Saturday, September 26, 2015

Homily 26th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily 26th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Num 11:25-29; Ps 19:8.10.12-14; Jas 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48.

 Shared Mission of Christ to All!

The readings of today strike on several spiritual and pastoral notes, particularly on the note of the shared mission of Christ. This reminds us of the current recurring theme of inclusiveness that Pope Francis recently carries to the Philippines, Cuba, and United States and to the world as a whole. Imagine what it would have taken the Holy Father to successfully arrived in the United States, the entire visits to the lowly and the highly, the speeches, Masses, in the Washington DC, New York and at Philadelphia – the cooking, the preparations, the securities- all these required shared spirit of responsibilities, dialogue, and leadership among various agencies and cultures!

The 1st reading of today ( Num 11:25-29) speaks of the spirit of Moses’ been shared among other seventy elders, particularly between Eldad and Medad. Both of these men were heard and seen prophesying outside the camp, in the periphery of the tents of “the cathedral,” because God had given them the spirit! In this scriptures, notice, it was Joshua, Moses’ associate and would be successor who launched that human complaint saying, “Moses, my lord stop them.”  But Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake?”

In our mission and duties we are invited to listen to Moses. Of course, this is the same Moses that Pope Francis recently referenced as our model in his addressed to the joint Congress of the United! A patient and unjealous Moses willing to prophetically share his gifts, willing to include others- the rich and the poor, the low and the high in the mission of the Lord- as against the jealous ones who objected  the participation of Eldad and Medad. This can easily happen to any of us, especially those who hang around the corridors of power and leadership!

The Mission of the Church, in our dioceses, parishes, stations, towns and cities, would always belong to Christ, not to us.  An Inclusive and a universal! Are we willing to include others- the poor, the rich, men, women, children, and the youths- everyone in the mission of the Church that transcends jealousy and human barriers!  

Similar message is heard in the Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48). There is an unknown exorcist who went about healing, exorcising! John steps- in like Joshua in that Book of Numbers and complaint to Christ, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus’ response to John should be our guide. Jesus says, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak of ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” How often do we not consciously or unconsciously prevent and exclude others, in our speeches, gestures, looks, and body languages!

In fact very easy for gifted people to exclude others or abuse their gifts and offices. Joshua and John were gifted people. Joshua would succeed Moses. John was one of the closest disciples of Jesus! He was young and an athletic. He arrived at the tomb of Jesus before Peter. Quite gifted! Gifted people, nations and institutions can easily fail to recognize the gifts of others.  For example, it is very easy due to jealousy, for good preachers to ignore the preaching skills of others. For the same reason, it is very easy for good writers to ignore the writing skills of others. It is very easy for good singers to ignore the singing talents of others. It is very easy for sport stars to ignore (perhaps out of jealousy, ignorance, indifference, insensitivity) the sporting gifts of others- especially those on the periphery!  Also as noted in the 2nd reading, the material wealth that God has blessed us with must be seen as a gift. They should be well utilized and distributed not abused.

 The readings of today as a whole, invite those who deny workers their wages and exploit the poor and the voiceless to rethink their choices. It also invite those in leadership positions, both inside and outside the church to see the missions especially of the  of the gospel as a mission of many parts, yet with one body- the Church- given to be shared among her members, particularly with with those in the margins of the community, as physically, pastorally and spiritually exemplified by Pope Francis in his recent global pastoral visits!



Friday, September 18, 2015

Homily 25th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo

Homily 25th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Wis 2:12, 17-20; Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6-8; Jas 3:16-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37
Responding to Sufferings Righteously!

 The Bible readings of today build on the theme of last Sunday, namely, “the meaning of Christian suffering and how we respond to them in faith and righteousness”!
A righteous person, a saddiq, in the history of salvation is a peaceful person; a hard working person, humble, wise, prudent, compliant, obedient, docile, quite, faithful and prayerful. The righteous obeys God, speaks the truth, challenges evil and injustices, does the will of God, and handles sufferings, adversities, tragedies, deaths, and accidents with care, patient and hope in the Lord our Friend and Master!

These characteristics are seen in biblical figures like Abraham, Job, Israel’s prophets, -- Habakkuk, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, Joseph and Mary, and of course, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Beside these biblical figures, there are many people and saints in our life time, in our cultures, towns, villages and neighborhood that we can always look onto as examples and models of faith and righteous endurance in the midst of persecutions and trials. For example, Oscar Romero died celebrating Mass. Maximilian Kolbe died so that a married family with children could live. Mother Teresa of Calcutta chose simplicity of life for the poor. John Paul II bore his suffering to the end, publicly, in front of the TV cameras! In fact, good parents in some cultures prefer to go starving, so that their children would eat, have good education or medical care. The list can go on—there are still many hope givers in our communities!

As to the 1st reading of today,  (Wis 2:12, 17-20)  many have basically  describe it as a homily based on 4th song of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and the surrounding texts. The righteous person will be afflicted (Isa. 52:14; 53:26) people will be amazed the salvation he brings (Isa. 52:15) and people will repent. Wisdom of Solomon, today’s 1st reading, like Deutero-Isaiah, is a story of persecution and exaltation of the righteous one, the saddiq. The Lord will always protect and defend the life of the just one, no matter what! The Lord upholds their lives (Ps 54:6b).

As mentioned earlier every age, time and culture has its own life -- challenges, trials, sufferings, vississituteds, and difficulties to deal with. To start with the Jews in exiles were not an exception. Responding to the Alexandrian Jews who were suffering or had recently suffered persecution- the author of the Book of Wisdom writes to comfort them, to explain their ordeal and to give them hope.
In the community of Saint James of today’s 2nd reading (Jas 3:16-4:3) sufferings were orchestrated for some members due to rivalries, disorders, envy and jealousy. James, like the author of the Book of Wisdom recommends peace, selflessness and hope in wisdom from above which is pure, peaceable, gentle, understanding, compliant and mercy-- that only Christ can bring!

The more reason, Christ himself would insist in the Gospel( Mark 9:30-37) that his disciple – understand that,  (like Servant of Isaiah), the “Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise,”—simply foretelling his enduring sufferings and trials!  Remember, Christ said this to a tensed group of disciples who were rivaling and arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest! Under this circumstances Our Lord recommends not only wisdom, but the attitude of a child and of a humble, sincere, docile, self-surrendering, servant to the will of the Master!

For ourselves today, how often do we not strife to put ourselves before others? Envy, inordinate ambition, jealousy, selfishness and many other unrighteous acts are common in various religious, and socio-cultural communities’ today- making life more difficult for its members! In some places, those who speak the truth and keep the basic Christian tenets  and the teachings of the Church are castigated, ridiculed and persecuted! In those moments of sufferings—whatever form it may come to you --let us righteously respond to such challenges like Christ and the  suffering servants, the just one, or the little child, in today’s readings be trustful, and hopeful in the glorious and saving grace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Master!




Saturday, September 12, 2015

Homily 24th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily  24th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 50:5-9a; Ps 116:1-9; Jas 2:14-18 and Mark 8:27-35
The Meaning of Christian Suffering!

Many, if not all of us do experience sufferings in one form or the other. I mean we do know what sufferings looks like. It can come to us today in form of hunger, poverty, and protracted illness. It can come to us in the loss of our loved ones, loss of land, property, homes, and treasures, in tragedies, persecutions, bad leaderships, oppression, in the wars nations fight, in wars and acts of terrorism, negligence, actions, or indifference to the well – being our neighbors.  Of course, there are some sufferings too, that we may not fully and humanly comprehend! The Bible lessons of today are addressed not only to these sufferings and their causes, but scripture reminds us of how we all were baptized into a Christian communities to daily imitate Christ at all cost, boast in his cross, in our suffering love, and patience endurance, without rebellion!

 In today’s first reading (Isa 50:5-9a), the 3rd Song of the Suffering Servant of God, which would eventually points to the sufferings of Christ, prophet Isaiah sings of the experiences of Israel  in Babylon during their exile.  The Suffering servant speaks specifically in the first person of the enduring suffering that a faithful God’s servant would have to  undergo in moments of trials and challenges, which would include the loss of home land, properties, family members, freedom to trade, plant vineyard and even to  practice their faith.  The suffering servant says, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back” …“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard, my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” This servant teaches us how to be aware of God’s presence in our lives and how to endure suffering, knowing that the Lord God who is our helper, will not put us to shame.

 In the gospel reading, Christ’s disciples, including Peter, lack this deeper awareness. I want to believe this is why he rebukes Christ, when Our Lord spoke openly that the Son of man was destined to suffer greatly, persecuted, rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days! Of course, this prophecy came to a fulfilment!  Peter thought like a human being, like any of us would. But, God often speaks mysteriously to us, even in Christ's ministries, particularly in the events of the Cross of the Calvary which we relive every Holy Week of our liturgical year. The cost of discipleship; the cost of salvation entails sacrifices and endurance, patience, faith, in the midst of trials and sufferings.

Truly there are sufferings that are “artificial and manmade;” such as exploitation of our neighbors, institutional hatred, violent, and injustices committed against others, greed, selfishness, indifference and lack of charity to one’s neighbor. This is what Saint James addresses in the 2nd reading. Saint James asks, What good is it if someone says he or she has faith but lacks compassion and is uncharitable towards his or her neighbors? Words, deeds and good works must go together.

Pope Francis has spoken enough of this! Indifference behavior from richer nations, institutions, towns and individual rich powerful neighbors to poorer ones  is as bad as perpetuating any other form of hardship and sufferings on our poor neighbors. Neglecting the poor, the weak, the voiceless, is as bad as pulling their beards and beating their cheeks which  the Suffering Servant, 3rd Isaiah, spoke about in the 1st reading.  Poverty here is not restricted to material poverty. The young ones  who are rich with strength and physical energy in the name of Christ are encouraged to support their seniors, the physically weak, their elders, parents and grandparents. Other examples abounds.  Richer nations, for instance, should make education affordable to all. This can go a long way to reduce pains, injuries, and sufferings caused by the disease of ignorance!

Whatever form that we may individually or as a family, group, or Church experience persecutions, exploitation, discriminations, threats to  traditional Christian values, trials, sufferings we always want to imitate Christ- his patience, his love, his mercy, his forgiveness, his endurance, his perseverance,-- who generously and selflessly went to the Cross on our behalf!.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Homily 23rd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily 23rd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 35:4-7a; Ps 146:7-10; James 2:1-5 and Mark 7:31-37
Hope in the Lord in Solidarity with Our Neighbors

 Fear, illnesses, blindness, dumbness, uncertainties, threats of war, earthquake, death, immigration issues and poverty are nothing new.  They have always been part and parcel of human existence of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. The difference lies in how we respond to them today, at this moment. As Christians we are invited in the bible readings of today, to respond with hope and trust in the Lord and in solidarity with our neighbors, especially the poor, without being partial.

In the 1st reading when the friends, brothers and sisters of Isaiah experienced these things, for every good reason: wars and threats of foreign powers, Isaiah stepped up as God’s messenger. He reminded his community that: ‘thus says the Lord say to those whose heart is frightened, be strong, fear not…. He comes to save us. The blind will see, the deaf will hear the lame will walk, the mute will sing, the thirsty and he poor will have something to drink and eat. In these words, put in prophetically in the future tenses, lies the message of Hope for every one of us confronted in any given challenges- including the challenge poor.

St. James in the 2nd reading pays particular attention to the poor, just like our current, Pope Francis and many preachers from Latin America and other parts of the world! Truly, at functions and gatherings we tend to humanly pay attention most to the rich, the wealthy, and those who bring us big moneys and  other favors! But for Saint James it should not be so. Christians should do better, avoid partiality and discrimination in dealing with our neighbors, deaf or blind, rich or poor, bearing in mind that, God actually chose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those  who love him(Jas 2:1-5).

In the Gospel, Christ, the Son of God intensified this will of his father, as he does throughout his ministry,- fulfilling all the promises his father had made to the poor, the remnant , the lowly who love and obey him, though Israel’s prophet, particularly Isaiah.  We would recall, in Luke 4, in the beginning of his ministry, he says, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me…..” Christ has been faithful to his mission of love, to heal and care for the needy.
He does exactly that, in the district of Decapolis in today’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37). He healed the deaf man brought to him. He removed his speech impediments in a divine dramatic fashion by spitting on his finger, and commanded his mouth be “be opened” as he raise his eyes to the Father in prayers.

None of us is perfect! Our society is not perfect! We have our own individual and community impediments- physical and spiritually. We have our own “deafness’ and “blindness.”  Refusal to opt for the poor is a form of blindness, just as the act of partiality against our neighbors.  Think of the gap between the richer and poorer nations today. Think of the images we see on our TV today; the immigration crises, our borders, that recent wars have caused, the monopoly in international trades and marketing, the indifference and  insensitivity of public office holders to those who elected them, the negative effect of social media on our children and grandchildren, threats to traditional institutions, like families and marriages. These and many more are some of the areas of our deafness, and blindness, so to say, that we need to call upon the help of God, and hope in his healing mercies.