Jesus Christ,” the patience, the sufferings, cross, the peace, the faith, and the hope that comes with it. It is the entire activity of evangelization to the Gentiles, to the uncircumcised (Gal 2:7). It must have its origin in God manifested in Christ, the son of God (Rom 1:9). It is the faith in Christ (Rom 4–6; Gal 1:23) and the living of the word of God (2 Cor 2:17), the beatitude (Matt 5:1-2). It is the Golden Rule (Matt 7:12). It is a Christian way of life. It is accepting God’s mysterious ways of dealing with us in the crucified Christ (1 Cor 2:1-2), and the hope in the resurrection (1 Cor 15; 1 Thess 4:12-17). It also include the fostering of unity (1 Cor 12–14). It is the story of the Risen Lord, not our own stories (2 Cor 4:4).

For Paul the Gospel is God’s salvific activity for his people, his power and healing mercies. Jesus was human. Again, as Cardinal Bernadin said in The Gift of Peace, Christ, “felt pains as we do. And in many ways he experienced pain and suffering more deeply than we will ever know. Yet in the face of all, he transformed human suffering into something greater: an ability to walk with the afflicted and to empty himself so that his loving father could work more fully through him.”

In the Gospel reading of today (Mark 1:29-39), the Marken, Christ walks with the afflicted. He empties himself to the sick. He heals Simon Peter’s mother –in-law who was sick with fever:

“On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew, James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever… he approached grasped her and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” 

What are your own “fevers”? Certainly this can come in form of the restlessness of the biblical Job. It can come in forms of bodily or spiritual illnesses, some that we bring to our doctors.  It is true that we have  these human doctors. We keep those appointments. But do we believe in the Gospel of Paul, in the healing power of Christ who is able to cure us of our illness, or work miracles, the type seen in today's Gospel.

 Truly, our  today's “fevers” can also come in form of disunity and lack of love, and envious of other’s spiritual gifts, that the Gospel Paul opposes in I Cor 12–14. Our fevers can come in form lack of universal spirit, being victims of war, bias and prejudices,  acts of terrorism, religious extremisms, HIV and Ebola epidemics, unjust socio-political structures that breeds poverty, violent, and lack of acceptance of others. Our fevers and weaknesses can come in all forms of immorality and idolatries of the 21st century, against the values of the Good News of Christ championed by Paul.

Whatever our shortcomings, fevers and sufferings might be, these days, in living and preaching the Gospel of Christ, we are invited to open up for our understanding of suffering in communion with Christ, not merely for its inevitability, but also for its Good News, its mystery, and redemptive values.