Thursday, August 27, 2015

Homily (2) 22nd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily (2) 22nd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; Ps 15:2-5; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

  “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord” (Ps 15.1a).

 These words of Psalm 15 capture in a nut-shell the essence of today’s Bible lessons- that Christ did not come to abolish the law, but to perfect it , to renew it, and to highlight the spiritual and moral dimensions of our laws. Granted we all have customs, values and traditions, they are constantly subject to updates and renewal in the light of the divine revelation.  This is so, since the Word of God needs be put into daily practice by loving, caring for the poor, the marginalized, the aged, our parents, and by forgiving those who may have offended us, of all ages, time and culture- the same scriptural theme that Pope Francis has repeated over and over again since the beginning of his papacy!  

In the 1st reading, Deut 4, the Lord invites Israel to listen (shama) and observe his words, his commandments. I want to suggest that one way to respond to this divine invitation is through listening to Deut 4 within the broader context of the Book of Deuteronomy- “second laws”. Emphasis in Deut as a whole, is on updating some of the laws, including the 10 commandments and ritual practices we heard earlier in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. Deuteronomy for instance, updates, and teaches Israel, and invites all of us, indirectly, to listen, obey, worship God in a central place, to be more humanitarian, more caring, just, and inclusive of men, women, children and slaves, from the bottom of our hearts, in our  faith practice (Deut 12-17), something that the Pharisees  of today’s  Gospel seemed to be lacking! They were distracted by their self righteousness!

 In the Gospel, Christ responds and challenges their externalism of traditional ritual washing of hands before meals. For Christ these rituals should never be the beginning and the end of religious practice, but faith, kindness, charity, righteousness, and justice that come from within. Washing the inside is as important as washing the outside, and perhaps more important as stressed by most Israel’s prophets. Granted  that the Pharisees, as depicted in today’s gospel debates, kept both the written and oral laws, Christ follows the footsteps of Israel’ prophets, like Isaiah and Amos, and offers a renewed direction. Worship and religious practice must come from within and not be limited to mere lip services, nor to external procession to ancient Shrines! Amos 5, like Psalms 15 and 24, is so strong about this. The Lord Rejects, empty rituals, songs, and offerings without justice and morality.

In order word, a true and deeply religious person, who has a deep sense of love for his/her neighbor and  provide social justice a place in his or her heart would be sensitive even  to those destructive social vices listed by Christ in today’s Gospel- unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly.    A deeply religious person, Saint James, affirms also in the 2nd reading, is the one that transcends hypocrisy, but  cares for orphans and widows in their afflictions!

In sum, the Bible readings of today, among other things, challenge us to reevaluate how we love, care for our neighbors, support victims of katrina, bokoharam, terrorisms and wars, from the bottom of our hearts. Our physical distance might be far from them. Our traditions, customs, values and culture, different, but we can still accompany them, those victims of social injustice, bad leadership and governanance all over the world, the poor, the needy, the orphans, the neglected, the voiceless, the sexually and racially abused, in our prayers and through acts of charity. As a friend of mine once puts it, “Washing the fruit we buy should not be more important than feeding the hungry.”




Friday, August 21, 2015

Homily (2) 21st Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 21st Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17,18b; Ps 34; 2-3, 16-21; Eph 5:2a, 25-32 and John 6:60-69

“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal Life’ (Jn 6:68):
 These words of Peter in today’s Gospel, reminds us that life, is not a bed of Roses! There are moments in our studies, work, vocations, and occupations, civil, religious and Christian journeys that we encounter dryness, confusion, frustration, different voices, reasons and disbeliefs to give up. And there are moments we feel energized, challenged to believe, and to hold onto our true Christian faith. The entire Bible readings of today, from Joshua,  Paul and  to this last section of John 6, which captures these words of Peter “Lord to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life,” are addressed to these moments, from Joshua’s generations to our present time, in all towns and cultures!
 Granted that the journey to the Promised Land has been long, in Moses’ and Joshua’s generations- some were thirsty, tired, hungry, and dusty on the road. Distractions, voices, supermarkets, from the worshippers of the gods of the Amorites arose. Without faith and concentration it would have been easier to slip away, break the covenant, or ignore all the goodness, and saving miracles wrought by the Lord. The first reading is a testimony of renewal. In a renewed spirit, Joshua and the house of Israel testified that they would continue to serve the Lord. By implication, they would dispose themselves, and allow the Lord to cultivate them in his loving mysterious divine relationship. Joshua’s generation would remain submissive and obedient to the Lord, his teachings and mysteries, in spite of the challenges of their time. Nothing would separate them from the love of God!
In the 2nd reading, St. Paul stresses this loving human divine relationship with a metaphor of husband-wife loving, faithful, and trusting relationship. Although we live in a time of high rate of divorce, husbands and wives must talk, love, respect each other as Christ would to the Church. This affirms the challenges of living the word of God. This is the challenging mystery of Christ’s loving relationship with, us, the Church, which is not unconnected to the Gospel stories!

In John 6, today’s Gospel, begun many Sundays ago, we have been consistently challenged to believe in the miracle of the multiplication of the 2 few fish and  5 loaves of bread; the feeding of the crowd with it, and the whole message that Christ is the Bread of life come down from heaven; the source of eternal life!
It was challenging to many who murmured. Today it is challenging to those who listened to Christ. Many, we are told in the gospel, walked away. But as for Peter and other disciples, they have no choice, but to stick with Christ, the source of the words of eternal life.

Interestingly, this is the same wobbling Peter: once very outspoken; once sunk in the sea faithlessly; once tempted to deny Christ three times.  We can see ourselves in Peter, sometimes! Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, in his work: To whom shall we Go? Lessons from the Apostle Peter, page 14,[read if for yourselves…] uniquely invites us to see ourselves in Peter, especially when our faith journey seems to be difficult. And when we think we have made a lot of mistakes on the way, or our faith is not sufficient, or our burdens are too heavy to carry.

Peter’s words becomes urgent in today’s church, world, time culture, faced with many challenges, [Yes, there are acts of pride, anger, frustration, sicknesses, family crises, high rate of divorces, selfishness, neglect of the poor, worship of money, abuse of drugs and sex, injustices, faith denials, betrayals, loss of jobs and loved ones, abuse of power and corruption in public offices etc] that makes following Christ somehow challenging, and walking away more easy.
In such moments we are invited to fall back to the words spoken by Joshua and Paul, particularly of Peter in today’s Gospel, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”


Friday, August 14, 2015

Homily(2) 20th Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily(2) 20th Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Readings: Pro 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-7; Eph 5:15-20 and John 6:51-58

 Eating divine food wisely

 Ordinarily when we walk into any restaurant we are presented with a menu list. We take time to look at the list, then, compare notes with our friends and those with us. We do this for various reasons; I want to believe (1) to make the right choice;(2) We want to choose what we would love to eat and drink; and (3) We are mindful of our health as well as the cost of the menu, etc. We might want to call this process of menu discernment, practical wisdom!

 Throughout this month of August our Sunday Bible lessons and homilies have been focusing on Jesus as the living bread, the bread of life, the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Communion, in fact, the entire life of Jesus, his virtues, of love, caring for the sick, feeding the multitude, sharing a cup of water with the “Samaritan women,” forgiving “Zacchaeus” and raising Lazarus from the death, inviting the “little ones” to come to him, embracing everyone, men and women, young and old! This is Christ the Bread of Life! This is the Christ whom we are invited daily to be wise enough to believe in him, to imitate, to be opened to, and embrace his values.

 Unlike some of those whom we may regard as unwise, who misunderstood Jesus in today’s Gospel, when he said, ‘I am the living bread came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” the church, employs us today, particularly through the 1st reading (Prov 9:1-6), to consider the place of practical wisdom in daily living. We need practical wisdom in the choices we make, the company we keep, the books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, and in when give pieces of advice to one another. We need practical wisdom in raising our kids. In fact, we need practical wisdom in how we value and discern the overall teachings of Christ, our Lady Wisdom, some of them which are often conveyed to us in metaphors, signs, symbols, the songs we sing in the church, in nature; mountains, seas, oceans, rocks; in the stories we hear  and read from the scriptures and in the proverbs, particularly that of today.

 The seven columns/pillars that support Wisdom’s dinner house in the Book of Proverbs today reminds us of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

1)  Wisdom is one of them. With this column we are able to discern the blessings and the handiworks of God in our lives. 2) Understanding is one of them. With it, unlike the foolish, so to say, in today’s gospel who misunderstood the “bread of life metaphor” used by Christ, we are able to think through and make a distinction between Christ's teachings and other ‘worldly” teachings today (examples abound). 3) Counsel is another one. With it we are able to constantly make right judgment. 4) Fortitude is one of them. With this column we are able to follow Christ without fear and intimidation. We carry our daily crosses bravely after Christ. 5). Knowledge is one of them. With it we understand the meaning of Christ as the Bread of life. 6) Piety is another column. With it we reverence Christ. We receive the Holy Communion, Christ, with reverence. 7) And the last column is fear of the Lord which enables us to respect God and one another, the dignity of every human person.

 As we worship and received Christ the Bread of Life (the Lady Wisdom) today let us add to the list of our life’s wisdom these pieces of advice offered us by St. Paul in today’s 2nd Reading. It is on how to discern our “divine menu,” how to make good choices, how to live as Christians, and as believers in a changing world.

  Paul says,

  Brothers and sisters…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always, and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” ( Eph 5:15-20).


Friday, August 7, 2015

Homily(2) 19th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily(2) 19th  Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30­-5:2 and John 6:41-51

 Tasting (Tā`am/etabi) the Lord’s Goodness!

I remember years ago, I lived in the same house with Fr. Charles (May he rest in peace). On free evenings, he would ask me to take a ride with him towards  Riverhead. On the way we would stop by in the farms to look at those green crops, animals the goodness of the Lord, and taste some wine in a few local wineries. Could you believe,  I was always afraid because I am not a huge wine drinker. But he would always say to me “just taste and see, you don’t have to drink it all. Some of them are quite sweet. You may like it.”  Of course, I tasted  some in faith, trusting what the priest of God told me. And truly, I saw, and I realized that some of them were quite sweet and less in alcohol content than I thought.

Today we celebrate the Lord's Goodness and I can hear repeatedly in today's Bible readings, an invitation  extended to us to come and taste not just ordinary wine, the type Father invited me to taste, but Christ the bread of life, his love, goodness, forgiveness and generosity. It would only take faith and trust to do this,  to respond to this invitation, to taste this type of goodness!
We hear this invitation in the  1st reading, where the fleeing Prophet Elijah is miraculously asked to eat and drink, or, is provided with food that gave him strength, not only to defeat Jezebel,  overcome the false prophets and false gods of his time, but to journey to the mountain of the true and living God. We can see it in today’s Psalm 34, verse 9a; which clearly says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” We can see it in the 2nd reading where Paul admonishes the church at Ephesus to walk in love, which only Christ can give.

Above all, we can see and hear this invitation in today’s Gospel, John 6:41-51. Building on last Sunday’s passage, Christ, in today’s Gospel, insists that he is the living bread of life that came down from heaven. And that whoever eats this bread will live forever, overcoming challenges, sufferings and death.

Granted that these biblical stories are often presented to us in  coated  and symbolic language , challenges our faith and demands a second look at the text, by us with prayerful questions raised. After reading today's text one might ask, what is the meaning of tasting the goodness of the Lord?  Is God wine or food to be tasted?  Or how can one eat God like bread? What does this say to the poor or those who do not really have physical bread to eat. And how was it possible for Elijah to defeat false gods, and escape the onslaught  of Jezebel only to be fed by an angel of the Lord?

Answers to these questions root back to the Hebrew word for taste- Tā`am, used in this reading.  In my native (Efik/Annang) language, it is translated as etabi or tum. This word simply means “to discover by experience” the goodness of the Lord, which we have seen throughout the history of our salvation. It means to seek the lord, to bless the Lord, to walk in love with the Lord, to travel with God, to journey with God, to trust God in all things, especially in times of difficulties. It means to believe in God; to take refuge in the Lord, to have faith in God and in his teaching through the Church. It means to have God as our companion in our life's journeys- whatever we are doing, wherever we are!

With God everything is possible. Our faith and sacramental journeys in the Church are like that of Elijah. Sometimes the journey is long and bumpy? Sometimes they may also be modern Jezebels and forms of life challenges, on our journeys. But, we must endure and trust in God. Ta’am challenges us to re-examine how faithful we are to our promises, especially those ones we took at baptism, matrimony or holy order?  It challenges our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist?
Just as it takes some level of trust to taste or attempt a new wine, and food we are not familiar with, it takes deeper faith to believe the stories told us in the Bible, and the faith taught us by the Church.

Tasting the goodness of the Lord provides us a platform to review how we judge our neighbors, the church from a distance. Sometimes, we need to taste, to be closer to someone,  in order to know how wonderful and generous the person is.  We only need to encourage our friends and children, husbands and wives to come back to the church  then they would realize the benefit of trusting in the Lord or how much they have missed by staying away from the church.

In a predominantly secular and challenging times like ours, today, we can further taste the goodness of the Lord when we trust God at all times, in everything we do, especially when we visit with our doctors with faith in God, denounce idolatry of today, work hard to fix our broken families, bring our kids to the church, and endure with hope the loss of our loved ones.  We can taste the goodness of the Lord when we make effort to sincerely forgive those whom we once thought were our enemies; of course reach out to the poor and the oppressed and those who do not have even the physical bread to eat. We can taste the goodness of the Lord, who is love, when we love our neighbors, protect our family values, our children, grandchildren, persevere in our marriages, religious and priestly vocation, – above all trust in Christ, our Living Bread, the sweet source of life, our protector, and our fortress.