Saturday, October 31, 2015

Homily Solemnity of All Saints. Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily Solemnity of All Saints. F. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-11; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab-6; 1 John 3:1-3 and Matt 5:1-12a

Sanctity, Everlasting Happiness Are Within Our Reach!

 Sanctity is within our reach! We are call to be saints. Joy and happiness also seem to be the goal of most people. But where we look for this happiness and search for this joy varies from people to people, culture to culture, religion to religion. For us Christians, Christ is our source as well the “clouds of witnesses”, those saints, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, who bore witness to Christ through the ages!

 Therefore, the feast we celebrate today, All saints, is not just the feast of all Christians, but the feast  that reminds us of the source of everlasting happiness, namely Christ and those saints, especially the unknown owns that imitated him.

 No doubt, in all cultures there are countless of our forefathers, and mothers, brothers and sisters all over the world who have lived on this planet morally and charitably. They fought for our independence, and defended our faith traditions. They trusted in God,  hope in God, worked for the common good, and today are in heaven, where  we believe they “have seen God face to face(panim al panim). They have been blessed and rewarded by God, as euphemistically stressed by the Psalmist and in 2nd reading (1 John 3:1-3).  They were not even known or documented by us, or by modern historians, except God.

The first reading from the Book of Revelation paints the victorious picture of these people, the clothes they wear, and the joy they share. From every nation, (continents), race, culture, and language they stood before God’s throne, right in front God, before his face, wearing white and beautiful garments that radiate joy.  Joy in God’s presence that we long for, but comes with price of distress, hard work, sacrifices and love.  This love is well coated in the eight matthean beatitudes, Jesus’ Sermon on the mountain today (Matt 5:1-12).

 In order to join these saints, to see God face to face (panim al panim), as Abraham, Moses and our faithful fore fathers and mothers did, each of us must strive to humbly trust God who is manifested in Christ Jesus and in the teachings of his Church. We must be poor in sprit. We must endeavor to mourn, empathize and sympathize with those who mourn or are in distress or experiencing hard times. A good example would be the poor that Pope Francis has constantly reminded. Another good example would be those sufferings from recent tragedies, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, and terrorisms and addictions.

 Meekness and kindness to our neighbors are also required. We also want  to add justice and righteousness to that list especially in a world that justice continues to be elusive; justice to the voiceless, children and even to the mother planet that Pope Francis recently calls for in his encyclical, Laudato Si”- on Care for our Common home, that is the planet.  Apart from justice, we are called in the Beatitude to be merciful to one another as Christ would have been merciful to us – to the biblical Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, the woman caught in adultery, and to the royal official. Being merciful to one another brings us closer to God’s face.

Besides being merciful, upright of heart, purity of heart, consistency and objectivity count, as well as peace, righteousness, which cannot be disassociated from justice. Like the saints described in that first reading, who washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, with great distress, keeping the beatitudes, peace, love, justice, mercy, kindness, purity of heart- these, sometimes comes with persecution and all types of oppositions.

Let us keep this at the back of our minds as we constantly search each day for the face of God, joy and eternal happiness with the saints, in our prayers, in our relationship with our neighbors, and in through our daily good works. Sanctity is within the reach of everyone!


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Homily [2]30th Sunday Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily[2] 30th Sunday Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo
 Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-6; Heb 5:1-6 and Mark: 10:46-52.

 You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek

 These words from the Letter to the Hebrews first of all, remind us of the story of Melchizedek and Abraham, our father in faith, in Genesis 14. Here, Melchizedek- a righteous and compassionate king, with no father, no mother, no genealogy, who welcomed and blessed Abraham on his return from rescuing his nephew, Lots, from the conflicts of wars and threats posed by the eastern kings.  "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek" also, and perhaps most importantly reminds us  of not just the contrasts between the levitical  priesthood and the priesthood of Christ, but stresses the person of Christ: a prophet like Jeremiah, a wounded healer, a righteous king, a friend of the poor, and of the ignorance, a healer of the blind, and a compassionate high priest long foretold by Israel’s prophets, particularly Jeremiah  in today’s 1st reading.

Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. He saw violent and experienced sufferings, wars, tragedies, destructions and crimes committed against his people.  As we would come to see in the life of Christ, he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, spitted upon, cajoled, and thrown in to a muddy cistern to die, in his attempt to preach hope, love and endurance.

Today, whatever our challenges, might be: illnesses, ignorance, confusion, different voices in terms of what the family unit and marriages should be, or the experience of unjust socio-political structures, racism, high taxes, terrorism and conflicts all over the globe, it is this message of hope that Jeremiah offers us today. He says, “The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel (of which we are)…behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst.”

It is always our faith that  Jeremiah's hopeful prophesies would be fulfilled in Christ, who in today’s gospel extends his healing hands upon Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). In this drama of faith we are told, Jesus was on his journey to Jerusalem when he encountered Bartimaeus, sick, poor, blind, dirty, sitting and begging on the road side for a living. What is interested in this story of faith is  that he was not asking for more money from Christ as some contemporary blind people that we meet today on our streets would do. Bartimaeus rather, wanted to see. And he achieved it by beating all obstacles. He would not be dissuaded by faithless by–standers.  Bartimaeus pushed on.  With deep faith, he recognized Christ as the Son of David, and as the true source of mercy, daily emphasized by Pope Francis.  This is true in Bartimaeus words. He said to Christ, “Son of David have pity on me… I want to see.”

Powerful words delightful to many preachers and commentators today, and which should also be our guiding words in time of trouble, loneliness, rejections, disagreement, not knowing the right answers, sufferings, illnesses, loss of our loved ones, frustrations and shortcomings. In these moments we are called to play Bartimaeus. In other words, our various shortcomings, irrespective of cultural locations, could be characterized as our blindness-that only he, Christ, our compassionate high priest can healed.

Most importantly, if Christ our sinless, compassionate high priest watches our backs, loves, heals, forgive us, we are bound through our baptismal and sacramental promises, to imitate him, the righteousness priest, in our relationship with one another, particularly, the poor, the sick, and the less-privileged.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Homily [2] 29th Sunday of Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] 29th Sunday of Year B: Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16 and Mark 10:35-45

 The Paradox of the “Giving” Suffering Servant!

It would be recalled that it was John F. Kennedy, one of the American’s Presidents who once said, “Think of what you can do for America not what America can do for you.” We could see Kennedy’s speech in today’s bible lessons. Scripture presents us today with the paradox of the suffering servants of God, Christ, the great high priest and the Son of man who invites us to think of what we can always do for our neighbors, subjects and not what our neighbors and subjects or parishioners can always do for us!

We heard in the 1st reading-- the 4th song of the Suffering servant of God (Isaiah 53:10-11), the sufferings of the servant of God. Here the servant was punished, tortured, slapped, and mocked. But, because he bore the pains, the injuries, and the sufferings patiently, he was paradoxically exalted and lifted up by God, his Father. Most importantly, the servant bore these sufferings in service for others. He gave it all, even his life. Also through the servants’ suffering many sinners shall be justified, their guilt shall be forgiven. The descendants and neighbors of the suffering servant shall prospers.

 In the 2nd reading, the Letter to the Hebrews, unlike the Levitical high priests in the Book of Leviticus who offered sacrifices on his behalf, as a sinner, and on behalf of his community, the servant is of course, the sinless Christ and the compassionate high priest who offers himself completely for others. How many of us can offer ourselves completely for others! How many brothers can offer themselves completely for their fellow brother? How many sisters can offer themselves for their fellow sister? What about husband and wives, children and parents, grandpa and grandchildren like this high priest?

This high priest is the  same Son of man in today’s Gospel (Mark 10:35) who came to give his life as a ransom for many and who was in the first place completely misunderstood by the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. We are told, they came to Jesus asking for position of honor in Jesus' glory. They thought, if James sits on the right, John can sit on the left. Very parochial. Very Clannish. Others might characterize them as selfish, ambitious individuals, focusing mainly on themselves and on what others might do for them, rather than seeking what they can do for others-- like the suffering servants of today’s readings. They also seems to be narrow minded, insensitive, petty, and unsure of themselves and short sighted! Completely the opposite of the giving and generous life style of the suffering servant!

 The life style of the suffering servant, the great high priest, and the son of man in today’s readings challenges everyone. It challenges us to see Christian suffering in light of Christ's exaltation. It challenges those elected leaders who selfishly and constantly serve themselves rather than the community that elected them in the first place. It also challenges particularly, those  religious communities, leaders,  families, counties, states and nations who constantly seek for what others can do for them rather than what they can do to help their neighbors, subjects, parishes, dioceses- especially the poor, the sick, the aged and their less privileged neighbors- that Pope Francis has constantly place in front, back and center of his papacy!

Of course, the exalting- giving of oneself that the suffering servant reminds us of today may not necessarily be limited to material giving, but spiritual. Our prayers, our precious pastoral time, our infectious smiles, our generous compassion, our faithful and faith-filled presence, our positive body languages, our sincere love, and pieces of parental advice, can go a long way to strengthen our families, children, neighborhood, churches and societies at large!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Homily [2] 28th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] 28th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Reading: Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90:12-17 Heb 4:12-13 and Mark10:17-30

Unwise to follow Christ with Excess Luggage!

 Many of us are world travelers through several post-9/11 airports. We arrive at these airports with suit cases of personal, family, church and company’s items and carry-ons to board our airlines. With the 9/11 boarding rules at these entries are stricter. Overweight and excess luggage are frequently pulled by the side. When this happens it slows the passenger down besides the inconveniences that come with having to step by the side at the airport to rearrange excess luggage. In the light of today’s Readings, our journey to God, our relationship with Christ, the Word of God,  the Eternal Wisdom of the 1st reading (Wis 7:7-11)- requires holiness of life, prudence, detachment from excess materialism, love and care for the poor, and can be compared to the life of a frequent flier. Carrying excess luggage of material goods to a post-9/11 airport is not wise.

The Gospel reading of today (Mark 10:17-30) presents our Lord as a traveler on a journey to whom a wealthy man who had many possession ran up [prostrecho]. This Greek verb, prostrecho, an aorist participle, of course, carries the force of persistence! Versions of this story are also persistently presented in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Luke 18:18-30 identifies him not only as a rich young man, but as an official, which means someone who probably besides material possessions had enormous power and political connections as many people do today!

These types of people are goal getters. They don’t give up! They want to have everything. We are told in the gospel he was not walking, but running up to Jesus. He is use to running, competing, getting what he wants. This time, scripture says, running up to Jesus, he genuflected, regardless of his wealth and acknowledged Christ as Good Teacher, before asking what he must do to inherit the kingdom of God. He has the earthly and material kingdom. He wants the Kingdom of God as well!

However, this is the type of question that each of us as Christians must be spiritually and constantly asking ourselves today. What must I do to be a good Catholic today? What must I do to be in good relationship with my neighbor? What must I do to reconcile with my family, wife, friend, and spouse?  What must I do to keep my marriage? What must I do to be a good father? What must I do to be a good mother? What must I do to be a good leader, pastor, professor, and student, religious and priest etc? Or as Pope Francis would constantly challenge us today- what must I do to be of help to the poor and the marginalized? What must I do to love as Christ has first loved us!

 In the case of this rich man, and based on our experience of last Sunday when the Pharisees hypocritically questioned Jesus about the divorce, one would ordinarily pause to ponder on the gesturing motives of this wealthy man. Was he for real? Was he sincere or was he flattering Jesus!  Or was he thinking that with his money the kingdom of God was for sales?  But, the good news here is that, this rich young man as noted in our 2nd reading, the Letter to the Hebrews 4:12-13, was dealing the Divine, with Christ, the Word of God who sees, through, who penetrates between souls and hearts, joints and marrows, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of human hearts. With God everything is possible!

He reminded him of the Torah, “you know the commandments” which he claimed to have perfectly kept. He never killed someone. He never committed adultery nor stolen someone’s property, and he has never bore false witness. In fact, from his youth he claimed within the limits of his wisdom that he has never defrauded anybody nor dishonored his parents.

Truly, Jesus, the true Wisdom who sees through the hearts of  human person saw through his weaknesses- which included inordinate use of  wealth, attachment to materials goods. This was his excess luggage. The rich  man realized this when Jesus said to him, “go sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in the kingdom of heaven, then come follow.” Hearing this, we are told the rich young man imprudently walked away the opposite direction, unwisely and sorrowfully.

We know we all have our own excess luggage  in form of greediness, selfishness, and domineering attitude, lack of contentment, arrogance, abuse of power,  corruption in public offices, bad habits, war mongering, indifference to the plight of the poor and the planet, to name but a few. The question then remains, are we going to persistently listen to the Word of God, cut down  on our excesses- then come follow Christ, the true Wisdom, or are we going to walk unwisely and sorrowfully away like the man in today's gospel who had many possessions?


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Homily 27th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily 27th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11 and Mark 10:2-16

 Unity, Love and Mutual Respect!

This past summer I was in New Orleans, in the the United States for a Catholic Bible Conference.  With the high rate of divorce today in the world, a colleague of mine was eager to attain the session on marriage and family by Fr. Francis Moloney.  I learned from him that among his seven married brothers, he was the only married one married but divorced only once. Others had experienced divorce more than once!  It was a painful experience for him and his family and the more reason he was very eager to hear what the church, Fr. Moloney would have to say about family and marriage today! Many in the world may have had similar curiosity during the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United that culminated in his address to families in Philadelphia.  Currently, we are also curiously, awaiting the outcome of the ongoing 2015 synod of the Bishop on family and marriage, in Rome.  

Today’s readings are addressed to these same family themes of marriage and divorce. Scripture today emphasis the importance of unity, Christian love, the need to care for the weak- such as children, the vulnerable of the society, and the need to reflect on what makes for a successful marriage; what promote mutual complementarity as exemplified in the unity and sanctity of Christian marriage.

 In the first reading ( Gen 2:18-24),  we are told a man shall leave his father and mother  and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh, while in  the Gospel  we are reminded that God has joined together let no one separate(Mark 10:2-9).  This is also what we have been taught over the years in the Catechism that marriage, is a matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation, education of offspring, and this covenant between two baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of the sacrament.
These understanding and teaching is constantly been threatened by modern secular laws of some nations!  In the face of such threats how does the Christian community in these nations preach, teach and live Christian marriage- with regard  to same –sex marriages and divorces!

 Of course divorce in the first century divorce was a generally an acceptable practice both among the Jews and within the wider context of the Greco-Roman world. It was also a topic of constantly legal debate. In this debate among the Jewish legal community, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was a key text, one that assumes divorce will occur and proscribes procedures for carrying it out. But today’s readings in particular call the permissibility of divorce into question.

 In the Gospel, the Pharisees who asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife, did so to test Jesus! They wanted to know if Jesus was against or for- families, only to be reminded by Christ that they misunderstood the scripture, which they interpreted to justify their errors!

 In Jesus’ view marriage should not just be about legality,  but love, endurance, perseverance, sacrifice, respect and care! What the ancient people initially practiced in Deut 24:1-4 was due to human weaknesses. For Jesus we can always do better by looking back into God’s love of creation in today’s first reading (Gen 1:27; 2:24). God out of love created man and woman in his own image, to love him, through how they love, help, treat, and respect each other mutually. From Adam’s ribs God created Eve- they become one bone and one flesh. No separation! Of course no right thinking person  would do harm to his own flesh and bones! No one breaks his or her own bones!

  No doubt, in the ancient world women and children were treated as goods, and properties. Some men used divorce to their own advantage. Women and children were signs of economic stability and social privileges, but Jesus throughout his ministry gives everyone, women, the poor, the lowly, children a place in the family structure. Women and children are no longer passive objects of God’s kingdom- they all belong to God’s kingdom.

 Today’s readings also reminds us that we live in a culture that divorce could be initiated by either a man or the woman for various reasons- political, social, cultural and economic. Economically, even though divorce still leads people, especially women (in some cultures) into financial difficulties- divorce women today (in some places) do not always find themselves economically challenged as their ancient counterparts- perhaps one of the reasons for high rate of divorce?

 Regardless of good or better economics, scripture lessons today, among other themes, stress wholeness, oneness, unity and mutual respect to all including the little children, even in moment of challenges and trials!  In the Gospel Christ explicitly says, “let the little children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:13-15). Children are vulnerable and are often the true victims of divorce, something we must also keep in mind. Divorce or failed marriages,  can bring family, society, hurt, pain and brokenness- even in those circumstances(domestic violence, unfaithfulness etc) when divorce seem to appear to be the best among all available options. Therefore, what God has joined together let no human being separate!