Saturday, March 28, 2015

Homily (2) Palm Sunday Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) Palm Sunday Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Processional Readings ABC: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; or John 12:12-16, and Luke 19:28-40.

 Christ’s Humble Journey to Jerusalem,

Every year brings something new, some changes in our bodies, in our homes, families, villages, towns, in our local churches, Counties, local governments and nations! And in each of these changing years, the Church celebrates Palm Sunday which ends the Lenten Season and marks the beginning of the most Holy week in our Christian Liturgy.  It is a week our savior will be exalted on the Cross. It is a week of that hour of glory come to fulfillment. In this Holy Week Christ, our Lord and Savior will be betrayed, falsely accused, plotted against (John 11:45-53), arrested (Matt 26:47-56), interrogated by Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin ( Matt 26:57-58), tried by Pilate ( Matt 27:1-14), denied by Peter (Matt 26:59-66), mocked and executed in a Roman way (Matt 27:15-56).  In this very week Christ our savior, will draw everyone to himself, Jews and the Gentiles alike, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 12:32). It is a Holy and Salvific Week for us; a week of grace and hope; a week of victory over death, violent and injustice, lies and hatred; a week we see new life in the death of Christ. It is a teaching week for our religious communities, families and homes and nations!

It is a week we also learn to resist evil not with violence, not by chopping off “Malchus’ ear,” but with prayer, endurance and through peaceful process of dialogue and reconciliation. A week we learn not to act like Pilate, remaining indifferent to truth nor being in a hurry to condemn our neighbors, brothers and sisters, friends and children. It is a week each of us is invited to the foot of the Cross, a week Mary will be handed over to us, the faithful disciples of Christ (John 19:25ff). Our nations in the East, South, West and North, which currently engage in unnecessary political divides can also learn from this week.

The Palms we bless at this Mass reminds us among other things of those ordinary people, those pilgrims on the street of Jerusalem (those men, women and children) who gave Christ a royal welcome to Jerusalem for his suffering death and resurrection. It reminds us of the love that Christ has for each of us. It reminds us that each of us are also on a pilgrimage to embrace Christ on daily journey, into our lives and families, with enthusiasm and courage. The Eucharist we are about to celebrate as a community is also a place where we encounter and receive Christ. Also through the  “Hosanna” (Psalm 118:26; Mk 11:1-10 and Luke 19:28-40) we sing we shall be inviting Christ, Son of David, the King of Israel to “save” us, to come into our lives, into our homes, offices, parishes communities, families and nations!

Finally, we need, humility to embrace Christ, carry palms, to stand on the pilgrim roads to spread the palms on the street for Christ’s entrance.  From that Gospel (s) Reading (s), he is the source of this humility.  Notice, Christ is a humble King, a King of Peace, riding on a donkey instead of a horse. During the time of David and Prophet Zechariah (cf 9:9) the donkey had been a sign of kingship, but later an animal for the poor, while the horses came to represent the might of the mighty one. Christ today presents us the image of a King of peace, arriving willingly, humbly, and out love to Jerusalem on a donkey not on a bullet and nuclear proof presidential Limousine.

 With this we are reminded not only of Christ’s humility, his identification with the poor, but also his fearlessness, his prophetic courage to conquer death even death on a cross. Also, a message that Pope Francis has consistently repeated!

Wherever, we are sitting or standing, let us now with enthusiasm go forth in peace, praising Jesus our Messiah, and welcoming him like the Jerusalem multitude!


Homily (2) Palm Sunday Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18,19-20,23-24; Phil 2: 6-11 and(A) Matt 26:14–27:66 (B) Mk 14:1–15:47 (C) and Luke 22: 14–23:56

 A  Week of Victory over Death!

 As I said at the beginning of this liturgy, today begins our Holy Week; a week of grace, love and Christ’s victory over death. It is a week we line up on the streets of Jerusalem, in the corners of our churches, offices and homes to welcome Christ, and to focus on him! It is a week we spread the palms of love and sings with the Church, “Hosanna to the Son of David…; the prince of peace, the trainer of humility, courage, endurance and the source of hope!

 In fact, the meaning of what we celebrate this week, beginning from today is uncovered in   the long Passion narratives of Christ, according to Saint  Mark 14-15. This Passion narrative focuses on Christ and on the meaning of his Cross. Throughout our Christian journeys, not that we have not been focusing on Christ, but this week we are invited to intensify our focus on Jesus. We are call to pay closer attention to what his  Passion teaches us: patience, humility, courage, love, endurance and forgiveness and his exaltation on the Cross. This week is a week of  that long foretold "hour of glory" come to fulfillment.

 In the Passion narrative just read, Christ experiences betrayal from one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. Christ is  falsely,  accused, plotted against (John 11:45-53), arrested (Matt 26:47-56), interrogated by Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:57-58), tried by Pilate (Matt 27:1-14), denied by Peter (Matt 26:59-66), mocked and executed in a Roman way (Matt 27:15-56; Mark 14:1­15:47). Humanly speaking, it looks ugly, but the good news is that Christ endured these accusations, and mockeries!. He endured his Passion. On the Cross he forgives sinners and robbers.  He entrusted her Mother Mary to us, "Mother behold your son, son behold your mother. He also shouted  sang Psalm 22 from the Cross, “my God my God why have you abandon me” teaching us how to  endure and handle our experiences of pains, persecutions, poverty, and injustices!  Even when we are frustrated hope and abiding faith in God our Father are recommended. When he eventually  gave up his spirit, he commended it into his fathers hands "Into your hands Lord I commend my Spirit!.  he died a Holy death in Holy Week. In his Holy death he draws so many to himself, Jews and Gentiles,, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 12:32). Many were at the foot of the Cross. In today's Gospel, the Centurion who witnessed Christ breathed  his last, and the veil of the temple torn into two from top to bottom, professed faith in him that, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:1-39).

  Like Centurion, this week reaffirms our faith in Christ, the true Son of God. Therefore, it is a week that we learn how to endure suffering and handle pains, loneliness, illnesses and the losses of our loved ones. It is a week of grace and victory over death, injustice, lies and hatred; a week we see new life in the death of Christ. It is a teaching week for our religious communities, families, homes and nations.

 It is a week we also learn to resist evil not with violence, not by chopping off “Malchus’ ear,” but with prayer, endurance and through peaceful process of dialogue and reconciliation. A week we learn not to act like Pilate, remaining indifferent to truth nor being in a hurry to condemn our neighbors, brothers and sisters, friends and children. It is a week each of us is invited to the foot of the Cross, a week Mary will be handed over to us the faithful disciples of Christ (John 19:25ff). Even as a nation, parish and family, we can learn from Jesus this week, how to love, how to suffer, listen to Christ and how to endure like most of Israel’s prophets!

Like the Gospel,  in the first reading, the 3rd Song of the Suffering Servant of God, which foreshadows Christ of the Holy Week, prophet Isaiah says, “I gave my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who plucked my beard, my face I did not shield from buffet and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced” (Isa 50:4-7).

 Even though not everyone has beard to be plucked, we have many crosses of different forms (poverty, threats of Boko Haram, ISIS, drugs, guns on the streets, nuclear arsenals etc) in our lives that these metaphors invite us to carry with patience, hope and prayer, knowing that the Lord our trainer on the Cross is watching over us!

In our sufferings, and missions, we need to allow the Lord who hangs on the  Cross this Holy Week, to train us including our tongues, our minds, hearts, eyes and souls, our determinations, to handle weariness and frustrations with great patience, wisdom, obedience and humility, like Christ that Saint Paul addresses to the Philippians today. Saint Paul says,  “Christ Jesus though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped…he became obedient to death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-11); for each of us!. 

 As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, let us not focus  mainly on the weaknesses of Judas, Pilate, Peter, the Jewish Elites who handed Jesus over, nor on the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the tree! Let us not give into the pains, the mockeries, the spitting, our past failures. But let us appreciate that the obedient death of Christ on the Cross was not a defeat, but a victory. Let us focus on the positive meaning of Palm Sunday, the training he gives us: to endure pains, illnesses, rejections, abandonments, discriminations, racisms, tribalism, frustrations, poverty, injustices, and the loss of our loved ones, with the hope  for salvation.
Truly, this is what makes this week a Holy Week!



Friday, March 20, 2015

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

Homily (2) 5th Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-15; Heb 5:7-9 and John 12:20-33

Transforming Power of the New Covenant!
The 5th Sunday of Lent draws us nearer to the Holy Week, during which we deeply contemplate the saving mysteries of Christ Passion and his death on the Cross. Today’s Bible readings, in particular calls for a change of heart and foreshadows the significance of the saving mysteries of the upcoming Holy Week.

In the first reading(Jer 31:31-34), Jeremiah, also known as a prophet of interior life, and a mystic in the market place, touches on the saving covenant promises God made to our fathers and ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, but in a renewed way to  Israel, the house of David and subsequently to ourselves, today.
Jeremiah speaks of God’s promise of a new covenant, new manners, laws, precepts, and ways in which God’s expresses his loving relationship with us, I will be their God, and they will be my people ( Jer 31:33). Unlike the old covenant written on tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12), the new covenant will be written in the heart of everyone with a transforming effect. He says, “behold the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.”

In as much as the heart is the center of feeling and affection, for ancient Israel the heart was believed to be the center of knowing and willing. To write the divine law in human’s heart is to place it indelibly in their hearts. Thus, “no longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives, how to know the Lord… for they shall know me,”(v. 34).
For the prophet Jeremiah, sin and idolatry broke the old covenant relationship between Israel and God, such that a new covenant was needed, and could now be addressed in a different way; through divine mercy and forgiveness. Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant offers hope for change, that the past with its sins and the present with its despair could be redeemed by the gracious act of God.

This gracious act of God is what we pray in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me O God, in your goodness, in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Wash me from my guilt, and of my sins cleanse me. A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me…. I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you,” (Ps 51).
This renewed gracious act of God is also the subject of the 2nd reading, the Letter to the Hebrews (5:7-9). Even though Christ was the Son of God, “he learned obedience from what he suffered and when he was made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

 The Gospel reading also builds on these gracious acts of God. It expresses this new covenant,  Jesus' mercy, kindness, goodness, obedience to his Father, love and generosity (John 12:20-33). This is evident in  Jesus' willingness to go to the Cross on our behalf. This is what he meant by, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Christ went on to say, “When I am lifted up from the earth will draw everyone to myself.” On the Cross, he truly drew everyone to himself- Nichodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Jews, Gentiles, the Roman soldiers, men and women.  A sacrificial and salvific journey to the Cross.
Christ's message is also even true for all farmers. The seed we plant must take some time, some hours, to undergo some kind of changes, and transformation in order to grow into a bigger tree, or shrub, that bear fruits, produce sheds, and accommodates all kinds of birds, insects, animals and other creatures. Christ’s death was not a defeat but victory!

The events of the Holy Week that  today's readings foreshadow, is salvific and transforming. It is up- lifting and transforming. Christ victory on the Cross and the mystery of the empty tomb drew everyone to himself: men, women, children, Jews, Romans and Greeks and Gentiles alike.  With it Christ  teaches us the new covenant, of hope, endurance, forgiveness, universalism, way to the eternal life and the need to love everyone, no matter where they come from, or what they look like, especially the poor and the marginalized, those affected by natural and human-made tragedies, that Pope Francis has increasing invite us to welcome in our hearts, homes, budgets, and in our political legislations!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Homily (2) 4th Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 4th Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
 Readings: Readings: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps 137:1-6; Eph 2:4-10 and John 3:14-21

Joy in the Saving Love and Mercy of God!
God is light, God is love. God is joy!  God judges, yet he forgives. He is merciful. He liberates us from all kinds of exiles and finally brings us joy! Four weeks ago, how time flies, on Ash Wednesday, we began our Lenten journey, marked with prayers, acts of charity, fasting, mourning, preaching and listening very closely to the Word of God,  as well as disposing ourselves for other forms of spiritual renewals.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally called Laetare Sunday, the Bible lessons are coated with liberating messages of joy.  Recall, that entrance antiphon, that prophecy of Isaiah 66:10-11 which we began this Mass with. We are invited to: “Rejoice (rinna) with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, All you who love her Exult, rejoice with her, all you who were mourning over her…suck fully of the milk of her comfort.” 

This is the same message of joy, from Israel’s prophets, that Pope Francis began his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, with.  In particular, and similar to our entrance antiphon is the joyful message of Zephaniah, that says,

“Rejoice the Lord has cancelled your judgment and misfortunes. The Lord your God is with you. He is a Mighty Savior. He rejoices over you with gladness. He will rejoice over you with a happy Song. He will renew you with His Love and Restores your Fortunes” (Zeph 3:14-20).

 We rejoice today because of whom the Lord is: the Light of the world, because of how he forgives, because of how he loves, heals, intervenes in our lives, in times war, uncertainties, hunger, poverty, deprivation and exiles and even during the loss of our loved ones!

This is well chronicled in the First Reading of today, 2 Chronicles chapter 36. Yes, Israel had sinned, their kings, priests and the people: “in those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations, and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”  This let them into the darkness and judgment of exiles in Assyria, Babylon and Persia. But, the God  of our fathers, who is compassionate and merciful, would never abandon his people. God has  his dramatic and divine ways of restoring Israel to himself; evident in the Exodus/Wilderness’ events, in  Ezra- Nehemiah, and in other Midrashic Books of Tobith, Ruth, Judith, and Esther.
St. Paul confirms this in the Second Reading when he says, “Brothers and Sisters, God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had love us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life in Christ- by grace you have been saved…”

God's saving acts culminate in the Gospel reading of today which says, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son in to the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14-21).

 It is in this saving love of God that we celebrate and rejoice for today, on a Laetare Sunday!  As we look forward to the remaining week of Lent, which ushers us into the Passion Week, let us allow ourselves to be forgiven just as we strive to forgive those who may have hurt or offended us. Let us also, as Pope Francis would recommend, reach out evangelically, prophetically, with joy to the world; our brothers, and sisters, the poor, the sick, the needy in prisons, the rich, and those in war, boko-haram, ISIS and terrorist-torn areas, as well as to victims of all forms of slavery.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Homily (2) 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
 Readings: Exod 20:1-17; Ps 19:8-11; 1 Cor 1:22-25 and John 2: 13-25

 True Relationship with God

 The readings of last Sunday stressed the offering of ourselves and beings, personal feelings, our freedom, what we love, our ears and hands, our bodies, our families, jobs, our opinions, our illnesses, sufferings, fears, joys, faith, hope, and treasures to the Lord!  A theme of what we must do in order to be in good relationship with God and our neighbor emerges from today’s Bible readings. It is by abiding in his laws of love, worshipping in clean conscience in a temple not built by human hands, and cherishing the wisdom of the cross!

This wisdom goes back to God the Father who creates and liberates his people in the Genesis and Exodus accounts.  He gives the 10 commandments, in today’s first reading (Exod 20:1-17cf. Deut 5:6-21), significantly, on Mount Sinai, God’s dwelling place, in ancient times. However, these laws and norms of life, through his prophet, Moses, were not meant to make life difficult for anyone, but to highlight God’s loving covenant relationship with his people. It is an invitation to obedience, contemplation, action and love.

 As Psalm 19 would put it, these laws of the Lord are perfect, refreshing the soul, more precious than gold, sweeter than syrup and honey (Ps 19). It shows us how to live and love one another. It underlines the worship and respect we owe our one true God, and our neighbors, and families in all circumstances of life, recognizing what God has done for us, continued in Christ events, the wisdom and power of God the Father, that Saint Paul stresses in today’s 2nd reading.   

Paul says, “brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-25).

Christ, the power of God, the wisdom of God, the “new Moses” sticks to the Wisdom of his Father in his ministry of love to all, the new law of Jesus, the forgiveness, the beatitude, obedience, liberating, healing, orderliness and cleansing of the Temple, the mountain, the dwelling place of God. Yes this Temple for Christ in today’s Gospel (John 2:13-25) must remain not only as a universal place of prayer, opened for all, but must be kept clean (Mk 11:17, Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11), not restricted to the aristocratic ruling groups. It must not be turn into a market place for gambling and exchanging money of the ruling elites for profits.  

Christ drives the idolaters away from the Temple. He responds to those who asks for a sign of his authority to clean the temple, renewing the law, with “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  By this, and in his spiritual wisdom,  Christ is referring to his body, his death and the resurrection. As Benedict XVI emphasized in  the Jesus of Nazareth 1,  Christ is referring to the end of the era of the Temple and the beginning of a new Temple not built with human hands., but with spirit and truth. Christ, in every liturgical season is this new Temple who gathers the poor and the rich alike, and unites everyone in the sacrament of his body and blood. He is the new Temple of humanity for those who strives and lives the spirit of Lent.

As another Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, Lent continues to be a time we reevaluate our relationship with God and our neighbors. Jean-Batiste Chautard  stresses this in his  work, The Soul of the Apostolate, when he says, “in the soul of anyone called by God to high sanctity the life is always essentially a mixture of contemplation (love of God) and action (love of neighbor).” Lent is time we re-examine our observance of God’s precepts and of His Church; the respect we owe ourselves, and the dignity we give to other human persons of all cultures. It is a favorable time for our spiritual cleansing, renewal, purification and enlightenment in the laws and love of true relationship with Christ and our neighbors.